Sexism in beer

Today marks 125 years since (most) women were given the vote in New Zealand. We were the first country to do so and women are now equal in all respects of the law. But, law change has not marked the end of the struggle for women’s for equality. Cultural and community change is still needed, and is still needed for women in beer.

It is unlikely that any New Zealand brewery or brand would market themselves or their beer in the same way as the Australian brewery Black Hops did; with inuendo that suggested that a women’s vagina – or her “pussy” in this case – could be taken if “you had the balls”.

Thank goodness DB, for example, seems to have done away with the “Tui Girls” in its day-to day-advertising. But, every day we are still confronted with actions and with words that marginalise or minimise women and women in beer; in New Zealand and overseas. And, with actions and words that can make our community unsafe for women because marginalisation can lead to objectification.

Think of it in terms of the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. Unfortunately, the new legislation has not stopped workplace deaths and injuries. The New Zealand “it’ll be alright” culture means we often don’t recognise unsafe work practices. And, when we do, we sometimes turn a blind eye.

Improvements in workplace health and safety are made through building awareness of the issues and hazards. This same approach is needed to addressing the issue of sexism, and sexism in beer. Building awareness needs to be combined with a willingness to call things out. In a workplace, this means calling out an unsafe working practise and stopping the working. In beer, it means calling out the instances where women are marginalised or minimised, or where they are being objectified. It can be a hard thing to do.

How often do we hear people say, “but, it has always been like that” or “I’m a woman and I am fine with it”. This is where building awareness matters. It is genuinely hard for a lot of people - women and men - to understand the real impact of the constant use of terms like “mankind”, “manmade” and “manpower”, and the constant references to brewers and beer drinkers being men. But, the use of terms like this fails to recognise the important roles that women have played in human history; in the development of science and technology, and arts and culture (just Google it, and don’t even get me started on “Chairman” as having “Latin roots”. One, this understanding is just plain wrong and two, it just highlights how long language has been marginalising women).

Man has not done it all, alone. But the frequent suggestion that he has means that we are regularly seeing the results of studies that show women are being put off from entering certain sectors and undertaking certain roles where they feel they don’t or can’t belong. That is a huge loss of potential contribution. We may never know the real cost. But, I can guarantee it would cost less as women still are, on average, paid less than men - That is a joke, but its not really funny.

The constant references to brewers as men fails to recognise the long, documented history of women as brewers and brewery workers, and those working in the industries that support beer. In New Zealand, it is a failure to recognise some of the great contributors such as Tracy Banner (formerly of Lion Nathan) and now of Sprig and Fern. Tracy has just won the New Zealand Brewer’s Guild Morton Coutts Trophy for Innovation or Achievement for a thirty-five year contribution to beer; Tracy herself noted that she’s been in beer and brewing longer than some of the beer community have been born. It is also a failure to recognise people like Anita from McLeods, Tammy from Mata, Emma from Kereru, Cassie from Garage Project, Belinda from Brew Moon, Ava from Beer Baroness – to name just a few – the list could go on…and it should. All you need to do is take a look at membership of New Zealand Pink Boots to realise how many women are participating in New Zealand beer.

But, you know, no one likes being called out…It brings out the true misogynists and makes them angry. You only have to look at the vile hate spewed online to see that. Each and every time you see someone abuse or threaten a woman online, you should report it. No excuses. Imagine if it was your mother, aunt, sister, partner or child being called foul names or threatened with violence and rape. It is someone’s relative.

Responses to the calling out of sexism - overt, subtle, casual or otherwise - can make us feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. Embarrassed, because if you’re anything like me, you’re constantly referring to groups of people as “guys” even though you know you shouldn’t. Uncomfortable because you didn’t notice the issue yourself and you are not sure how you feel about. This is because many of us have an “unintentional” or “learned” misogyny; essentially an ingrained prejudiced that has come from our culture and the community…the old argument, “I’m a woman and I am fine with it” highlights how embedded some of these issues are and the challenges that need to be overcome. (It’s not a simple matter of one woman being right and another one being wrong, nor is it an opportunity to pit women against each other).

You see what I am getting at here?

To change our culture and our community we need awareness of the issues and the impact they have. And, we need to take a stand by calling out sexism. We will be confronted by trolls, and sometimes we will embarrass ourselves and others too. It will be uncomfortable. But, so be it. I am not going to make any apologies for tweeting, facebooking or otherwise pointing out sexism - overt, subtle, casual or otherwise - when I see it. And, neither should anyone else.

Some of you might ask, “what’s the harm done” by the casual or accidental use of sexist language? “No one is getting hurt”. If this is the case, go back to the beginning, or go away. I am telling you that it is hurtful to many. But, in addition to the hurt and frustration, and the missed history, present and future contribution of women, the result of sexist actions and words, and the objectification of women, can have real physical impacts. We see this in the news each and every day.

When women are not viewed as individuals but as objects it is easier for some people to assault them. New Zealand has a terrible record of assaults and sexual assaults against women. Much of it goes unreported but estimates suggest that one in five New Zealand women will experience sexual assault as an adult and one in three girls will experience some type of unwanted sexual advance (which is, by definition, a sexual assault) by the time they are 16 years old. These women and girls are your mother, aunt, sister, partner or child. This is why it is important to change the culture, change the community, build awareness and call issues out.

Every little thing makes a difference. From little things, big things grow. Little things add up. Start contributing to the equation in a positive way.