July 11, 2020
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Girl About Town

Has feminism really taken a big leap this week? I was inclined to say yes earlier, when I read that the Supreme Court has thrown out an archaic law and allowed women to be bartenders in Delhi...

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Girl About Town
Has feminism really taken a big leap this week? I was inclined to say yes earlier, when I read that the Supreme Court has thrown out an archaic law (established in 1914, so surely it’s time to blow the dust off some of those rules?) and allowed women to be bartenders in Delhi. Not only that, apparently, ageism is being defeated, as the age for bartenders has gone down from 25 to 21, meaning therefore that the random drinking age for the capital--25--which we all knew but none of us followed has gone down too. Or so we hope. The cabinet has so far deferred the decision, and in the not-so-law-abiding capital no one is holding their breath.

Since Sunday, when I first read about it and did a wild three cheers in my head, there’s been a lot more articles printed on the subject that offer different viewpoints. For instance, predictably, some Indians feel that women bartending especially in Delhi would trigger off more incidents like the Jessica Lall one. Then the Delhi Police objected saying that offering security to these women would be a hassle, especially late at night when men tend to get more inebriated and lust runs high. But these are the very same arguments that the Delhi government had tried. The Supreme Court, to its credit, stood firm and said that it was the state’s duty to provide security and to eliminate gender discrimination anyway. But despite all this rah-rah-ing, there’s the rule that only allows them to work till 8.30. Seriously, who goes to a bar at 8.30?

Every woman who has seen the movie Coyote Ugly has wanted to be a bartender at some point or another. I was no exception. I like serving alcohol at parties, I take pride in mixing a good drink, even if my cooking skills stop at instant noodles. Mixing a drink is like poetry: you either have the rhythm right or you don’t. A good bartender is born not created. I was pretty young when I first saw Coyote Ugly, and thought of my job prospects in that industry, but watching it again when I was older made me see it in a different light. Perhaps I had grown more cynical over the years, but really, a bar full of men at a place manned (womanned?) by female bartenders couldn’t only be because of their mean mixing skills, could it? Was it also possibly because the women were, well, women--good looking in tight t-shirts, who occasionally perhaps got up on the bar to dance? Is that why, therefore, the hospitality industry in India so welcoming of this new rule?

I’m all for it, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s silly that we’ve waited for so long for a decision like this. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a law saying women shouldn’t bartend. I thought women just didn’t want to, at most places. Would you honestly like to keep smiling and be polite to the drunken old lech who insists on buying you a drink while pouring himself down the front of your shirt? On the other hand, it is a personal choice. It may not float my boat, but for someone who really enjoys being behind the bar, I don’t see why there should be a "curfew". It’s almost as if the government is acting like the parents of a teenage girl--don’t stay out too late, and how can you leave the house dressed like that and don’t talk to strangers and when you’re done, call us and we’ll come and pick you up. It smacks of purdah, in a strange 21st century way.

This new ruling is a step forward, not only for Indian women, but also for India from a global viewpoint. But it’s not entirely feminism. It’s not feminism because they still have to stop serving at 8.30. It’s not feminism because at one level or another, they will be using their bodies to either get what they want, or get what the establishment wants (ie, more customers). Do bars in Delhi employ specifically attractive young men to keep the women clients happy? Not as far as I’ve noticed. In fact, male bartenders on the whole, in my own personal experience tend to be father-figures. Imagine the turnout if the bartender reminded you of your mother. The thought is not pretty.

It’s not feminism because if anything happens to any of these women, there will be lots of people more than happy to say, 'Hah, I told you so! See, women should just not be allowed to do late night things, because someone will shoot them.' Like women petrol pump attendants or women taxi drivers, I fear that women bartenders will be marginalized the same way--treated as a novelty--unless the country itself gets over its fears.

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