Evaluating masculinity, hidden sexism, and pumpkin spice lattes

Author’s Note: If you have opinions about my opinion, I’d love to chat. Contact me at mcheng2@swarthmore.edu.

Editor’s note: Katherine Timpf responded to this Op-Ed in the National Review on October 5. The response can be accessed here. 

In the eternal words of Parks and Rec’s Ron Swanson, “I call this turf ’n’ turf. It’s a 16 oz T-bone and a 24 oz porterhouse. Also, whiskey and a cigar. I am going to consume all of this at the same time because I am a free American.” We laugh at Ron’s extreme libertarianism, exaggerated manliness, and cool exterior that hides an inner softie who would do anything for the people he cares about. We collect his truisms in listicles like “The 43 Greatest Ron Swanson Quotes that Prove He Might be Your Spirit Animal” (Why, Thought Catalog? Why?). He is a caricature of a meat-obsessed, never-cries, America-the-free man, but he is loved. This isn’t just because he’s on a sitcom that works very hard to develop all of its characters into uniquely lovable people, although that certainly plays a role. What’s also at play here is that he is a caricature of masculinity.

Misogyny dictates that masculinity is lauded, which is toxic to those who don’t exactly conform to our narrow societal ideal of manhood. Drinking beer is cool; drinking appletinis is gay and feminine (Scrubs, anyone?). Playing football is manly; playing in the marching band, doing theatre, or singing in show choir is nerdy: High School Musical and Glee are our finest examples. Drinking coffee is fairly universal in college culture — it’s popular to complain about not being awake until you’ve had your first cup, or to humblebrag about how many cups you have per day; it’s basic to drink pumpkin spice lattes.

Which brings me to my point. Why the PSL hate? Clearly, not everyone thinks that they taste bad or make you feel sick to your stomach. I myself have never experienced these ill effects. I sit here, in Eldridge Commons, wearing yoga pants and drinking my sugar-free pumpkin spice latte with soy milk (making fun of people who order drinks with long names is a whole separate issue, so I won’t touch on it here) that I ordered from the Science Center Coffee Bar just a few minutes ago. Frankly, it’s pretty delicious, and while not cheap at $3.25, it’s manageable every once in awhile. It’s a seasonal item at the school’s coffee bars, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, etc., which if you’ve taken Intro Economics, is simple supply and demand. If consumers expect that an item will not be supplied in the near-future, they’ll buy more of it while it’s available. In light of these factors, it’s hard for me to understand why some people think PSL enjoyers are out of their mind.

It all comes back to sexism. People love to hate on what girls like. When I was in middle school, people made fun of Uggs and North Faces and Taylor Swift. In high school and bleeding into college, people make fun of leggings (“they’re not pants! Your butt is showing!”) and selfies and Instagram and Pinterest and Lilly Pulitzer and flower crowns and crop tops and Grey’s Anatomy and mason jars and Starbucks and pumpkin spice lattes. It never ends. The PSL hate seems to me like a symptom of a larger problem: girls don’t get to have valid emotions (“You’re being irrational. Is it your time of the month?”) or likes/dislikes, especially if they’re considered “basic”. Even when they like something that guys like too, they’re accused of faking it to get male attention (fake geek girls, which is definitely not a thing).

If you’re hating on white girls because they’re white and subscribe to White Feminism or participate in classism or homophobia or ableism or cissexism, etc., excellent. I’m with you there. Just make sure you’re not hating on white girls because they’re girls that happen to conform in spite of everyone bashing them for it. Don’t, for the love of God, cite health as a reason — it’s not like bacon, burgers, and other manly pillars of food culture in America are “healthy”. Let girls be happy; liking something harmlessly popular is not inherently bad.

22 comments

  1. 0
    Skosjha says:

    Hahahahahaha *dismisses your claim because you are a woman and no other reason at all….definitely not because you espoused a ridiculous conspiracy theory…nope just because you’re a woman*

    um PATRIARCHY YAYY

  2. 0
    Sandra says:

    Careful, there. “Basic” is a term appropriated by white people from American urban “black” culture. While you’re on a crusade against the sexism of PSLs, make sure you’re not exhibiting another “-ism” against another group.

  3. 0
    J. Sung says:

    All egalitarian ideology is white in nature, including feminism of any variety. Men and women are not equals, nor are any groups of people.

