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The Female Craft Beer Contingency is not Monolithic

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After the veritable catfight that plagued #BBC10’s day two “Craft Beer and Women: As Consumers, Industry Members, and Blog Readers” panel, I saddled up to Brewers Association media maven Julia Herz at the Boulder Beer Co. afterparty. She said she really hadn’t expected the heated discussion or backlash on the topic, for which she was a panelist. I did.

To give you a taste of that backlash, check the stream of #BBC10 hashtags, and look for references to the women’s rights movement. “Beer Wench” blogger Ashley Routson  felt compelled to weigh in on the subject toward the end of the session, delivering a half-coherent diatribe about how she could never write a blog about Ayrian power in our society. I guess the implication was that that attempting to target female craft beer drinkers is similar, via reverse-sexism.  The completely inane comparison (at least to this blogger) reminded me of arguments we’ve recently seen against the Witch’s Wit label, citing gay bullying deaths as a reason not to portray “discriminated against” witches at the stake. Both metaphors are so terribly exaggerated that I find them silly.

Julia didn’t see the backlash coming, but I did. I did, because I run one of our organization’s largest chapters. And for as many brewers that really “get” what we do, there are a lot of brewers, male and female, and other industry members who ask – why a group for beer-drinking females? Isn’t that divisive?

It’s as divisive, I tell them, as Boy’s Poker Night, or a Girls’ Night Out, a societal institution on which our group’s name is based. What’s more divisive is the discrepancy between the amount of female vs. male craft beer drinkers: According to Morgan Stanley stats I’ve learned through BA, 30 percent of women drink  beer; 35 percent of women drink craft (as an aside, this stat always makes me nervous: does that mean that most women who drink craft beer also drink macroswill? Doesn’t seem quite right. But I digress).

Our group exists to help bridge that gap; to introduce more women to craft beer, and further the education and geekiness of those ladies already into it. Of course, we have to couch that message in a way that appeals to our followers, if we want to get any sort of traction, and we have chosen some very specific positioning. Pink shirts and the use of the word “Girl” in our title are two that have evoked the most ire from some ladies.

Which just goes to show an inevitable part of the female craft beer drinkers’ evolution and development, and the real point of this post. We must remember, as more women join the ranks of craft brewers and consumers, that the craft beer female contingency is not monolithic.

Case in point: A couple of months ago, female-facing beer marketing consultant and Women Enjoying Beer blog author Ginger Johnson took our group to task for the use of the word “Girl” in our name. “Women are not ‘Girls,’” she admonished in a post on “dos” and “don’ts” of marketing to women. But while this pretty traditional feminist line surely resonates for some ladies, for people in my group, it’s just way too serious and PC of a consideration. “Sex in the City,” among other pop culture references, have made it so that even old ladies – er, “Golden Girls” – use the term for their cohorts. Johnson asserts that her own focus groups have shown the word to trend badly. But I have evidence to the contrary: The term resonates, especially in the foodservice industry. The Melting Pot, for example, ran a smashingly successful “Girls Night Out” promo in 2009, a time when most casual-priced restaurants like it were suffering. It resulted in a sales uptick that gave the brand a little reprieve from dropping numbers.

Clearly, our representation and affiliations are as intrinsically diverse as the group we are. Another example of this truism is that we can’t agree which beer company’s marketing is simply edgy and which is sexist.  Many women – Routson again included – have blogged that they support craft beer because it doesn’t objectify women like the macrobrewers do. But that’s not an absolutely true statement. For example, The Girls’ Pint Out Indy website had a very public debate a few months back about whether Flying Dog’s “Doggie Style” underwear  were just another tawdry allusion to sexually charged macromarketing, or something cute we’d like to wear. And while Women Drinking Beer’s Ginger Johnson is very careful to call out even craft brewers who design this kind of merch, or labels like Three Floyd’s boob-splashed Arctic Panzer Wolf — some of us women plain welcome it. My own (female) friend Cathy Clark designed this well-endowed character to grace shirts for Houston’s  inaugural Beer Week. I love it. But I can bet Johnson would have some choice criticism.

Because I’ve been mulling these issues, I expected the backlash. But I don’t understand all of  the specific criticisms it’s lobbing. Some women decry our organization because they’ve “been working hard to be seen on as the same and equal to men in the craft beer industry,” as I heard one girl at my BBC table say.  Ironically, she was wearing a Great Divide dress specifically catered to the female craft beer experience. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

And doesn’t her statement beg the observation that we’re not yet on equal footing, simply in terms of representation? Why, then, is it so volatile to have a group dedicated to advancing women in the ranks?  Ours is not a remedial group that drinks super sweet cider at salons all day or dyes our doggies’ hair with hop cones without even a thought to its terroir and region of origin. We use events like Pints and Pedis to draw in the non-craft beer drinker, and others like our Euro vs. American beer style smackdown or our Cicerone study group to further the geekiest of beer geeks’ knowledge. And yet, despite this progressive theme and cause, we still get insults from our own kind, like the suggestion to have an “ales for assholes” event where we bleach each others pipepuckers.

