This Gendered Pleasure

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.

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14 Responses

  1. Great post. As a beer loving woman who lived in Portland, Oregon during college — moving back to Chicago afterward was a bit of a shock. Though, I do see more and more women involved in beer brewing, serving and drinking every year.

    • Hi Gemma– thanks for reading the blog. What is the Chicago beer scene like? I think the microbrewery revolution in the US is really making things easier for women to be involved and enjoy beer. In the UK, ideas about femininity seem to be quite backward and preclude many things, beer drinking among them. I hope things continue to change and open up so that more women are accepted and feel free to get involved.

  2. I have to admit, I don’t understand all the fuss. Beer is beer, and people are people, whatever gender. Enjoy the company of both!

  3. Your tale of Francine Katz is depressing. I’m not quite sure why this kind of thing persists–I can’t see that it benefits anyone. Very nicely argued post. At least the days of the ‘woman’s glass’ seem to be over though.

    • Hi Chris– it is depressing, isn’t it? And it kind of puts all the talk of women & beer and sex appeal in perspective. I think things are changing, as you say, and this makes me happy.

  4. Hi, this is Kristy writing from BitterSweet Partnership. Thanks for picking up on us again, the debate is something we’ve been watching closely – and participating in! – with interest. As you point out, cultural issues play a massive part in the debate: BitterSweet Partnership was set up to tackle a specifically UK problem around women and beer (so it’s really interesting for us to read how it’s different in Oregon).

    We do know from our research that image is something that’s important to a lot of women in the UK, and how they’re perceived by both sexes. However we’re in definite agreement with you that women shouldn’t have to be self-conscious about drinking beer. We’re trying to find out the reasons why they are – be it sexist beer advertising, lack of knowledge, or the drinking environment – and tackle these to try to bring about change and, as you say, make people listen.

    • Hi Kristy, Thanks for stopping by– I think the The Bittersweet Partnership endeavor is a curious one. It seems the approach is very “Hello” or Cosmo reader– with the red carpet events and emphasis on cocktails. It doesn’t resonate with me as a beer drinker or as a woman consumer. It seems like it is responding to a demographic that actually hates beer and needs it to be sequined and doctored in order to consider it. Surely there is a broader segment of women who would like to drink beer but haven’t found the one they like yet? I would think the way to find those women is to understand women who are already drinking beer and how they came round to it. I am not an advertising specialist but it’s clear that this is what happened in places like Oregon.

      On the whole, it isn’t easy to be taken seriously as a woman in the UK beer world. I admire you and hope your endeavor makes inroads in changing this but I remain respectfully skeptical!

  5. I think this post ought to be the go-to on the subject.

    Particularly liked this:

    ‘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.’

    Exactly – asking inane questions such as ‘is beer sexy?’ or ‘can women be sexy drinking beer?’ (Can women be sexy eating sauerkraut? Can men be sexy chomping on a sandwich?) will get us nowhere and tend to reflect the prejudices of those posing them.

    It’s not sexy to eat sausages. But it is attractive – in anyone – for people to be curious and open to new experiences.

    The whole beer cocktails and – heaven forefend – Tab Clear style beer stuff is patronising.

    • Thanks, John. We could add noodles to the list…and so many more! Haha.

      In my darker moments I wonder if the whole beer cocktails thing and the clear beer made for “ladies” actually needs the ‘beer-unsexy’ controversy to sell. How else are they going to get people to drink it? That is an old advertising trick– take something that has belonged to us naturally (a love for beer), take it away (Haven’t you heard? Beer-drinking women aren’t sexy!) and then sell it back to us (See, you can love beer if you buy this pink one in the champagne bottle and drink it from a stemmed glass.)

  6. But I love pink beer (Kriek) in the champagne bottle and served in a stemmed glass. If I followed the ads I’d probably be wanting a gender change!

    John put it better than I. I don’t get the discussion as it’s a non-issue for me.

    Mmmm, sauerkraut and dirndles 😀

    • Haha, Barry! Dirndles seem quite popular in this discussion. Now I wish I still had mine– I wore it (ironically with a ripped tee shirt) all the time in college until some guy told me I looked like Eva Braun and then I lost the heart for it. Maybe Coors just needs to start marketing beer outfits instead of beer…I’m getting carried away now.

  7. I’ve missed your wonderful and insightful blog posts, glad you’re back blogging.
    I have to say I’m not impressed by the bittersweet partnership. The website is all about the branding of beer and appealing to readers of Grazia magazine. There is nothing about actual real beer. They seem to just want to come up with one product that happens to be beer that is branded and marketed to women. Then women can drink that and their job is done.
    It doesn’t speak to real women beer drinkers at all.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps they see real women beer drinkers as an image liability– maybe they believe their own hype that we aren’t “real” women at all– that is until we drink their “feminine” beer.

  8. Hi, it’s Kristy from BitterSweet.

    Thanks for your feedback on our website and the work of BitterSweet and sorry that you don’t think it quite hits the spot for you.

    I think you all raise a good points about targeting those women that already drink beer but sadly our research has shown that this very much a minority with 77% of women saying they never or very seldom drink beer at all and only 8% say it’s their preferred drink.

    In fact only 13% of beer serves in the UK can be attributed to women, amongst the lowest in Europe so while it’s great to find some real beer aficionados here we have some real work to do as an industry before it becomes the norm for more women to enjoy a beer.

    Beer cocktails are just one thing we’re looking at as well raising awareness of the great beers that are already out there, changing glasswear, new packaging advertising and busting the myths that exist for women around beer.

    One way, as you rightly point out, is to find women who are already drinking and enjoying beer and have them share their experiences so we are always looking for guest bloggers over at http://www.bittersweetpartnership.com and would love to hear what you have to say!!

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