(Warning, somewhat #longread)
Yep, another post on sexism in beer. Why? Because as a friend just said, “with a topic like this, the quantity of supportive voices matter.” (Maybe a slight paraphrase)
To recap: the Brewers Association popped the cap off the 32nd annual Craft Brewers Conference last week in the beer-mecca that is Portland, Oregon. Amidst the networking, brewing innovations, and heavy drinking, several breweries decided to host events in strip clubs. The collective beer subculture responded, mostly negatively, denouncing such behavior as juvenile, unprofessional, and sexist.
The inherent sexism of the white male-dominated beer world is obvious to anyone willing to open their eyes and actually see, but for some inspiring commentary on the situation, see Melissa Cole’s open letter calling out boorish behavior for being exactly that, Heather Vandenengel’s painful but important message about living (and working) through her own personal encounters with sexism in our industry, and Jeff Alworth’s context-placing piece that helps explain PDX culture, and how it ties into what went down at CBC15. Stan Hieronymus also pulled together a great round-up, in case you’re somehow looking for even more proof that unabashed sexists are still alive, sitting in bars, drinking beer all over the world.
Look, I get it: beer is an industry where hedonism to the point of embarrassment is built-in to the business model. But that doesn’t mean we get to shrug accountability because it’s an “industry thing.” In fact, because the product we support contains inhibition-loosing adjuncts, we have more responsibility than other industries to remain professional and poised. It should be our goal to act like good human beings at all times, social posturing and levels of consumption be damned. It’s 2015 and we’re part of a modern, inclusive groundswell. Act like it. Be progressive, not regressive.
Those social aspects noted and very temporarily put on one side, I’d like to acknowledge an often unmentioned side of sexist beer attitudes: how fundamentally stupid they are, especially from a business perspective.
I don’t mean to use “stupid” as an ad hominem playground insult; I mean the very classic definition: “lacking intelligence or common sense.”
Example: It was stupid of Oliver to stick his hand into the hornet’s nest.
The “Portland Strip Club Debacle of 2015” is a large, obvious, easy to unpack and understand, manifestation of sexist attitudes in beer. It’s easy for men to say, “well this sort of thing can be avoided in the future!” then move on, as if pulling the head off the weed does anything to kill the roots. The sexism that still prevails is smaller and less obvious: those millions of every day micro-aggressions towards women that range from lewd advances to condescending dismissals. There is no bigger culprit of casual sexism than breweries who use women as sexual caricatures as a basic part of their marketing model.
Whenever some brewer gets put to task on social media for sexist branding, or any time I see a bottle of beer with a buxom female stereotype, I’m distressed, not only as someone who supports equality, but as a person with a functioning brain. A label is a blank canvas. A clear, effective way to market to independent thinkers. To slap some lame female objectification on your product is to say, “we lack any awareness of our industry’s demographics” and “have creative ability tantamount to dick and fart jokes,” which then translates to “don’t buy this beer” as said messaging alienates 50% of potential drinkers before they’ve even tasted it.
I know brewing (as a profession) wears a collar that’s bluer than it is white, and I can’t expect every single brewery to be pushing the boundaries of art. There’s always going to be some repetition because of boundaries of beer style, and some simplicity for rusticity’s sake.
But even the quaintest, small town brewery should have a marketing and branding plan, if only as a reflection of their commitment to the product. If the summation of your marketing process is “MOAR T&A,” I’m going to be pretty concerned about the culmination of your brewing process. A sexist label suggests sexism in a brewery’s staff, and subconsciously promotes a sexist environment wherever your beer is sold and consumed.
Said branding need not be as highbrow oblique as Brian Strumke’s “beer as modern art” approach at Stillwater Artisanal; hell, one of my local favorites, Heavy Seas Brewing, uses a pirate theme, which many would argue is childish, cheesy. Yet, the branding is consistent and the brewery’s marketing team creates thematically appropriate and clever titles that tie into the style of beer, like Red Sky at Night, Siren Noire, and Blackbeard’s Breakfast. Their commitment to their brand, creativity, and willingness to invest thought and energy into their designs makes them stand out, at least in local markets.
