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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