I’m with Brian, my husband of nearly two years. We enter a fancy New York lounge and he immediately strolls toward the bar. i’m right behind him, waiting for him to order my go-to drink. The bartender does his thing and then comes back with the two beverages.
“Here you go,” he cheerfully says. “One Jameson neat and one Stella.”
He pushes the whiskey glass toward my husband and hands me the beer.
My chest tightens and my eyes narrow. That Jameson is mine, I’m the one who always orders it. I reach over to claim my drink. The bartender smiles. It’s an honest mistake, he’s probably thinking. After all, I’m a small Asian girl, and Brian is twice my size. I smile back. I decide that it’s not a big deal. I’m used to it.
But then a whole array of feminist slogans flashes through my mind. To keep the brewing frustration from spilling, I remind myself that I, too, am guilty of holding a gender bias. I take an active step back to remember the origins of my preferring whiskey.
It’s because I wanted to hang in a man’s world.
It happened around the time I decided to become a filmmaker. I was among my friends who were at various stages of making their first short films. We’d hang out, talk movies, and drink. The bottle that made everyone’s face squirm in anguish the most was Jack Daniels. So in an attempt to prove myself, I would down shots of JD trying my hardest not to make that exact same face. And let me tell you, each shot of Jack felt like a swig of lava slowly dripping down my throat. But I let the burn wash right through me. I pretended that the acid sensation was not stinging. I needed to prove that I could take more face squirming pain than they could.
“Wow, you’re not feeling sick?” they’d ask.
“Nope, tastes good.” I’d reply. Secretly I was certain the JD singed all the villi in my stomach coating.
“You’re hardcore, Nadine. Props to you.”
Yeah, I faked it, because the immediate reaction of my male peers was to bestow upon me what I desperately wanted: street cred. The pain sucked, the taste was awful. There’ve been numerous times when I’d disappear to “ninja vomit” in the bathroom away from view. That was always horrible, but I kept doing it anyway. Drinking the hard stuff meant I was one of the guys. I was the badass woman whiskey drinker who made movies.
You can only do so much cheap JD without the coca cola, so I expanded my palette to more sophisticated labels. Jameson was reasonable on the wallet, so Jameson became my new mascot. With time, I genuinely grew to love all kinds of scotch (Kavalan, anyone?), but that taste was developed and acquired over years of burns and suppressed face squirms. And it didn’t need to be. You see, it was born out of a sense of not being enough. Instead of demanding that people accept and respect me as I am, I tried to find ways to speak everyone else’s macho language. What was going to be next? That I learn sports? That I smoke cigars?
Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman flashes through my mind. This superhero truly personifies who I’ve always wanted to be: a woman who kicks ass on her own terms, embraces her femininity both in superficial terms (hey, she shaves her armpits and wears wedges to fight) as well as deeper compassionate ones – she drops whatever she’s doing in order to help rescue some poor villagers. She does it because she wants to, and because she knows she can deliver and get it done.
Diana (Gal Gadot) doesn’t fight like a man. She fights like a woman. And that’s fudging awesome. She fights with flexibility, strength and grace. She uses her lasso of truth as an extension of her beliefs to fight against evil, which she recognizes is not to be absolute but complicated and colored with many shades of good. She may doubt herself but will maintain focus. She may mistakenly trust, but she does not rely on any man. She doesn’t believe man is worse than her. She just knows that she’s as good as man. She exemplifies strength, but she allows herself to feel pain. Wonder Woman knows pain is a motivator for change.
I am still at the lounge in New York. The night has become rowdy, and the group of 30 and 40 year olds now pretends they are still in college. Someone orders a round of tequila. It’s my least favorite drink.
“To many good nights with good friends,” the host exclaims. Everyone cheers. I dutifully lick the salt off the back of my hand, throw the tequila back and then bite into my lime. I find this to be an awful tradition.
“God, that stings,” I say. “It’s so gross.”
“Agreed,” my husband responds.
I’m okay with admitting that now. Wonder Woman would, too.
I can be Wonder Woman, you know…
Also published on Medium.