Our Beer Sommelier, Maggie Cubbler discusses her opinion on sexism in beer and it's not buxom women on pump clips.
Just yesterday we celebrated International Women’s Day, a decades-old day which acknowledges the contributions of women around the world. The beer/craft beer industry is not unlike countless other industries in that women make up a significant portion of what makes it successful. Whether they are talented writers like Melissa Cole and Sophie Atherton, brewers like Christa Sandquist from Magic Rock or women pulling the weekend shift at the pub, we’re all just working our tails off trying to make a success out of each and every one of us.
At the time of writing this, I’ve been seriously working in the beer industry for about seven years now. I started out just seriously drinking but now I’ve been afforded an opportunity by my amazing bosses here at Beer Hawk to actually get paid to drink do what I love to drink do. It’s been an exciting adventure to be a part of and I’m looking forward to what’s to come. This industry has provided more choice and more quality than we even thought possible ten years ago. It truly is a fantastic field to be a part of.
The craft beer industry has shown that it is virtually recession-proof and growth—while slowing—has been just about guaranteed for most businesses in the market, so long as proper market planning had been done. Even though the market is saturated with competition, businesses are adapting. Taprooms and directly selling to the public are becoming an awesome but necessary evil in order to maintain cashflow and opportunity for expansion.
There is a huge market segment that is still relatively, umm, untapped: women. According to the most recent statistics available, women in the US account for 15% of craft beer consumption in 2014. That’s up from 13% of women who, in 1998, had only ever tried a “microbrew”. So in roughly 15 years the female market sector grew from almost nothing to about 15% of consumption. Awesome, right?
15% is only 15%. That’s a lot of disparity between the sexes. And that’s in the States! Surely the numbers are quite different here in the UK with women getting nowhere near the 15%. Why, when everything about craft beer—choice, high quality, flavour, local—should be appealing to any gender, do women consist of such a small portion of consumption? It’s not up to just the breweries and beer businesses to adapt well enough to achieve growth among women.
It’s the beer culture as a whole. Really, it’s the man-drink cliché; the beer is for bros, the “dude-drink” that is inhibiting growth among roughly half of the population. Now, I promise I’m not going to go into a rant about buxom women or double entendres on pump clips. There are people fighting that fight out there already. In fact, in my opinion, there is something much more surreptitious that is an even bigger obstruction to getting me some more drinking buddies. It’s the simple word “female”.
Or lady (beer). Or woman (brewer).
Not too long ago I was at a conference and I overheard a discussion where one man referred to an apparent woman as being a “female sommelier”. Why the qualifier “female”? There’s a lot built into that simple little word with the connotation being that it’s different from the regular. Kind of like New York or Junior Whopper. This person also flippantly commented that she just had to work harder in the industry because she is a woman. I’m not naming names but this person is rather prominent in the industry and has many books with his name on the cover. I’m not sure of the grand context of his whole conversation but the fact that he seemed accepting of—but not agreeing with— her plight to work harder than her male equivalents makes him complicit. Shrug, she has to work harder. Don’t accept that! Change it!
I know that this is an industry dominated by men. And it’s not surprising that people would be intrigued by what I do. Yet, I’ve been treated as a novelty—“A lady who likes beer! And she’s even a pro! She must be incredible to hang out with! We should listen to her!”** While it’s true I do know a few things about beer I didn’t learn it because of my womanhood and you don’t need to buy what I sell because of it either. If I don’t want you calling me a “female” anything then I shouldn’t be using that same femininity to my advantage. It's no different than putting me in a bikini to sell beer. Ok, maybe it's a lot different but...
While 90% of the men I have befriended while enjoying a beer would never treat a woman differently, this sort of stealthy sexism is real amongst the 10% and does nothing to bring more women into the fold. I suggest normalizing our language and stop using qualifiers like “female” or “lady”. Stop being astonished that I—and many women alongside me—would hold such an interest in beer. And, for the love, don’t ever ask my husband what I would like to drink (which has happened to me in the past year at what is supposed to be a progressive drinking-hole). If we stop using womanhood as a novelty and as a language qualifier then perhaps it’ll stop appearing as though I’m a woman in a man’s world. It’ll be more interesting and less intimidating to the women who haven’t yet discovered what’s so great about beer.
I’m Maggie. It’s nice to meet you. Do you want to grab a beer?
**Ok, that’s all true.
Father’s Day, 19th June 2022, is the special date in the calendar when we celebrate and give a nod to the Dads in our lives. It’s an excuse to spoil them with a little something to say thank you for being awesome. If you’re looking for inspiration for a craft beer-loving Dad, then check out our top 7 Father’s Day beer gifts.
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