    This is founding myth of Western society, and you, not being of Western heritage, should not believe in such delusions. We strive for a world of greater competition (and thereby, inequality), not one where people are merely equals.

  4. 0
    username says:

    Pumpkin Spice Lattes are associated with a culture of women who act the same – sweaters, smiles, starbucks, frolicing and general millennial/teenage girl stuff. Regular coffee is bitter, has been around for much longer and is utilitarian – it’s main purpose is to wake you up.

    Pumpkin Spice Lattes are delicious, but they’re also new. They gained fame at Starbucks, and what type of person frequents Starbucks? That’s right – millennial/teenage girls. Starbucks is overpriced, it’s a status symbol, it’s wildly popular, it’s “cool” for those who want to feel hip or be a part of the trend of buying expensive coffee that barely tastes better than something from McDonalds.

    The hate is most likely from seeing so many people follow this trend. It’s a typical case of hating something because it’s 1) new, 2) popular which means that there is 3) impending change or change already taking place, which 5) humans don’t like. It’s like those kids with AC/DC shirts on from WalMart- it’s a shallow stake in a large, complex interest. Like dudebros who only drink Bud because they don’t want to spend time looking for what could potentially be a better beer, or people who played a Zelda game and a few Pokemon titles and call themselves nerds. If you’re going to identify with a culture then you need to put yourself into it a little more than putting a toe in the pool.

  5. 0
    Thomas says:

    I’ve read it twice, and I have no clue how the author of this piece manages to reason ‘people have drinks preferences, therefore, sexism’.

    But to answer the question why such exotic drinks incur some backlash: It’s because people don’t like a group of privileged rich food-obsesses women around university campuses. Obsessed with healthy eating, everything that’s ‘different’ is good, and everything normal is bad to this group, even though that isn’t logical.

    Ever ate Baobab tree powder? No, me neither, and at € 50 a kilo it isn’t exactly something normal people can afford, nor would eat. Still encountered it being discussed by wealthy privileged female-only vegan groups on Facebook.

    So how do people respond to weird, privileged rich people whose conduct they dislike? By making fun of them. Voila, the reason why people frown at that drink, is because they dislike decadence.

    The only sexism in this article, is the author buying into the pseudo-scientific idea that all masculinity is ‘toxic’. Now that right there, that is rather hatefull and prejudiced.

  6. 0
    Gregg Braddoch says:

    Wow, the audacity of this all: “If you’re hating on white girls, that’s OK. But if you’re hating because they like the things that I like – this is a problem” SMH. What did I just read? Why does this exist?

  7. 0
    Stop Complaining says:

    The fact that you can post this article and somehow feel like you should be taken seriously about your stupid 1st world problems means the internet is being completely misused.

  8. 0
    Mago says:

    Wooo man that is some serious projection you have going on for this story, what next you gonna go on a tyraid on how someone doesn’t like blackberry muffins and brand them sexist and racist as well? Christ lady grow a fucking spine and drink whatever you drink. Also the whole thing about people humblebrag on how many cups they drink and you go off on your in Eldridge commons drinking a $3.25 cup of coffee and your going to tell us how you know that’s basic economics because you took a Introduction course in college. Wow that’s some major projection there, anymore so and we’ll have to get pixar to make a monster movie about it.

  9. 0
    B says:

    Making fun of Pumpkin Spice Lattes is not sexist, it is making fun of something which symbolizes bland, undifferentiated tastes which are marketed to those with an undifferentiating palette. This is what is meant by the term “basic”. One need not wear Uggs and leggings in order to be basic, they just need to eschew variety and novelty. Now, whether or not it is fair to criticize someone for being average is a fine question, but the notion that only women suffer stereotypes which saturate popular culture is absurd. Next time you watch a commercial, pay close attention to how men are portrayed; typically they are shown to be dim-witted, gullible fools who must be looked after by the women in their lives. This is not to say that portraying women in analogously unflattering ways is therefore justified, but it does serve to show that women and girls are not unique in having to endure sexism.

    But I want to reiterate that the public image of the Pumpkin Spice Latte is not a barometer for structural sexism. One could easily make the same argument about videos like “My New Haircut” and how men are portrayed poorly, and the argument would similarly miss the mark. It is not about sex, it is about a wholesale embrace of banal consumer culture. Unfortunately, it seems the author is not “in on the joke” as it were.

