On Gender and Beer: Why Do We Think Men Are from Ales, Women Are from Lagers?

to_men_from_god_women

Conversations on Capitol Hill once again became focused on the equity of men and women last week, as the White House marked Equal Pay Day. Even in 2014, women are still fighting an uphill battle not only in relation to income, but workplace discrimination and advancement opportunities.

The little-known “holiday” has been marked since 1996 as a way to highlight the income gap between men and women. On a broader scale, it shines a light on continued issues facing gender equality in our country. We are making progress, but are yet to find a way to put men and women on equal footing.

It’s a discussion that can be applied to many industries and occasions outside of just pay, where forces work to push us toward what it means to be the “fairer sex” or embrace our machismo. “Boys will be boys” almost sounds like a rallying cry at times, as the growth and maturity of males becomes a product of our societal expectations of the gender-based paths we follow.

But that doesn’t mean our path is entirely laid out before us, even when discussing the beer industry and its stronghold on the psyche of the American male.

The rise of craft has shifted perceptions about beer – what it tastes like, looks like, and how it’s made. However, in an industry that doesn’t accurately track the number of women it employs (perhaps less than 1 percent) I fear we still can’t shake decades of implied masculinity and what that stands for, no matter how artisanal our beer may be.

beer_cans_bottles_wall_from_god men and women

Let’s make no mistake – women are very important for the beer industry:

  • 26 percent of women named beer as their favorite alcoholic beverage in September 2013 vs. 24 percent in 2012.
  • In 2012, 25 percent of U.S. beer consumers were female.
  • Women are less risk averse then men from trying to products or services.

Even still, from advertising to beer styles, women are marginalized in some odd twist, like a practical joke played by our otherwise inclusive craft beer community:

Anyone, irrespective of gender or origins, is encouraged to become a craft beer enthusiast. Women who take part in craft beer related activities, especially as professional or amateur brewers, are often saluted and praised. Yet the mere fact that their presence is noticed may reveal the importance of gender identity for craft beer people.

At the base of this paradox is an overarching question: who is beer for? It’s most certainly a brazen question to ask in terms of gender (or any demographic group, if you ask me) but one that is hard to shake for a society so set in our expectations of gender roles.

It’s made even more complex when we realize that as women flock to craft, large, marco brewers respond in their traditional way, by pandering to our lower – if historically in a business sense – common denominator:

“Why is all of your marketing geared towards men? Are you convinced that women prefer wine and will not switch to beer?” [Large beer company marketing manager] told me, “We understand the female market is a huge opportunity for us. We have lots of new products that are in the works to specifically market to women.” I took this as code for apricot or blueberry flavored beer.

In Zygmunt Bauman’s philosophical and cultural analysis, Liquid Modernity, the author posits that “it is who you are, rather than what are you doing, that truly counts.” That statement has always struck me as an important way to view the world. While we may be judged by our actions, it’s who we are and who we want to be that is pivotal.

Much like the slow changes offered through legislation of Equal Pay Day, it’s becoming time to ante up in our inclusion of women in beer and why that shouldn’t matter at all.

It’s with this in mind that I hope to dive into the deep waters of gender and beer culture. Even though the industry has certainly made progress in its evaluation and importance of women, I fear the relationship is still murky, as if reaching out to women is akin to wildly grasping at shadows in front of you.

It’s my hope that by the end of this week, I can come up for air and have sorted out some of socio-cultural questions stuck in the chasms of my brain. It’s my hope that exploring gender roles means we can have an open conversation about why such a thing exists.

… and what better place to move from here then the evolving structure of beer marketing? That comes next.

In the meantime, what questions or thoughts do you have about gender and beer culture? Chime in below.

Related “Gender and Beer” posts:

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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19 thoughts on “On Gender and Beer: Why Do We Think Men Are from Ales, Women Are from Lagers?

    • I believe it’s definitely happening, but perhaps not in the exact ways we’d think. Please do share your thoughts again, as I’ve got a lot to consider for my next post!

      • The only drinking commercial in recent years that really openly marketed to women was “Diet Coke Break”, with all the women standing at a window watching a hunk drink a Diet Coke. Women are still mostly just sex objects….except in a very few of the light beer commercials, being part of a group of drinkers. So…what’s the next post subject?

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  3. Bryan, I love this article – this is honestly the first time I’ve seen anything written on the topic. It will only take one or two breweries to come up with a finely crafted (pun intended) tongue-in-cheek marketing campaign to corner the market.

    • Thank you for the kind words! I’ve actually been formulating a post that deals with this exact topic, but I’ve found that it’s not just a few breweries who are going down this road. It’s nearly everyone!

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  5. Delighted to happen upon this article in an otherwise unrelated search this Monday morning… as a woman working in the beer industry, I am consistently disappointed that breweries differentiate between ‘girly’ beers and others. Especially when I see a tremendous amount of men drinking products like raspberry hefeweizen.

    It would be more appropriate to categorize beers as easy drinking or even ‘gateway’ instead of ‘girly.’ Because I’m a girl, and my favorite beer is a Rye IPA. Don’t see too many female-specific ads highlighting that…

    • I love me some RyePA! Westbrook One Claw is my favorite, for what it’s worth.

      I’m totally on-board with “gateway,” especially since it’s a term that can be easily applied to anyone, no matter their preference in beer or another drink. I’ve had plenty of conversations with men who aren’t into beer and I’m trying to find that gateway drink to get them started.

      Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you enjoyed my piece.

  6. i think “approachability ratings” would be a good way to describe beers. Also, do you think that low-end light beers can be a gateway to craft beers? Or are they just completely different categories of drinkers?

    • Approachability is a bit tricky since flavors are so subjective. That said, there’s a reason why “crafty” brews like Blue Moon or Shock Top are so widely popular. Blue Moon essentially brought Belgian white to American drinkers, in a popular sense, at least.

      Since there are so many craft brands and varieties, I’d say that’s the best gateway! Just a matter of finding the right beer for the right person.

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