On Gender and Beer: There and Back Again

I had planned for my last post on this topic to be the end of this series of posts, but then this happened:

instagram-craftbeervixen-beer

Meet CraftBeerVixen. She started following me on Instagram after joining the platform two weeks ago. In that time, she’s amassed over 750 followers thanks to heavy use of hashtags and … her breasts. Or legs. Or butt.

instagram-comment-woman

There is no problem with a woman embracing her sexuality, but putting it into the context of the conversation I was hoping to have over the last couple weeks, I wondered: is this a good thing?

So I felt I couldn’t simply leave things where they were and wanted to offer one last round-up of thoughts on the topic of gender and beer … for now.

To be fair, I did reach out to Vixen on her Instagram page and asked her: are you trying to spur conversation about craft beer or your body?

An honest answer? A little of both. Beer and boobs have gone together since the beer girls of Munich, even earlier! And I won’t lie… I like the attention. BUT…I will continue to try and provide a detailed, quality review and my perspective on each beer I try, in addition to a the “visual” additions. I welcome any conversations on the review photos (just the beer pics, not me in them!). And if I can make some friends, some trades, and learn more about this great interest we all have… even better!

I don’t think Vixen is trying to do any harm – it’s clear she has fun with her photoshoots – but it does fit into the bigger picture. If sexuality is the gateway for conversation, it potentially stands to reinforce all the norms previously discussed, whether it’s men’s expectations of women or women’s expectations of themselves.

In her post “What Does It Mean to Drink Like a Woman?,” Shanna Farrell explores the gender gap in regard to bartending and who drinks what kind of cocktail. Even though women represent the fastest-growing segment of worldwide whiskey consumers, they still face an uphill battle to be taken seriously in bars, where drinks like The Pink Lady, Lemon Drop and Cosmopolitan were specifically created for women because, in cultural terms, they’re not supposed to be able to handle liquor.

The ways in which certain cocktails have been perceived, discussed and used as marketing tools reify the ideas about how women drink. They’ve since been embedded in our collective cultural consciousness along with ideas about women in the profession of bartending.

Which I think can also be translated to beer culture, or even our broader American psyche.

Mind_The_Gap_confidenceAs Heather Vandenengel mentioned in my last post on gender, one of the greatest issues she sees facing women is a confidence gap. From early ages, females are taught that perfection is key and taking risks is problematic.

In a timely bit of writing, journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman offer a slew of evidence for this in their aptly titled piece, The Confidence Gap. They cite a variety of studies, including their own, but I was particularly taken by two points.

The first was research out of University of California-Berkeley, in which it was shown that people who exude confidence within a group, even if they’re less competent than everyone else, will rise to the top of that social circle. This is troubling for women, said Katty Kay in an accompanying interview.

“If perfect is your standard, you’re never going to get there,” she said of women’s expectations. “Of course you’re never growing confident because you’ve set your bar way too high … and you’re conscious of the gap between you and what you’ve aspired to be.”

Kay and Shipman continue, in the written piece:

…the natural result of low confidence is inaction. When women don’t act, when we hesitate because we aren’t sure, we hold ourselves back. But when we do act, even if it’s because we’re forced to, we perform just as well as men do.

Which brings us back to a cycle of problems when it comes to gender and beer.

We’ve seen that there’s a natural inclination to belittle women’s taste to something stereotypical like fruit or sweetened beers, even if the variety of brews available today is nothing short of astounding. Part of that problem falls on our societal expectations. If we teach females to start from a place where they aren’t supposed to question established norms (or like whatever they like to drink), they will expect to not be accepted within male-dominated groups. Like our beer culture.

If we keep adhering to long-standing rules about each gender’s place in regard beer, what good are we doing? Certainly, the craft beer industry and overall marketing efforts have shifted to be more welcoming, but is that enough?

Attitudes toward women are changing, and for the better, but a host of troubling research shows that they can still pay a heavier social and even professional penalty than men do for acting in a way that’s seen as aggressive.

So now here I am, questioning myself. I know I have no reason to be upset with CraftBeerVixen’s Instagram feed, but why do I feel slighted by it? I imagine because I hold beer and its culture so close to my heart and I’ll be damned if someone wants embrace old-fashioned expectations established for women by men.

women beer group-pink boots-girls pint out

Groups working to empower beer-loving women

In my eyes, it’s a disservice for an industry that’s modernizing in all sorts of ways, including working to dispel stereotypes through organizations like Girls’ Pint Out or the Pink Boots Society. You don’t have to be sexy or shortchange yourself in order to get involved anymore. Everyone can have a voice.

But is it so bad, really? Is Vixen’s aggression to use sexuality as a conduit for craft beer wholly unacceptable? I don’t know. I’m coming from my own biases, imparted by years of societal nurturing.

What I do know is that we’re in a better place overall if Vixen feels empowered enough to take this route, no matter what I think. I just hope she doesn’t hurt herself – or the culture – by walking in those eight-inch heels.

Related “Gender and Beer” posts:

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

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18 thoughts on “On Gender and Beer: There and Back Again

  1. Pingback: On Gender and Beer: Why Do We Think Men Are from Ales, Women Are from Lagers? | This Is Why I'm Drunk

  2. Pingback: On Gender and Beer: Changing Our Expectations of Women | This Is Why I'm Drunk

  3. Pingback: On Gender and Beer: Do We Need Saving? | This Is Why I'm Drunk

  4. She can do whatever she wants with her image and her time. It’s up to the rest of us to depict ourselves how we choose. Does it bother me, as a woman, as a craft beer lover? A little, but only because it doesn’t fit my own self image. And why should I be bothered by that, really. It doesn’t impinge on my right to portray myself and the women I highlight on my own site differently (albeit not without some measure of sexiness thrown in–though not by Vixen’s standards I’d wager). So what if she wants to perpetuate a stereotype. The viewer has the right to turn away or become titillated at their leisure.