Female craft beer consumers can’t agree on a unified representation of themselves, because there isn’t one. The overly dramatic, emotionally charged spat going on right now quite ironically ignores this point. We are all different, and we should politely accept it, in the civilized nature the very practice of beer brewing arguably created (see Mosher). In fact, the catfight is looking a lot like an old school beer ad’s dream. Just Photoshop us in a vat of “Fizzy yellow beer.”

 

 

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Comments ( 16 )
  • Well put, Jennifer. It’s quite easy to have an ivory-tower view of this subject without practicality. Keep doing what you’re doing, you’re doing great.

  • Anonymous

    Should we use pictures of you strutting around in the Beer Maid costumes at BBC for that Photoshop work?

  • Superbly written! And thank you for saying what many of us women (and men) would like to know but can’t find the words to say.

    - Alicia
    @leximaven on Twitter

  • I’ve been reading a lot of posts like this on a lot of different beer blogs lately and I don’t know that anyone has said the obvious. …that is that isn’t the end goal the same for all of us? – instilling a love for beer in those who might not otherwise be exposed to the craft that is beer instead of just viewing beer as a means to an end (getting drunk)?

    *”Why can’t we be friends?” plays in the background, softly at first but increasing in volume as the rant continues*

    Not everyone is going to respond to a message the same way. Some want to believe that they are part of an exclusive club, and that helps keep them interested. Some want to belong to a group where its members have more in common than just one interest. Others simply want to have their message heard by as many people as possible and be all inclusive. Both groups have their place. If the end goal is the same in both groups, than they should welcome any help by like minded individuals who might take a different path to the same place.

    I don’t spend too much time reading Girls’ Pint Out because….well, I’m not a girl. …..but I do love beer. :) But if Girls’ Pint Out reaches a demographic of the beer loving community that would be otherwise unreachable, I say go for it. At the end of the day we all hope to promote beer awareness. …to teach others about the culinary art that is beer and the ways to better enjoy the craft.

    In short, I love beer and will cheers anyone, anytime who feels the same.

  • wow, I mean, wow. I am bumming I missed this weekend but was busy getting my very own Wolverine State Brewing Co. Tap Room open and running successfully. My business partners are men. My brewer is a man. My distribution “partners” are 95% male dominated. However, hitched my wagon to this particular future star of craft brewing because of one thing: lagers. I have LOTS of female fans, followers and drinkers. In short, I make both delicious and refreshing yellow fizzy, craft brewed beer (hell yes it exists–come try my brewer’s version!) plus 4 other varieties of lager including an amber made with Belgian biscuit malt, a brown with chocolate roasted malt, the closest thing to an “IPL” you can get if such a thing existed which is proving to be a crowd favorite, and an Oat lager. future recipes include “Drag me to Helles” (natch) and a Baltic Porter. We do have an amazing IPA and The Wench’s West Side Wheat (American Wheat Ale). I think the better conversation we should be having is discrimination between beer styles. Just because it’s a lager, does NOT make it inferior. It makes it actually even more complicated to perfect. Trust me I know.
    I love me a good catfight, but frankly ladies let’s talk about what we have in common, how we can promote all makes and manners of good beer, and show our hotness in the meantime…..that’s one thing I use to my advantage every single day and am not about to give up! I am a big fan of Beer Wench, west coast (she is a killer karaoke partner I can tell you) and think there is room for all voices in this discussion. We start turning on each other and the terrorists win–i mean, the boys get to blame it on PMS.
    hence, my very own logo–shirts are available for sale! She is tres hot–all she lacks? is foam coming out of the beer bottle she’s riding (side saddle, ’cause she’s classy).
    cheers!
    The Ann Arbor Beer Wench
    E.T. Crowe

    • Tamre

      We missed you too! Your beers sound delicious. I would love to try the amber with the Belgian Biscuit Malt! The goal is not to tear each other down, there is a lot of disagreement on how women fit into the craft beer community. But we all do it for the beer and that’s what counts.

  • I’ve been reading a lot of posts like this on a lot of different beer blogs lately and I don’t know that anyone has said the obvious. …that is that isn’t the end goal the same for all of us? – instilling a love for beer in those who might not otherwise be exposed to the craft that is beer instead of just viewing beer as a means to an end (getting drunk)?