No sexism required. It’s proof that success isn’t tied to tropes of flesh as a salesman; except for Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch, and Lagunita’s Lil’ Sumpin’, not a single brewery on the Brewers Association Top 50 for 2014 used female objectification or degradation to sell their beer. In fact, many didn’t use any baser appeals to human nature at all, instead opting for aesthetically adventurous fonts, colors, and layouts.*
To throw away the chance to win over new drinkers by using sexist messaging, especially in a market swollen with competition, is the manifestation of immature thinking. “Craft” beer is so fresh and wide open that you could choose any relatively popular theme and probably make it successful. A video game themed brewery? A board game themed brewery? A “pioneer” brewery with beers named after famous composers or artists or scientists? I could think of a million ideas that I’d consider long before I even came close to, “let’s put a chick with big bewbs on the label!”
Accidental or intentional sexism speaks louder than you ever could for yourself. I know some people argue it’s a part of that proverbially quoted but never quite defined “shock value,” or that is should be protected under freedom of speech. Some (usually male) people argue it’s empowering for women.
If you don’t get that it’s sexism: wake up; you’re being stupid (see above definition).
If you do get that it’s sexism, and still won’t change: you’re not stupid, but you’re also probably not a very nice human being to be around.
It can be hard to sway the minds of men who quickly shift the focus with chants of “not all of us” or minimize the situation with unfair comparisons to broader social problems. If they won’t accept that sexism is hurtful and degrading as a basic fact, perhaps they’ll listen if we tell them their designs have all the imagination of a horny 13 year old boy. If you’re a brewer or brewery considering (or already) using the image of an objectified or eroticized woman on your branding, take a moment to stop doing that, because what the hell? It makes you look bad, and women feel bad. The industry is guilty by association. Literally no one wins.
Remember: despite how easy it is to dismiss or derail the conversation about sexism in beer, because hey, after all, “it’s just beer,” sexism a real thing that really matters. It transcends beer, and is reflective of the attitudes of male-dominated cultures. If you’re not ready to face the idea of feminism yet, OK, but don’t try to defend sexist behavior as “no big deal” when our wives, sisters, mothers, aunts, nieces, and daughters, can and are being marginalized by a male lack of awareness. If you can’t contextualize it when it happens to a stranger, imagine a picture of your mother, scantly clad on a beer label, being callously remarked upon by guys repeating “hey, it’s just a joke, man” whenever you tell them to stop.
Brew good beer and don’t be stupid.
The first should be the hard part, not the second.
*My own research. I did as thorough a review of labels as time would permit; feel free to correct me in the comments if I missed something. I’ll update accordingly.
Tagged: beer, craft beer, equality, feminism, i cant believe we still have to have these conversations, sexism, solidarity
I thought Raging Bitch was a nod to the belgian forefather ‘Mad Bitch’, rather than a gender thing-
More to the point- hosting in a strip-club isn’t just gender specific, it’s very niche within that gender. Like choosing to host at the Pride and Prejudice Reenactment Society, for all the avid Jane Austin beer enthusiasts. That no one pointed out the obvious (or had the power to stop it) is somewhat incredulous.
Yea, I think you’re right on Raging Bitch, but that doesn’t stop everyday beer shoppers from inferring something completely different if they see that specific name on a shelf.
And great point about it being niche; I agree, and it did seem odd (I wouldn’t go to a strip club for beer even if they were pouring free Utopias and Pliny all night). I think it was more the audacity of doing it at all, tiny slice of the demographic or not.
“Power to stop it” seems to be what I’m digging at 🙂
..but that doesn’t stop everyday beer shoppers from inferring something completely different if they see that specific name on a shelf.
By this logic words like “niggling” and “niggardly” should be removed from the dictionary, not for what they are but because of what people claim they are. It’s not just to punish a few for the ignorance of others.
English transforms daily, by virtue of how it is used and understood. Look at words like “decimate” – it used to mean “reduce by 10 percent” and now it means “kill, destroy, or remove a large percentage or part of.” It evolved based on usage. The same happened to “bitch” and could happen with “niggardly.”
I’m not so kneejerk as to suggest banning words, but you’d be silly not acknowledge that some words are going to be interpreted in certain ways based on cultural context. I’m not playing policeman here anyway, just stating realities.
Good piece, I do get tired of seeing the stupid responses of “it’s just beer” or “geez why don’t you calm down an have a beer” or worse. Those people are idiots.
Sexism in the industry is an interesting thing, perhaps because men have it pretty good in the world still we don’t bother complaining that the pretty girls get to jump the line at a club or get served first at a bar and we still jump to open a door for a women which kind of reinforces inequality at the end of the day. Men are expected to buy the ring and propose, which again is weird but we all accept that as tradition and not sexist despite the fact that it is. Some people still ask a girls father for permission to marry, I can’t believe that still happens even as a gesture as once again it reinforces inequality. It’s weird that no one really talks about restaurant servers forced to dress up in tight shirts at chain restaurants, or if you are a guy there you are working in the back or the bar and likely never serving.
