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The Session

Session #81: Women in Beer Culture

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This is a post that is about three weeks late. Every month, on the first Friday of said month, the The Beer Sessions invites beer bloggers to pen a post on a single subject. Each month a different blogger ‘hosts’ the session by choosing a topic, and then subsequently summarizing all of the posts for that month. At the beginning of November, Session #81 brought us to an old chestnut (at least for me), as The Tasting Nitch asked, “What about Women in Beer Culture?‘.

It’s taken me an extra couple of weeks to finish this post, at least in part becasue I wanted to get the post ‘just right’. It’s not easy to write down my thoughts on this subject without being characterized as bigoted, but all I can say is that I’m not (bigoted), I am not a misogynist, I am not a sexist, and I have no problem with women brewing the beer that I drink. Nor am I about to lead a campaign to keep women out of pubs and bars, and nor do I have an issue with women in positions of responsibility, power, influence or as my superiors. Having said all of that, I do strongly believe that beer has a gender, and it’s not female. I do not think that statement is in any way contradictory to my stated position as a non-misogynist.

The whole, ‘women in beer’ thing is a pretty straightforward question for me. I’ve been asked about it over and over again, and I have always had a sort of matter of fact, shrug of the shoulders answer. Actually, if truth be known I’m just not very passionate about the subject at all, rather to me, the whole thing is less about deep analysis, and much more about what I consider to be a cultural and ‘natural’, norm. For me, it’s just sort of simply ‘the way it is’ and should be – a natural law if you will.

I think the origin of my position about beer’s gender is fairly simple to trace. Growing up in 1970’s and 1980’s Britain and watching my dad frequent pubs where women were simply not welcome, obviously gave me a perspective and historical reference point that is difficult to shake. Not only were women not welcome, most women were quite OK with that, and wouldn’t have wanted to spend any time in those pubs, anyway.

At that time, and even now to a large extent for me, pubs were a refuge for men  – a place to be away from women. Pubs were mainly the working and middle class equivalents of the upper classes, gentlemen’s clubs*, where men went to get away from all things female rather than to meet and socialize with women. Pubs were dens and bastions of stereotypical male culture, where vulgarity, lewd behavior and words and actions not necessarily welcome in polite society were embraced and even encouraged. These were the places that I experienced at a very young age.

*for American readers I don’t mean ‘gentlemen’s club as in ‘strip club’, rather I’m talking about exclusive male only, drinking establishments popular since approx. 150 years ago.

So what about beer as an entity (as opposed to pubs and pub culture) per se? Well, when women DID go into pubs it was customary for them to either drink something other than beer (typically wine or spirits), and if they did happen to consume beer, it was strictly in half-pint glasses. A woman drinking a pint of beer was really a very rare occurrence, and on the few occasions that it did occur, it would elicit some pretty interesting comments! As a result of this early exposure to these norms as they pertained to women and beer, even to this day, I find the image of a woman with a pint glass in her hand, truly and quintessentially unfeminine; I’d even go as far as to say that I find it unattractive. As I am typing this I am literally imagining a woman in a typical barroom stance, with a 20 oz pint of beer, grasped at chest height about to be raised to her mouth, and I find it to be a masculine action that is not consummate with the fairer sex. That isn’t to say that women that drink beer aren’t attractive outside of the beer drinking context, it’s simply me saying that I find the image of women in that situation and in that stance, less than appealing. For the record, there’s plenty of women that agree with me on this one. (BTW, don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that for a multitude of reasons that the same women that I find unattractive in this situation almost certainly find me equally or more unattractive, for 1001 different reasons!)

Please don’t misunderstand me (and I know that might be a forlorn hope but it’s an appeal that I have to make), but beer and women are a strange mix for me. I really not sure why this gets on peoples nerves. What is it about society these days that gets people riled up when the idea that the genders might be different, is broached? It seems quite natural to me that some things are masculine, some things are feminine – why can’t we just accept that? I don’t expect many to agree with me, but quite why you’d be upset about my opinion is a little bit beyond me.

I know that this post will deliberately get twisted into all kinds of things that misrepresent me, and I know that I will take plenty of flak from the interwebs for what is written here, but if you spoke to me in person, looked me in the eye and we actually had a civilized discussion about this, I think you’d see that I am not the misogynist that some will paint me to be, rather I’m just a guy with a cultural background that makes my position seem quite normal to me.