    *”Why can’t we be friends?” plays in the background, softly at first but increasing in volume as the rant continues*

    Not everyone is going to respond to a message the same way. Some want to believe that they are part of an exclusive club, and that helps keep them interested. Some want to belong to a group where its members have more in common than just one interest. Others simply want to have their message heard by as many people as possible and be all inclusive. Both groups have their place. If the end goal is the same in both groups, than they should welcome any help by like minded individuals who might take a different path to the same place.

    I don’t spend too much time reading Girls’ Pint Out because….well, I’m not a girl. …..but I do love beer. :) But if Girls’ Pint Out reaches a demographic of the beer loving community that would be otherwise unreachable, I say go for it. At the end of the day we all hope to promote beer awareness. …to teach others about the culinary art that is beer and the ways to better enjoy the craft.

    In short, I love beer and will cheers anyone, anytime who feels the same.

    -The Godfather of National Beer Day

  • CR

    This blog entry seems a bit off to me. As a woman in a man’s profession, I have fought my entire career to neither be singled out and looked upon favorably as a women nor be discriminated against for the same reason, but the absolute worst of it is when gender stereotypes are reinforced by women.

    When other women look at me and see me as a pretty blonde they dismiss me as being a ditz and will bash me for being strong willed and driven by calling me a bitch. I dislike reinforcing gender stereotyopes. And to me, this seems like what this article is doing. That is very sad.

  • CR – Our organization felt the same way Saturday at the Beer Bloggers Conference, like we were being attacked for our attempt to represent our own craft beer experience. We don’t advocate this at all. My diatribe here was naturally impassioned, and I’m sure I’ll be skewered on other websites for it. That’s okay. I stand by the belief that this infighting will pass as soon as we realize that our organization’s wanting to create more female craft beer consumers, for example, does not hurt, pre-empt or hijack your wanting to be treated equally to men in the craft beer world. In fact, that’s our goal too. We simply go about it a different way.

    We would never call another woman a bitch, and I’m curious to see what sort of gender stereotypes you think we’re reinforcing.

  • As the organizer of the conference, I (like Julia Herz) did not expect any controversy. The goal of the Women and Craft Beer was designed to reveal that women are important to the beer industry and discuss how industry representatives and bloggers might react to that. I think embedded in the conference content was a bias in favor of ideas like Girls Pint Out: women can have different drinking and reading preferences than men and it seems smart to acknowledge that (just like Northerners can be different from Southerners, wine drinkers can be different from whiskey drinkers, and those with varying education levels can have different preferences). To ignore that is to ignore reality, isn’t it? Hence I never expected this to be controversial.

    What I did expect to be controversial was any discussion of craft beer versus the big brewers and we did not take this on at the 2010 Beer Bloggers Conference, even though it popped up in the same Women and Craft Beer panel. A two-for-one!

    I have no problem with energetic discussion and will consider planning panels on both these topics in 2011!

    • Tamre

      Allan,
      Thank you again for inviting me to be on the panel. There were many more qualified women than me who could have provided content for a panel. That Girls Pint Out was included helps us reach out to women who want to start trying craft beer and just need someone to show them the ropes. It also shows our girls who consider themselves beer geeks that we’re legitimate and they aren’t wasting their time at our events. The Beer Bloggers Conference was such an eye opener for me and I learned so much that we’ll be taking forward in how we use Girls Pint Out to engage drinkers to choose craft beer.

      Thank you again,
      Tamre

  • I thought it was a good subject, even though it got a little interesting for a while. I thought the panel members showed great presence and poise.

  • It always amazes me that whenever we women join hands to forge great relationships and have the best intentions in mind, it is often other women who criticize our efforts. I was in the audience at the BBC10 conference and the reaction from the one dissenter (female) was so typical. I see this whenever women are in a minority field and it comes out whenever I speak at engineering, IT or other conferences worldwide.

    It always reminds me of the saying – I’ve seen the enemy and it is me…

    You go girls! And don’t look back at those who don’t agree with you 100%. As Seth Godin wrote in one of his blog postings just last week – you’ll always have 2% who don’t like what you do. With 1 vocal dissenter in an audience of 106 registered attendees last week, you all did well.

    Onwards and upwards with craft beer in recipes, on tables, in food pairings, in beermosas, as gifts, as therapy, you name it. All in the name of good craft beer!

  • Thanks Carol! BTW, I love your blog’s industrial design. It rawks.

  • Love this article. I really had no idea there was this type of controversy. Can’t we all just enjoy some beer, learn, and try new things together? As a woman and a beer lover, Girls’ Pint Out has been an awesome outlet. So happy it’s here in Boston now!

  • Great post! I particularly like that you’re respecting rather than overreacting to other viewpoints although you may not share them. While some people are hypersensitive I always think it makes more sense to not worry about being PC…just go with what’s fun and comes naturally as long as you’re not hurting anyone. Mutual respect and admiration should be the rule of the day for all craft beer drinkers regardless of superfluous categorizations such as gender.

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