    Also:

    “It’s a seasonal item at the school’s coffee bars, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, etc., which if you’ve taken Intro Economics, is simple supply and demand. If consumers expect that an item will not be supplied in the near-future, they’ll buy more of it while it’s available. In light of these factors, it’s hard for me to understand why some people think PSL enjoyers are out of their mind.”

    What’s that got to do with the price of eggs?

  10. 0
    William says:

    I don’t think this has anything to do with gender. I think the joke about being “basic” is that somebody who is basic is basic because they are conforming to basic norms, i.e. precisely the kind of gender basics which boil a gender down to a collection of stereotypes. A basic male would be one, in your words, who drinks beer and plays football. This “basic” identity is mocked routinely in society. Just watch The League or any number of commercials during MNF. I think it is rather trendy on college campuses to resist this identity of masculinity and be a “hipster” i.e. skinny jean wearing, lumbersexual, you know the troupes, and thus be a male anti-basic (with the exception of possibly schools belonging to the SEC or big state land-grant universities). The mocking of basic bees has nothing to do with sexism and everything to do with resisting feminine conformity, something I would have thought you feminists would endorse.

  11. 0
    Jeff says:

    While your intentions are honorable, your post simply misses the mark. This has nothing to do with gender, it is simply the the pendulum swing of internet love/hate. When something is new, people love it. When something gets old and/or too popular, the tides turn and people hate it. PSL is both old AND too popular.

    A classic example is the super bowl. People fall over themselves each super bowl to one-up each other on how lame it is to watch the super bowl. Is this sexist because it’s hating something men like? No, it is just cultural group-think signaling on twitter. It is a person saying “See, I have unique tastes! I am not into things that have mass appeal!”. It is almost too obvious. This is “I liked Radiohead before OK Computer” or “I saw Nirvana open for X before they were big”. Same thing with Pumpkin Spice. If there was an indie coffee shop with a new fall-specific flavor, the same people hating PSL would be all over it.

    So, in short, your problem is not that you are a women, it is that you are drinking a beverage who’s indie cred peaked several years ago. That’s it!

    Most of your other examples follow the same pattern:
    – Ugs – Started as a ‘so ugly they are cool’ fashion trend. Then they became ultra popular and therefore ‘just ugly’.
    – Grey’s Anatomy – Started as a decent show with a good cast. Quickly became a parody of itself.
    – Leggings – Started as people who were actually into Yoga signaling to others that they took part in a healthy lifestyle. Became a widespread fashion trend and lost its cache.

    1. 0
      MarkinTex says:

      “I liked Radiohead before OK Computer”

      Seriously, OK Computer? It might be one thing to say “I liked Radiohead before Pablo Honey”, but since “Creep” got played on a loop by every Top 40 station in the country in 1993, saying you liked Radiohead before OK Computer came out in 1997 as a mark of hipness is like saying “I liked Apple products even before Steve Jobs died.”

  12. 0
    Dreadthorn says:

    Please! Hating on Pumpkin Spice Lattes is not sexist. They’re just bad. Nor is hating on all those other things. And no leggings aren’t “pants.” And Uggs are ugggggly. And Taylor Swift……

  13. 0
    Fred says:

    The Middle East is on fire, our entitlement system is imploding, your generation is being rapidly driven into bankruptcy, there are no jobs and you people whine about lattes? Really?

  14. 0
    Janey says:

    It doesn’t always have to be about sexism. It’s not like stupid white male stereotypes aren’t incredibly pervasive as well, but no college editorialists are rushing to defend scraggly beards, man buns, or painting yourself head-to-toe for a football game. Everybody just be nice to each other. Be TOLERANT.

  15. 0
    Chris says:

    Your lead example is that of a character whose vanity and stereotypical male views are portrayed for laughs. Look at commercials with men shouting at the TV during sports, the dumb husband who can’t keep up with his wife or kids. Let’s not forget Homer Simpson..the prototype laugh at me dumb male.

    You’re overthinking this, big time. Not everything is sexism, or another -ism. Sometimes, it’s just life and things people choose to make fun of….like Homer, like Ron Swanson…and like those putrid Pumpkin Spice lattes.

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