 

39 Comments

  1. You’re entitled to that opinion, but you shouldn’t be surprised when many find it laughably anachronous and yes, quite misogynistic. The fact that a particular way of life existed in the past is no inherent justification for its continuing presence nor one’s sentimental attachment in the present.

    To put it another way: plenty of people still around today grew up in a time when blacks would be barred from certain restaurants and Jews were discouraged from living in particular neighborhoods. If the children of those coming of age in that era were today to argue that seeing blacks in nice restaurants is distasteful to them on the basis that it’s against what they consider “natural law,” or that for them allowing Jews in country clubs amounts to a “strange mix” and “unappealing,” they’d similarly be entitled to that opinion, but it would quickly be parsed that their beliefs – even rooted as they are in their cultural backgrounds – belong to a different era and would be correctly construed as bigoted within the world we currently inhabit. Again, you’re free to hold the opinions which you yourself ascribe to decades-old societal experiences, but if you can’t comprehend that many personal beliefs from a bygone era now mark the holder as bigoted, then I don’t know what to tell you.

    Things change. Some for the worse, some for the better, but the fact that this was the state of society that happened to exist when you happened to have come of age does not in any way, shape or form make it the natural state. As with many areas of this blog, you conflate a rose-tinted nostalgia for the particular time and place in which you grew up with the misguided dogma that that is the innate essence of the world.

    • For me it’s very easy to compartmentalize. I don’t believe I am a sexist for preferring to drink beer in male only company, when in the rest of my life, I am very happy for women to assume all other roles. This is a VERY specific and narrow thing for me and as such I don’t think that it is bigoted – it’s simply a preference, and there are no laws in place that prevent women from doing the things that I find less than appealing.

  2. I am from NZ that had a similar male only beer “culture” which with hindsight, I did not care for much.

    I am happy that my wife enjoys craft beer and that I have many woman brewer and beer lover friends in the Atlanta beer culture.

  3. But is there some racism in that statement? I’m not talking about labeling people as sexist, but whether there’s acculturated sexism in people’s attitudes toward women & beer – specifically yours, since you’ve been so generous as to share them. :) I’m not saying that you feel negatively toward women, but feeling dissonance or “turned off” when seeing a women enjoying something you think is naturally meant for men smacks of sexism. A little.

    • Honestly, it’s difficult to tell whether there is racism in that statement or not. To me, it’s not obvious and (to me again), it would not necessarily mean that the person that said it, is a racist. I’m not that bothered by the sexist label to be honest, because I know what’s in my heart, and I know what my comments mean in a beer context.

  4. Okay, I’ll keep the convo going if you want.

    How about this? Is it racist to say “Black people & golf are a strange mix for me”?

  5. Hey, some of my best friends are sexists! ;) I guess we are all entitled to our own confusion. Here’s where I respectfully play the “Agree to Disagree” card, if you accept.

    • ‘Agree to disagree’ is OK, but it doesn’t help me to understand what’s wrong (or sexist) about my position. The concept of a boys or girls ‘night out’, where the opposite sex is specifically excluded doesn’t seem to raise the same controversy, and as such, I don’t see why traditionally male or female domains cannot continue to exist or be preferred.

  6. I agree that there’s a broad spectrum, & am not equating pub culture with institutional sexism, but I think it’s also not fair to ignore all the less obvious forms of sexism that still warrant the name. I think it’s a distinction of degrees that still belong on the same spectrum. I don’t believe that any individual – or certainly any culture – is completely just & egalitarian, but the difference is in what level we tolerate without thinking about it.

    To be clear: I’d still consider it sexist, but not necessarily directly harmful, & don’t equate it with the ‘extreme, negative connotation’ to which you refer.

    • I know that you (and others) will form your own opinions about where I stand on the ‘sexist spectrum’, and that’s fine with me – it comes with the territory when one writes a piece like the one I wrote. However, I’m not sure where this is going.

      IMO, my position is absolutely fine and moreover, one that I WANT! I stand by it and to use your words, I am happy to ‘own’ it, but I am still confused by the preference for some men to want to drink beer with men rather than women, apparently being so difficult for others to understand.

  7. Thanks for the quick reply.

    How it comes across to me is that English pub culture is/was (at least covertly) unwelcoming & exclusionary to women, but it’s convention & you see yourself as a product of that culture, so you’re okay with it. It’s hard to argue that said convention is not sexist, in my opinion, but I get it & I don’t think it makes you “A Sexist” or “A Misogynist” per se, because labels like that are overly simplistic. Would you concede, though, that this thing that’s shaped your views IS, to some extent, a sexist institution? We’re all fallible.

