So, I don’t drink anymore, more or less. I had a couple of whiskey and cokes at a concert last year, and that’s it for the last 2 or 3 years. I’ve got some varied reasons for that, medications, formative experiences as a kid and later as an adult, varying states of mental health, and a general philosophy that I have just as much fun without drinking.
Normally this would not be a problem, except I’m a tech professional. For the people in my industry, drinking isn’t just something you do in your off hours, it’s a way of life. Go to a conference? The highlight is which party at which bar you’ll end up at afterwards. Need to network, lets go have drinks. Our weekly tech talks always end up at a bar, even on off-weeks.
So, today someone posted a piece on Medium, talking about how his wife had encouraged him to have drinks with other women. There were things I really loved about the piece. Jason notices that he’s leaving women out, and actively wants to make an effort to answer that. He talks about it with his wife, and listens to what she says. He comes up with a solution and commits himself to it. Seriously, in a non-sarcastic way, nice job, Jason.
I really wanted to add something to the post, though, because Jason is missing one key point, in my opinion. He’s assuming that professional women would WANT to go to a networking meeting at a bar. For some women, that may even be true. But for a lot of us, the bar is fraught with peril. I tried to explain that to the author, and we had an awkward back and forth where we tried to express thoughts that were longer than 140 characters long. I decided i should explain myself more fully here, although I THINK we got each other’s points in the end. What i was trying to tell Jason is that just asking women out for drinks as well as men isn’t as inclusionary as it would be if he provided alternative activities that weren’t alcohol-based.
So, whats the problem with booze-meetings? They are exclusionary, for one. You can’t bring interns of any gender to them. You can’t bring kids, so you had better have an understanding spouse or flexible daycare situation if you’re a parent, also of either gender. If you’re smaller framed, often a little bit of alcohol goes a long way. There’s a lot of pressure to actually drink in this kind of situation, and 1 beer can sometimes be too much for me, and other people, not to mention feeling extremely out of place if you don’t drink at all.
And then there’s the personal safety issues. Drinking in public, and being in public at a bar, carries societal assumptions. People go to bars to find dates. Therefore, if you’re there, theres some expectation that you’re looking for male attention, whether that’s true or not. Even if nothing happens with the person you’re there with, and that is far from a guarantee for most women, there’s a whole bar full of other people who have the potential to cause problems. And that’s something that we think about, because there’s virtually no way to tell ahead of time if someone will give you trouble or not.
So, if someone asks me to go hang out at a bar after work, even one full of co-workers and other people from my industry? I’m likely to say no. Putting myself in a room full of people who are participating in a hobby I don’t enjoy, that carries with it a culture of social pressure to participate in it, which can leave them potentially unpredictable, is not my idea of a good time. Especially when it carries a very real potential to cause me physical harm.
I miss out by making that choice, over and over again, I’m sure. But I make it home safe, I don’t get sexually harassed, or pressured to drink when I really don’t want to, or just feel awkward and out of place being the only tee-totalling woman at a table with ten guys drinking beer. It frustrates me that this is a choice I have to make, over and over again. Is it worth not knowing the “right” people because a lot of the opportunities to meet them come over pitchers? I don’t know.
I just want the people who organize these things to get a glimpse into what goes through our minds when we get that invitation. To consider that sometimes maybe a coffee shop might be a better venue, or a diner, or a gaming shop, or the library, or an office conference room. The space doesn’t have to be professional, but being all-ages, and someplace not a traditional pick-up spot goes a long way, both towards setting expectations and helping to put people at ease.