Beer and Pavement

Men and Beer

Posted in Beer, GenderBender by SM on November 4, 2010

This is one of those posts I started a long time ago but never got around to finishing. In the meantime, some urgency is lost, not to mention the many other post ideas I’ve had to let go. Anyway, this one feels unfinished. Footnotes would help immensley, but I just want to post it and move on. So, here you go…

There was this story not too long ago in the Times. It seems Lost Abbey made the unfortunate choice to feature the artwork you see to the left on their labels for their Witch’s Wit. Bloggers debated. Some came up with solutions.

The debate was whether this image was offensive and should Lost Abbey change it before they release the beer again.

Who was offended?

Well, according to blog posts and the Times article, Pagans and witches were the most cited offendees. However, what was missing was that this label is offensive to women as well.

Women were persecuted, drowned, and burned because they wouldn’t conform. In fact, in some areas today, women are still suffering from such atrocities over accusations of witchcraft and generally not giving in to men’s wishes.

In other words, women can be held in check, kept quiet with the knowledge that they will be tortured or killed for stepping out of line. It’s not much different from what a battered woman suffers in an abusive relationship. It’s abuse at best and systematic oppression at worst.

Now, I doubt Lost Abbey intended for this to be the message on their beer label. They make some great beers and don’t appear to be the sexist rabble-rousers some might assume from the production of this label. It’s just insensitive. The right thing to do would be to apologize and make a reasonable change. The blogger-provided solution I linked to above would be ideal, but any change to either create a less offensive image or provide some education on the issue would be the right thing to do.

I don’t intend to pile onto Lost Abbey with this post. I’m just trying to provide some context. The issue I really want to hit upon is the sexism prevalent in the beer community.

Superficially, the worst offenders are the macro-brew side of the community. InBEV, Coors, etc. promote their “beers” through some of the most sexist, exploitive tactics possible. It’s obvious to point them out, but I thought I’d mention them first as they are by far the worst perpetrators of the objectification of women. I think we can all agree on that.

More subtly, the craft beer community has it’s share of sexism. Sure, I think the more refined community of brewers, bloggers, and enthusiasts of the craft beer scene are light-years ahead of the macros, but that might be the problem. Never should craft brewers sink to the levels of the macros. Maybe that’s naive, but I want to believe that craft brewers are more principled than corporate rice-based beer manufacturers.

The Lost Abbey is but one instance of arguable sexism or objectification in craft beer. Honestly, it’s the only one I’ve seen on a label (sans a few vintage pin-up images). That might be why it seems like such a big deal. Craft brewers don’t have to sink to such levels (not that Lost Abbey did any sinking) to sell their beer. They rely on the quality of their product, as it should be.

No, the kind of sexism I see in craft beer is subtle. Go to any craft beer event and you’ll see that it’s overwhelmingly male. I know that’s changing and there are efforts to organize the women in the community in order to improve those numbers, but one cannot miss what a boys club craft beer is.

For the most part, I’m cool with that. I often want to hang out with people like myself, gender is part of that. And any dude who’s into craft beer tends to be thoughtful and opinionated, good for a chat at the bar.

However, when you have that many men in close proximity with few or no women around, things tend to get a bit sketchy. Jokes about wives or girlfriends start to happen. The locker room comes to the bar room. Let’s just say many conversations are not the most inviting for women, but that’s not really any different than anywhere else or in almost any other context. Guys say things that are not exactly sensitive to gender because the world is just set up that way. And there are even instances when women can get in on the act. So, in this way, craft beer isn’t significantly different than the rest of the world. Still, it’s no excuse.

What I do see is a lack of a “woman’s touch” in the scene. I don’t mean that there isn’t enough pink on beer labels or fancy fruit beers. And I don’t mean to ignore those women who support, promote, and brew in the scene. What I’m talking about is the pissing contest that inevitably happens at every beer event. Who has the most rare beers in his cellar? Who has the most reviews on BeerAdvocate? Who traveled the furthest for his beer?

Missing is the delicate, intellectual side of beer. Let’s discuss beer pairings. What specifically makes this kind of hoppy beer better than that hoppy beer? What does everyone think? Let’s discuss each beer instead of frantically passing each bottle around the table in an effort to squeeze in as many beers as possible in one sitting. It goes on and on.

Admittedly, this is nit-picking. Maybe that’s why I like the craft beer scene so much. There’s little to complain about. For the most part, it’s a pretty self-conscious scene. However, when there is a critique – like the Lost Abbey label debate – it falls onto to deaf ears at best or defensive ones at worst.

Go back to the post I referred to above. I think the comments were generally polite and respectful, but there was an underlying tone that suggested craft beer had no room for descension. There’s a tone that anyone who’s offended is a whiner. The term “P.C.” is thrown around so that no one has to think about an idea that might call into question one’s privilege. It’s dismissive and condescending instead of engaging in debate. Sure, some commenters, particularly the blog’s authors, who tried to stay above the fray, but to little or no avail. It was clear that to question craft beer and to point out instances of sexism was pure blasphemy.

This attitude concerns me. To deny that inequality exists or to pretend as if it’s no big deal is a dangerous road down which to travel. There’s a reason beer clubs and homebrew communities are predominantly male. Some reasons are inane, but some factors are problematic.