    • Well to me, the word ‘sexist’ is being hijacked somewhat.

      It’s a wide spectrum which encapsulates direct discrimination in the workplace or in law, that is based solely upon gender, that most people (me included), would have a problem with. Then at the other end of the scale there’s a bunch of blokes, in the pub, that in that context prefer the company of men rather than women. At no point was there any ‘law’ preventing women from being in pubs, nor were they ever asked to leave, nor did (to my knowledge) they receive any unpleasant treatment if they chose to go, but it certainly was true that men didn’t want them around in that context.

      If you want to call that ‘sexist’ then fine (I prefer, ‘it was simply a male domain’) but to equate the simple preference of men wanting to drink beer in the presence of men rather than women, with the extreme, negative connotation of the word ‘sexist’, is I think, very unfair.

  8. I gotta give you credit for putting this out there. It took some guts to write a piece this honest, when you recognized going in that your opinion would not be a popular one. I don’t share your perspective, but I appreciate the sincerity you put into articulating it & recognize the validity given your experience & cultural background.

    That said, the last two paragraphs ring a little disingenuous for me. You seem to embark on this knowing that it will ruffle some feathers, but then express incredulity with “today’s society” for taking issue with what is still, essentially, a sexist view. I’m not saying that YOU are a sexist or misogynist, but why not just own that your opinions bear the weight of a boys’ club tradition? You feel how you feel – why not just be accountable for it & the flack that sharing it might engender? The incredulity came across as naïve & intellectually dishonest, & I just found it to be very uncharacteristic of your general tone.

    THAT said, I don’t want to come across as jumping down your throat or having a knee-jerk reaction. I’m consistently impressed by the honesty, passion, & thoughtfulness of your writing, which made this seeming inconsistency all the more glaring.

    • Nate – thanks for taking the time.

      I think that I AM ‘accountable’ and I am certainly happy to ‘own’ my opinions, but I am genuinely confused over why so many things have to be gender homogenized. I understand that the ARE, but it doesn’t make any sense to me.

  9. A beer nerd friend linked me this post and typed some outrage. My first comment was “give me the tl;dr” then I came back and skimmed what is a largely pointless point about something most people would disagree with.

    My followup was “who is this guy and why does anyone give a shit what he thinks?”

    The answer was, “He knows a lot about English cask ale and got banned from Beer Advocate.”

    Really? Banned from Beer Advocate? This dude must be some kind of cultural rebel … along with like 10,000 rebels.

    Congratulations, you found a dumb ass on the Internet … the biggest Megaphone for Dumbasses ever created.

  10. I understand what you’re saying. For those not raised in the same culture, maybe the best comparison would be the visual of a woman smoking a cigar – a traditionally male activity.

    That said, many people find that activity extremely attractive…

    As time goes on many of these old, traditional beliefs and feelings will fade only to be replaced by new ones for the next generation. So it goes.

    • I love the cigar analogy, since that is also something I find especially unattractive in a woman and would put in the same category. That said, if you dig that kind of thing, have at it!

  11. This just sounds so old fashioned. Did someone seriously just write this in 2013? It has to be a joke.

  12. I’ve been a woman all my life and I must say you are correct sir, I never drink out of a pint glass. They simply do nothing for aroma.

  13. One of your many mistakes is assuming that what you personally find attractive in women has anything of value to add to this conversation.

    You claim you’re not sexist, and then go on to describe how historical pub culture and your preferences mean that women should feel somehow less comfortable in the beer world.

    As a female brewer, I’m interested in the conversation of gender balance in brewing. I don’t see why anyone should pay heed to your misogynistic “beer is for men” claim, which adds nothing to this conversation.

    • Jennifer, I’m not expecting or asking anyone to ‘pay heed’ – I’m just expressing an opinion.

  14. I find the opinion expressed in this post to fall right in line with some of the more “tolerant” Christians who defend their “baffled” opinion on homosexuality; it’s a sort of “hate the sin, but love the sinner attitude.” By that analogy, this post clearly “forgives the sin” of a woman being in a bar. This type of attitude is a very common plea to the audience that the speaker is in fact being tolerant while expressing his/her disagreement “I have no problem with women brewing the beer that I drink. . . . nor do I have an issue with women in positions of responsibility, power, influence or as my superiors.”

