08 Nov

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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