Anyway, in order to combat the sexism in craft beer (real or imagined), we should support those in the scene who put forth a good image for women. There’s fellow Ohio State alum The Beer Wench and her blog, Drink with the Wench. You can also follow her on Twitter. There’s also Laurie Delk at the 100 Beers 30 Days Blog. And don’t forget to support The Ladies of Craft Beer whenever they come around.

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8 Responses

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  1. Jade said, on November 5, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Interesting post! Can you link your blog to the CBE site(s) so a beer-related post can be featured as a discussion item?

    You saw how much attention I got when I posted about LOCB and the possibility of doing a local meet-up. One person. It’s not that there aren’t women who like and appreciate craft beer. I know several! I can’t speak for them, but the feeling I get is they think they can’t talk about beer intelligently enough to really get into the scene. What I wouldn’t want is a separate CBE “for the ladies,” because that is not doing anybody any good. Instead I would like to focus on how to make sure our group is viewed as accessible to everyone and not intimidating to outsiders who want to learn. Honestly, I am not sure I would have made it to a tasting by myself if I had seen the predominately male membership throwing out their ABVs and their IBUs so forth.

    Beer really does become a competitive discussion, or pissing contest, as you put it. A few times I have wanted to say, okay, just get the ruler out and let’s settle this now. Men are competitive about most everything. It’s all about the numbers game. But, no, it should be quality over quantity.

    It went under my radar that this Saturday is Teach Someone How to Homebrew Day. I would like to have more educationally focused events that return to basics and encourage the social atmosphere I want to foster around beer, rather than a competitive one. Everyone in the CBE is so willing to share beer and knowledge about beer and brewing, and I want to get that message out.

  2. The Beer Wench said, on November 6, 2010 at 11:26 am

    Zac,

    Fantastic post. As a female in the industry, obviously this is an issue I struggle with on a daily basis. I do believe in supporting my fellow female craft beer drinkers, but at the same time I also support equality. I love being a member of the “Ladies of Craft Beer” community, but I also want to be known as more than just a lady of craft beer … I am a person of craft beer.

    I agree that the beer industry is definitely missing a female touch. We need more females in all aspects of the industry — brewing beer, on the bottling line, behind the bar, writing books, writing blogs… and so on and so forth. The industry is pretty skewed and, as much as I love the men in the industry, we need to even out the numbers.

    Not gonna lie or hide anything from anyone on this topic. There have been several instances where the “boys club” has both intimidated me and frustrated me to the point where I have taken down my site and pretty much wanted to give up my hopes, dreams and goals to work in the craft beer industry.

    Today we are discussing Women & the Craft Beer Industry at the Beer Bloggers Conference. Stay tuned …

    Cheers,

    Ashley

  3. builderofcoalitions said, on November 6, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    Thanks, Jade and Ashley. I hesitated to post this, but your kind words make me feel a little more justified. Jade, there’s now a link to the CBE in my list to the right. (http://columbiabeerenthusiasts.com)

    Ashley, I know it’s a bye week, but go Bucks!

  4. kate said, on November 6, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    This is interesting to read on our beer trip which was planned and anticipated by us both. I can see some of the things you’re saying as we taste. I actually said to D: “remember, beer is not a competitive sport”. Am going to link on Twitter and see what some of my craft beer friends there think.

  5. Greg said, on November 9, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    This is an well thought-out post, and definitely a topic that’s worth a good deal more discussion.

    As someone obsessed with the visual side of the craft beer industry, I’ve often remarked that it seems to be one area with a strikingly gender-neutral feel. Since, as you’ve pointed out, the market seems to be one that is not just largely male but at times masculine, I’ve often wondered why there are so many feminine images on craft beer bottles. Perhaps it’s because design remains a heavily female field, and the firms and breweries that do the actual art are often employing women to do it.

    In any case, the question remains an interesting one. If the market is mostly men, how much catering to men is the right amount? Is the industry missing out on female potential customers, or are they just practicing smart business? I confess, I start getting a little nervous when we say things like the industry is missing a “woman’s touch”… does that mean women can’t be competitive? Of course not, but my point is that the playing in gender roles gets dicey.

    What we can all agree on is that craft beer should remain a welcoming place, and that no one should ever be made to feel uncomfortable. My world would have been a worse place if Ashley had boarded up her site because of an idiot culture in her hobby/profession. And if she felt pressure, than others probably do, too, and that’s a problem we as a community need to be vigilant about preventing.

  6. builderofcoalitions said, on November 9, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Greg, thanks for the thoughtful comments. I don’t know that I really want craft beer to have more of a “women’s touch”, but it would be more welcoming if there weren’t so many pissing contests. It’s too masculine in my opinion. Of course, it’s nowhere near as hyper-masculine as the macro scene, but isn’t craft beer better than that?

    I hold craft beer and its community to a higher standard than the mainstream or macro beer scene. It’s disappointing to see so few women in that scene and little discussion as to why that is.

    Now, I think I will go back to less controversial topics like drinking beer and listening to music. Thanks again! I’m a big fan of your blog.

  7. […] Men and Beer November 2010 6 comments 4 […]

  8. […] indie rock: the pissing contest. I’ve addressed the pissing contest before in regards to the boys club craft beer has become, but the issue needs further development. You see, we were having a back and forth over my […]


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