    However, this argument has a fundamental flaw: the assumption of a sin to forgive. I should point out here that I’m being intentionally hyperbolic. The author nowhere states that women who drink beer are sinners or wrongdoers, but he still makes the point that there’s something fundamentally “different” about it. That’s the sin he’s willing to forgive. The problem is, dear author, that it is not your place to determine which gender drinking beer is “normal.” You may be willing to forgive the sin, but I do not recognize your authority to classify it as a sin. I have to remind people of this quite a bit living in the American South: just because you were “brought up a certain way,” doesn’t make that way right.

    P.S.: A word to the wise, whenever you have to preface a thought with something along the lines of “now I’m not a misogynist, BUT . . . ” you’re very likely about to say something incredibly misogynistic.

  15. This is very easy to respond to. Stop telling women what they should and shouldn’t drink. Thanks.

    • I didn’t ‘tell’ anyone ‘what they should and shouldn’t drink’. Comprehension fail, I think.

  16. In your brain, what you’ve written makes sense. This is how you grew up, thus it must be natural. Deviating from it must be unnatural and somehow wrong.

    Let’s put it in a different light.

    I grew up with people pronouncing the last letter of the alphabet as ZEE. For my whole life, and the life that I knew, in English, the last letter of the alphabet is ZEE. So all of the people who pronounce it ZED must be unnatural. They must have something wrong with them to think that it’s just fine, dandy, and heck sometimes attractive for someone to pronounce the last letter of the alphabet as ZED.

    And don’t get me started on people who don’t even speak English. That just can’t be acceptable or attractive. It is just so unnatural and unattractive for someone to speak any language that is not what I grew up with around me and has been found attractive and natural by humans living around me for many years.

    That is how your opinion sounds to me. It makes no sense once you scratch below the surface.

  17. woman working in the beer industry here. this is so cringey I can’t even be mad.

  18. You know that, traditionally, brewing was women’s work, right? Just like baking was?

  19. You know brewing was traditionally women’s work, right?

    And you better be careful about which beers you drink, because there’s some amazing beers out there being brewed by women right this very instant.

    • Yes, I do know that, and I think you failed to read the part of my post that said I’m fine with women brewing the beer that I drink.

  20. I’m baffled by your bafflement. I’ll try and explain why people are annoyed when you express this opinion. By way of illustration I’ll call on three imaginary friends, Anne, Belle and Claire. (Good name for a song, that, wonder if anyone’s thought of it?)

    What do you think of Ding’s opinion’s, Anne?
    A – As a woman who enjoys beer I’m offended to be told that the thing I’m enjoying is somehow intrinsincally wrong for me. Yes, the pub- and bar-going environment has historically been very male-dominated, but surely that’s a problem to be solved, not something to be celebrated. I don’t drink pints, as it happens, but that’s my preference – if I do start drinking pints one day I don’t want to get funny looks from the local male population.

    How about you, Belle?
    B – I agree with Anne, except that unlike her I do drink pints. As it happens, some of the traditional womanly values are very important to me, and at first I did think that big glass was a bit ‘macho’. But I prefer drinking pints – it’s more convenient and, often, cheaper – and if I can reconcile that with being a woman, it’s nobody else’s business. Ultimately I don’t think the glassware I use has any bearing on whether I’m a ‘lady’ or not.

    Over to you, Claire.
    C – I also drink pints, and I also agree with Anne. I don’t agree with Belle, though, because I don’t give a damn about her “womanly values”; I just want to live a happy and fulfilling life, on equal terms with everyone else, and without everything having to come back to what I’ve got in my pants. So the idea that a pint glass is unladylike means nothing to me. All that leaves is the fact that some guy on a blog doesn’t like the idea of me holding a pint glass – and, with all due respect, that means less than nothing to me.

    • Phil – thanks for taking the time. PLEASE don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect any of these ‘people’ to agree with me or to care much about what I say, but to paraphrase ‘Claire’, their comments have less than no influence on my position.

  21. While I don’t believe you are a misogynist, no matter how many times you say that we shouldn’t get you wrong, someone is gonna get you wrong. There is nothing peculiar about a woman drinking a beer. Some things are best left unsaid, brother.

  22. Terrible analogy. There are no laws against women drinking beer, that’s the difference.

  23. Just trying to preempt those that will get it wrong.

  24. But you do get a sense for how a woman feels reading your opinions here? It feels terrible in the same way.

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