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3rd December 2021

Pumpkin Spice Latte: Hate or Misogyny?

The hate of pumpkin spice lattes has a darker undertone
Pumpkin Spice Latte: Hate or Misogyny?
Photo: Heidi Kaden @ Unsplash

If you’re an avid hater of the now-infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte and came here hoping to read yet another exasperated hate-piece on the autumnal beverage – I’m sorry to say that this might disappoint! 

As I prepared to taste my first ever Pumpkin Spice Latte, I was already anticipating the worst. The drink annually attracted dramatically bad reviews. For example, Vox described it as “an unctuous, pungent, saccharine brown liquid, equal parts dairy and diabetes, served in paper cups and guzzled down by the litre”. After having read stories of its Yankee-candle-like taste, and overbearing sickly sweetness, my expectations were low, to say the very least. 

But, surprisingly… it was pretty tasty. I think I could even call myself a fan!

If you don’t like sugary coffee, I would stay clear, but as someone who doesn’t mind sugar, I loved it! It’s really a great treat for a hefty work day at the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons (Ali G), and definitely isn’t sickly.

Of course, it’s grossly overpriced. A £4.05 small coffee is pretty much unjustifiable, especially considering its only real distinguishing feature is a few pumps of ‘pumpkin’ syrup. Yet, if we hated drinks based solely on price, then we’d loathe almost every drink from popular chain coffee shops. If our collective hate for the PSL was because of our criticisms of capitalism then this might be justified, yet there is surely something else lurking behind our detest. 

Weirdly, I felt embarrassed ordering a Pumpkin Spice Latte. Ordering it at the coffee shop felt genuinely demoralising. But this makes me wonder – where does this genuine hatred of the (otherwise innocuous) PSL derive? What makes it so… intense? 

As we know, in popular culture the PSL has become synonymous with the ‘basic’ teenage girl, who plasters it over her Instagram in an autumnal aesthetic. It’s certainly overdone, and we’ve seen it all before. Despite this, it’s pretty harmless. 

However, the criticism behind PSLs is so widespread and intense, that the issue is easy to miss at first glance. 

In a Vox article last year, they suggested that the negative connotations toward PSLs are more about contempt towards women rather than the drink itself. It’s this idea that if teenage girls enjoy something, it is immediately mocked, criticised, and made out to be ridiculous. 

It makes me wonder whether it would be the same story if the main PSL loving demographic were men.

Maybe I have thought about this too deeply. However, my embarrassment when ordering the latte was real, and the fact that it was socially constructed wouldn’t be too unreasonable to suggest. After all, the hyper-criticism of the PSL does seem to be synonymous with the hyper-criticism of women everywhere. 

Teenage girls are mocked incessantly for their interests, and only a moment’s thought can uncover plenty more examples of this. Take astrology, for instance. Developed by the Babylonians around 2,400 years ago, in recent years astrology has increased in popularity – particularly among millennial women. Its feminisation has led, inevitably, to its mockery. When women and teenagers begin to take an interest in something, it’s instantly stripped of serious meaning, and categorised as futile.

Even when teenage girls show interest in things that are considered traditionally ‘masculine’, there’s still ridicule. For instance sports, comics, and video games. Recently, particularly on the app ‘TikTok’, these are seen as ‘pick me’/ tomboy tropes. It’s almost absurd to think that a girl just simply enjoys these things.

Whilst examples like this may seem trivial, their recurrence proves that a more insidious (and patterned) truth exists. Women, and teenage girls, are mocked for things that they enjoy: from pumpkin spice lattes to astrology, scented candles, makeup, and Taylor Swift. Frankly, constant belittlement like this is exhausting. 

What lies beneath this triviality, however, is an even more sobering realisation. If we continuously mock teenage girls for their interests, we risk also sending this message: that their ideas are ridiculous too. The ramifications of this are potentially even more unfortunate, finding their way into the wider societal sphere. Perhaps, for example, women’s under-representation in higher-paying professional positions is the logical progression of this early-onset ridicule. Could it be that women are conditioned to believe that their ideas are not worth the top-paying wage?

My takeaway from this initial PSL review is this: let’s give women the same freedom that men seem to have to enjoy whatever (harmless) thing they choose, whether it be drinks, activities, or bands. I, for one, will definitely be ordering a few more Pumpkin Spice Lattes this Winter, shamelessly!

Erin Osman

Erin Osman

Co-Features Editor for The Mancunion // Twitter @ErinOsman03

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