In the news yesterday: Ex-Anheuser female executive Francine Katz, the “Queen of the Beer Industry”, sues for gender bias and pay descrepancy, claiming working for the company which oversees brands like Stella and Bud entailed enduring a “frat party atmosphere.”
Katz said that by 2007, her base salary and bonus were only 46 percent of what her predecessor on the committee, John Jacob, had made six years earlier.
It’s no surprise that corporate, big-lager culture would be a hostile place for a woman to work, but I think it puts the arguments of sexism and the beer-o-sphere in perspective. It goes all the way to the top and trickles all the way down. I would like to think that microbreweries and independent pubs could separate themselves from the Big Boys in many ways. That would mean not just keeping quality and tradition alive but also involving women respectfully and equally. Is that so hard? What is it going to cost? Other beer bloggers have argued it’s not up to the small businesses to change things in this way. But it is precisely on this level where we have seen change in the US and here in the UK as well. (For example the Pink Boots Society was started by craft brewers, not macros.)
A couple of weeks ago I was discussing the sexism in the beer world with a friend of mine, also an American immigrant. Both of us are from the West Coast of the US, where, she argued, we lived in a bubble of progressive thinking. It’s true that in Portland, Oregon and many other brew-happy cities along the coast women drink beer, brew and serve it expertly, and they do so without being some kind of anomaly. They don’t have to worry too much about what kind of image they are projecting or whether their involvement with beer has made them less attractive to men. (I’m happy to report I’ve lived unburdened by the “I’m drinking from a pint glass– will a man ever want me?!?” dilemma.)
A recent conversation amongst beer bloggers has discussed whether beer-drinking women are sexy. The Bittersweet Partnership, a branding “feeler” from the Coors corporation, has asked the internets what men think of women who drink beer. I have written about the Bittersweet Partnership before. I think it’s missing the point, at least for serious beer drinkers who are more interested in the flavor, history and culture instead of the image it projects to the opposite sex. Their approach is clumsy and corporate, and doesn’t speak to me as a woman consumer, but with that said there is a part of me that really hopes they eventually hit it. Especially if that’s what it would take for the “small guys” to listen.
In general men are not expected to subscribe to the same acute self-consciousness as women. Are men worried they will be rejected by women based on what they are drinking? I wouldn’t waste my time turning the tables– let’s face it, asking if beer-drinking men are sexy is a pointless and slightly depressing question. Homer Simpson swilling Duff or worse– Beer, Sex, Chips and Gravy comes to mind. Beer isn’t very sexy, period. Or is it?
Good beer has an undeniable earthy sensuality, and it makes you feel good. If we are to find the sex appeal in this beer culture of ours, we only have to think back to our last festival or gathering where someone said, “Oh, this is wonderful. Try it!” That generous spirit is much more appealing than insisting on “no beer guts.” We need to ask ourselves which is sexier– the image of the drinker in the right clothes, striking the right pose and drinking out of the right glass or the attitude of someone who sees new beers as an adventure– someone who is totally present while they taste things. To prefer the former is, I’m sure, a failure of imagination.