In college, while my girlfriends and I drank wine and appletinis, the men in our lives consumed pitcher after pitcher of cheap beer and endless shots of Jameson. We were young, southern, and our football team was as good as the weather. Clemson University was like any other corner of the south—even in the debauchery, there were social codes and rules of engagement.
The lines between men and women were drawn in thick red. We knew what a “lady” looked like. We knew what they wore. We knew there had to be delicacy in our mannerisms—and in our cups. As easily as we recognized the unspoken rules governing everything we did as women in our twenties, we also recognized that men had rules, too. Whether they were our classmates or friends or boyfriends, they held open our doors, bought our drinks, and outpaced us in booze consumption. Being a southern gentleman was a branded experience marked by fraternities, black-light parties, kegs of Budweiser and lines of shot glasses. What you drank showed what kind of man you were, and beer and whisky implied you were the right kind.
Today, I look around and see that masculinity is still a commodity. But regardless of whether you call yourself a feminist or not (and this writer thinks you should), what is undeniable is that feminism has helped men, too. As women continue to break down the boundaries of outdated social norms, men too get to climb out of their own dimly lit boxes—which may explain why Malibu Rum has started marketing fruity rum-based cocktails to men.
Illustration by Laura Lannes
If you are like me, when you think of Malibu Rum you envision a woman sipping piña coladas on an island vacation you wish you could afford. Seldom do we expect to see our society’s version of the “average man” with an umbrella or strawberry in his drink. Booze is hardly exempt from the social stigmas of gender and notions of manliness; in fact, the industry has proved to be one of the most stubborn clingers to outdated gender stereotypes. Anheuser Busch has gone out of their way to portray women as objects, literally photoshopping or painting over their bodies with Budweiser labels , or by depicting them scantily clad and sprawled over larger than life bottles or cans of beer . In these ads, women function not as human beings, but simply extensions of a product: beer.
Perhaps the most bizarre take on the alcohol industry’s brand of misogyny came from Svedka Vodka’s 2013 slogan , “Make your next trophy wife 100% titanium,” featuring a strangely voluptuous and sexually proactive female robot—because that is a thing now, too. In 2016, alcohol is in desperate need of a new branding mechanism, one that can adapt to our ever-changing understanding of gender and its rules.
According to Brian Mequet, Vice President of Rum and Liqueurs for Pernod Ricard, the makers of familiar spirits like Malibu, Jameson, Absolut, Beefeater and Seagram’s Gin, “the #Malibro movement began with a consumer insight about our target audience—we knew that guys were enjoying refreshing, tropical cocktails, but many still had insecurities about the social stigmas attached to the idea of partaking in a refreshing drink.”
At first glance, it might be easy to dismiss the #Malibro movement as just another publicity stunt. But in an industry which relies on sexism to sell its products regularly, the #Malibro movement is a refreshing confrontation of the gender roles we’re forced to play when we socialize.
At Fulton Grand , one of my favorite spots in Clinton Hill, I spoke with Lindsey R., a 28-year-old event planner who preferred to remain anonymous for the sake of boyfriend’s reputation.
“I guess you can say that my boyfriend is a Malibro. He’s a 6’4,” 250-pound jock who, when we are at home, makes drinks like he’s on a never-ending cruise. I mean, he loves fruity cocktails. When we go out and his guy friends are with us, though, all of a sudden it’s whisky and beer!” she says. “I make fun of him because he hates beer, but he feels like this is what he’s supposed to drink as man. It’s subtle, but when he is drinking his fruity cocktails, he’s more relaxed because he gets to be himself, who he really wants to be—which is a guy who loves cars and cries at the end of RomComs.”
Of course, in order to get to the bottom of this phenomenon, I had to survey more bars. Dusting off my old bar crawl skills, I roamed Brooklyn, hitting eight in total. I waded through dim lights, loud music, and the soft haze of “after-hour” eyes, and found that, although, most bar goers did not consciously choose their beverage of choice based on gender roles, many, concluded that it did play a factor in their choices. I spoke to women sipping Jameson on the rocks because they felt it demonstrated strength and independence, or cans of Modelo, a habit picked up from college days spent at fraternity houses. The men, however generally fell in line with expectations and could be found trying to be “men” the way they think they are “supposed to be” — with beers in their hands. Though, every now and then there would be a wild card: the man who didn’t give a f*ck, laughing with his friends, a brightly-colored, heavily garnished liquid swirling in his glass. I found one man of such courage at Doris in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
Illustration by Laura Lannes
“I’m an artist, which I think gives me a bit more leeway with my masculinity in my everyday life,” Ivan L., 27, told me while he sipped a Margarita Ocho Ocho. “But a bar is a bar. When I was younger, I’d get caught up. I’d do what my friends were doing because I wanted to be one of the guys; which meant drinking cheap whiskey and so much beer that I had a humongous beer belly. People see a guy with anything else and they think you’re acting like a girl or whatever. After awhile, I was like, so what if girls drink this, I like girls! My girlfriend is a girl, so is my mom, and they’re great people! After that, I started ordering piña coladas and cranberry lemonades with rum. It’s who I am, and if someone is threatened by that, or questions my masculinity, I feel sorry for them and tell them to go read a book.”
And that is what the #Malibro movement is. It’s a new branding for masculinity. It’s permission to not need permission to be who you are. It’s carte blanche.
“The Malibros concept was born out of the idea that guys no longer need permission to sip umbrella-garnished cocktails, and that it is okay for ‘bros’ to embrace the delicious summer drinks they love, ignoring the narrow-minded social rules surrounding so called ‘girly’ drinks,” says Mequet. “We want guys to confidently consume the drinks of their choosing without feeling embarrassed or less masculine. Malibros gives guys license to shed pretension and own their inner-Malibro.”
So, for all the men out there reading this: drop your beers, unless you’re really loving them. The next time you find yourself out at a bar, order a piña colada or Malibu Hot Apple Strudel (yeah, that’s a thing). Be who you are. Or at least, stop pretending to be who you don’t have to be. You have our permission.