It’s been a while since I’ve written anything. General life things have got in the way and my writing in almost a year has amounted to several half-baked ideas left to fester in the Drafts section. One of them, in fact, was something this post is about, and the events of the past week have riled me enough to actually write something legitimate.
Beer has long been viewed as a boys club, and despite the work and efforts of many, it’s apparently still viewed as nothing but. Every single woman I know has reels of examples of the sexism and discrimination they have faced while working, or simply attempting to order a beer from a bar: from the ongoing war on pump clips, to questions about job ability, to the downright disgusting sexual comments.
Let’s talk about micro-aggressions. While viewed by a a number of people from a certain generation as a nonsensical word thrown around by “liberal snowflakes”, it rather nicely collects all the little niggles into one big basket of misogyny. I constantly see comments about pump clips on social media: the “it’s just a woman in a pin-up style”. The objection isn’t to the artwork of the 1940s. The objection is to the fact that the reason the artwork was created in the first place was for the male gaze, and that 80 years later, that same practice is in place -except not for summoning some kind of wartime patriotism, but for selling beer. That there’s some kind of assumption within that that the only people going to be looking at the draught selection are men, and that vacuous looking women with their tits out will draw them in. This, in turn, reinforces the outdated belief that women are only there for men to look at. I was told this week by a man shaking his head that my company was evidently “just hiring pretty school-leavers to work the bar”, as if this was the sole reason that I could be there. He was the second customer I’d served after returning from a debate about sexism and discrimination at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival.
This is a beer festival run by CAMRA, who are not one of my favourite organisations, largely based upon my experiences from their events. Despite the efforts of the mostly (I’ll come to that) wonderful staff and volunteers to make this one of the more progressive CAMRA-run events, I again had another horrendous run-in. They’d scheduled this particular talk during the Wednesday trade session, which I thought was fairly telling, in that they don’t want to risk upsetting CAMRA’s core base of the anti-“bloody PC brigade” by putting it on during a public session -or maybe because they actually wanted people to turn up. It was something that came up several times during the debate: that the people in attendance were not the problem.
The debate started by the panel introducing themselves with an experience of the discrimination they’d faced, and it was the second panel member, Annabel Smith, who decided to open with, “I’m going to put a bit of a positive spin on this … looking at the financial industry, I think we’re actually quite lucky.” I was gobsmacked. You’ve been invited onto a platform to give your opinion and be part of something to make things better, and you want to put a positive spin on it?! What’s more shocking is that she announced herself as the founder of a company aiming to get more women into beer though I don’t doubt that she’s done a lot for the industry. Comparing the beer industry as “not as bad” as others is completely unhelpful. If you’re in the knowledge that it’s not okay, then you have a voice to be able to change it for the better. And if we can make this one better, others can follow.
Katie Wiles, Senior Communications Manager at CAMRA and one of the debate panellists, said that CAMRA have just put out guidelines stating that it “does not condone any sexist labelling or marketing at its festivals, in its publications or at its competitions” and this is a huge step forward for CAMRA, but it’s still not good enough. Their “Revitalisation Project” which has now been delayed by over a year, indicates that CAMRA as an organisation still want to bicker about keg beer rather than ensure everyone at anything associated with CAMRA feels safe and the environment is free of discrimination, and lo and behold, this is well down on the priority list. Here’s a graph from the results of one of the surveys they put to their members.
As the largest single-issue consumer group in the UK, this is where change needs to start. Not from getting Carling to make an advert with women drinking beer in it. Not from making a “beer for women“. It needs to come from the 190,000 members of CAMRA, the biggest single force in beer.
This in itself is a huge thing to tackle. I also attended a debate on the price of beer, which is a subject for a whole other time. After this session ended, a male CAMRA volunteer came up to me to tell me that he completely disagreed on everything I’d said. After some discussion, the conversation turned to sexism, which is when the conversation went further down the drain. After challenging him on why he thought the sexism I faced was okay, he said that the world wasn’t equal and that it never will be -and that he thought that was a good thing, because he doesn’t believe in equality. That I should learn to get on and enjoy life, because any harassment I face should be taken as a compliment, because the men probably just fancy me.
Said ultra-misogynist then came up to me again a while later to apologise if I was upset, but that it wasn’t his fault that we didn’t agree and he didn’t believe in equality. (In all credit to the organisers at MBCF, they were absolutely brilliant in handling it and took a statement from me).
One of the questions asked at the sexism debate was whether we, the audience, thought that the situation had improved over the past 10 years. The above comment, amongst the others I’ve had, coupled with the fact that this time last year I was considering quitting the industry, because of this very issue, made me vote no. But I stayed to fight, and you should too.
I can’t say it better than the wonderful Hannah Davidson can so I’ll leave you with this:
“When someone tells you that something is problematic, don’t argue with them. Don’t tell them that you’ve never experienced it yourself, that it therefore doesn’t exist. That goes for women, LGBTQ people, people of colour. If someone tells you there’s a problem, ask how you can make it better. Amplify it yourself.”