Everyday sexism is so ingrained in so many places in our lives and I get the sense that people are really looking for the craft beer community to rise above it, and they should because it is the right thing to do. Currently in the beer world it is incredibly imbalanced and that needs to change. It isn’t present at most craft focused events I go to, but you still get pretty women on labels with big boobs every now and then. To me, like you, it’s just un-creative and boring at this point and oh yeah still sexist. I’d love to see a brewery do a balanced label, hot dude with abs and slight bulge just to highlight the absurdity of some beer labeling. Call it Schlong Saison, 6 Pack Pale Ale, Tight Butt Bock…All ridiculous but there are similarly named beers in the world that people accept which is just plain stupid.
About the strip club thing, I thought that was unique, but not offensive unless you don’t agree with the concept of strip clubs and think of nudity and sex as shameful, which I do not. Note, the same people complaining about it probably had no issue watching Magic Mike (purely speculative here, not directed any individual). That place in question has close to 50% female attendance on a regular basis (I have not verified this beyond reading it online). Outwardly it may seem offensive because people unfairly attach the same stigma to every establishment, yet without being there where I’ve heard that members of the Pink Boots society were in attendance it’s hard to say. Given the reverse, were it held on a ladies night, I’d have no issue with it and think it would be a hoot to attend. Certainly not something I am into, but I can appreciate the context if it’s done right and can appreciate the perspective if it’s done horridly. Oliver, I’d go to a strip club for free Pliny or Utopias any day lol, you’d be crazy not too!
I vote with my wallet, I won’t buy anything that perpetuates the sexism and I’ll call it as I see it, but I won’t feed the trolls either because they want the attention.
I really like that idea that people are hoping craft beer will “rise above.” It’s a social tabula rasa, and chance to overcome all those “odd but definitely there” aspects of gender inequality/representation.
And yes, I’m a dirty liar prone to hyperbole: I would go if they had free anything good. I wouldn’t regularly go to a strip club to drink beer though; I embrace sexuality but have always found strip clubs a bit…overt?…for my tastes.
Thanks for reading, and adding some new thoughts to the conversation.
Benevolent sexism can actually still be a problem ie. when women get easy entrance to a club or free drinks it’s because the promoter wants to be able to boast to straight men a high number of women for the taking. Sexism hurts men and women but it’s a misconception that that it hurts them equally.
By the way a lot of women support strippers and sex workers completely! I think you make a lot of good points and I’m happy to see a thread on this topic that hasn’t devolved into hate speech and death threats.
As a woman in beer though I have to say that a beer event, which will already be dominated by straight dudes, held in a strip club has a pretty clear message for women like me: You do not belong here.
The problem is that sexism and beer have been married together for quite some time. I for one always made sure that I got the yearly St Pauli Girl poster, and the Kathy Ireland St Paddy’s Day Bud poster is still hanging in my barroom. And believe me, it’s because it’s Kathy Ireland, not Bud.
The craft beer world in general would like to believe they’re above that (and maybe they should be) but the sad fact is that for every person who is against it, there are people who will snicker and try a beer because it’s named Doggie Style, Tramp Stamp, Pearl Necklace, Happy Ending, etc.
Or beer that has labels like these (WARNING NSFW) http://www.thebeerdrifter.com/tag/naughtiest-beer-names/
Heck you could argue that Delaware’s own Dominion Brewing plays to that a bit with the labels for their Bomber Girl series (pushes bottle of Morning Glory to the side hoping that no one sees it).
Sadly, I doubt you’ll ever totally get rid of it, but that doesn’t mean the industry shouldn’t be trying. And I agree with the commenter above, if it offends you, don’t buy it, but more importantly try to make an opportunity to let the brewery know why you’re not buying it. If a brewer hears it enough, maybe he’ll change it.
As to the Strip Club. it doesn’t bother me since some of those places are trying to project a more high end style and bring in a more high end clientele. And I’m sure serving craft beer is part of that business model. At the same time I think doing it in association with the Craft Brewer’s Conference would not have been the business decision I would have made, simply because I would know that I’d push people away who might want to come to my event simply due to its location..
Good piece as always.
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great advice, oliver.
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