    • Absolutely. I suppose I just felt dismayed that she’s compelled to take that approach, but that’s just me. I guess I just wish the conversation was driven in a different manner.

      But to each their own.

  5. I agree with HeyBrewtiful. It’s up to her what she wants to do & if she wants to get ‘famous’ and be portrayed like that, well that’s just fine. I, myself just choose not to go about it like that. I can’t get mad, maybe I’m a little urked but I can’t say I haven’t taken a photo that someone could have considered ‘sexy’ it just wasn’t by Vixen’s standards. It’s a grey area like most things in this industry.

    • Oh, I don’t mind the idea of a woman embracing “sexy,” but I was thinking of it all in context of my previous posts, which made me ponder on it all a bit more. I’m sure there is satisfaction in her process, so more power to her if that is what makes her happy.

  6. As long as she chooses to post those pictures because she wants to express her sexuality (and love of beer) and not because she feels she needs to in order to have her voice heard, then hey, whatever. She’s free to do what she likes and everyone is free to react and feel about it however they want. Does it “hurt” female beer-loving groups like Pink Boots and GPO? I don’t think so, because she doesn’t represent them and we can’t expect her – or any person – to be a standard-bearer or embodiment of their gender’s identity in an industry/hobby/discussion/anything.

    • I guess my reaction came from the viewpoint that she is doing it because that’s how her voice is heard. I’m fine with it if that’s her preferred mode of conversation, I just wish it happened in another way, personally.

      On the other hand, if it’s driving conversation and making her happy, who am I t complain? I’m just one person.

  7. Interesting perspective as always, Bryan.

    As with everyone’s sentiment, she can do what she wants! But I think this moves into the discussion of marketing beer as well. You’ve touched on this topic yourself, and , as we can all acknowledge, it’s often marketed at men…

    I like to think that male craft beer drinkers like myself are a little more enlightened than just going for a little T&A when we choose what beverage to drink, and, as a man, I have to admit that I have taken offense when this is the marketing ploy used.

    There’s a brewery down here in Australia (which shall remain nameless) who tried using women in tight t-shirts to dispense tastes at an expo, and thankfully, the tactic didn’t work. If anything it was harmful.

    That’s a bit separate from your article, but an extension I guess and worth mentioning.

    • I believe that as a culture, we’re generally moving away from this as the end-all, easy marketing ploy. (another plug for a post I’m formulating)

      That’s not to say using women to market things toward men is going away or will go away, but I think what you say is right. We’re becoming a bit more mature in our consumption of advertising and marketing, so the industry has to shift with it.

  8. Whatever Vixen’s motivation, more power to her. On principle, we should embrace that women have the inalienable right to create whatever self-image we want. However, Vixen is doing for feminism what Sarah Palin has done for the Republican party.

    More on point: Is Vixen manipulating a demographic that already falls in line with stereotypes and prejudices, and is that a part of the problem? While I maintain that all women should be free to portray ourselves however we want, we’re still fighting prejudice in many ways.

    Having someone inadvertently act to perpetuate a stereotype could feel like a slap in the face. It can be hard to accept, but it is so important for all of us to accept it. If we continue to woman-shame for being one thing over another, we will never see equality for what it can be, and we are no better than those who believe that we cannot possibly enjoy a good porter over a sparkle fruit-cup cocktail; we are simply trading our stiletto heels and feather dusters in for modest tops and sad hair buns.

    While it’s great that Vixen feels comfortable to show off her body online, there are many who have come before her and she won’t be the last. Her instagram is simply much of the same. She has not broken ground for feminism, she is perpetuating stereotypes: “Beer and boobs have gone together since the beer girls of Munich, even earlier! And I won’t lie… I like the attention.”

    But like I said, good for her!

  9. If CraftBeerVixen represents a trend in the direction beer reviews are headed, I’m screwed. Although, I do have a video of me in the shower on my site…

    Where are these women who hold themselves back and aren’t self-assured? There is a surplus of female self-assuredness in my household, if anyone is looking for any.

    Good series.

  10. We have an ongoing research project where one of us will place a beer order for both of us, then we see which beer the server gives each of us. So far, the majority of the time adheres to gender stereotypes- Susan gets the lighter beer and Erik gets the heavier one.

      • Occasionally servers or beer people won’t direct what they’re saying to Susan so much as they do to Erik, which really upsets Susan! Although it was reversed once on our latest trip. But it seems like generally people don’t think the girl knows about beer, which is dead wrong.

  11. Reblogged this on athenaminerva7 and commented:
    This is quite interesting reading this. I would have thought by being quite brazen she is using the old adage of sex sells. That’s what pulls in the punters and then they are possibly educated about beer for women. I don’t personally think it’s necessary to do that as you are still conforming to stereotypes and its almost a lads mag look to it with all those visual images. You should let the writing and the beer speak for itself without gimmicks. It shouldn’t matter whether you are male or female.

  12. Pingback: Color of Beer: Addressing Our Whiteness | This Is Why I'm Drunk

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