Sunday, November 30, 2014

Craft Beer Report Card: Have We "Failed Our Female Fan Base"?

**This post has been updated with amendments to clarify an earlier version.

I'm rather fond of men. I happen to married to one, so that works in my favor.

The shaven, the non-shaven, the hipster and not-so-hipster--men in all their delightful array of loveliness, directness, stewardship, etc. That they happen to co-habit the culture of craft beer along with me is even more reason to raise my glass in celebration.

It has been MEN, among all my supporters, that have been some of my most loyal and consistent friends, and I am deeply glad for it. Although many a reader, writer, and editor inquiring about my site has attempted to frame it otherwise. (And yes, my Lady friends have also got my back. Holla!)

It's also worth mentioning that I have a son, and there is nothing about his maleness that offends me. It seems absurd to even have to make a statement like that. His boy-ness (yes, I'm possibly making up a word; deal with it) has been a gift to me, and if I'm being honest, also a relief--I feel far too inferior in the ways of womanhood to raise daughters.

Don't get me wrong. I'd love daughters just the same, but the world of "girls" isn't one I fit into comfortably. I admire women who have the knack for it. I give mani-pedis, and makeup and makeovers my best attempt, but I realized long ago that my strengths lie elsewhere. I'd gladly hire a stylist if I had the expendable income, to make those decisions for me. But I digress.

A while back, I was asked a series of questions (namely about stereotypes and impressions regarding women and beer) by a writer doing research for an article. Somewhat predictably, the feedback I gave was excerpted to support a particular thesis: that "craft beer has failed the female" consumer.

This is not my thesis. I neither feel failed or infuriated by craft beer, though I can certainly think of appropriate uses for both beyond that context.

And it bothered me that several instances where I mentioned men, not only as subjects of unflattering stereotypes, but also as outstanding exemplars for craft beer, were omitted or abbreviated to support this thesis. I saw men earnestly responding to the original article by asking, "So what's the answer?" There ought to be a way to make men part of the solution without omitting them from the conversation. [**]

In the last two years (I celebrated the second anniversary of this site this past October) I've tried to show that men AND women both can and do passionately debate, drink, and demonstrate their love for fermented beverages in the universal language of beer.

Is it perfect? Is anything perfect? Of course not. But it is the addition of "craft" to beer, more often than not, that gives rise to the conversation of women holding positions of power and agency in the beer industry.
And it's my opinion that the marketing of beer (as a whole) does a disservice to MEN as well as women. Notably, depicting male consumers as insensitive drunkards and children (rather than grown adults capable of and interested in a range of tastes and mutually fulfilling companionship).

You do not, for example, see many mainstream examples of women squee-ing over a temperature controlled beer cellar during the commercial break, while their husbands elatedly gawk over the shoe closet--though an inversion of gender roles would certainly be worth a giggle, and likely more resonant with women and men of a certain untapped demographic.

Infuriating? Not really. Not to me, anyway.

The ones who ought to be upset are investors, who could certainly do more to directly speak to the untapped consumer, who is still predominantly drinking wine and possibly prefers a less hetero-normative environment.

Moving on.

My opinion is that taking sides is a bit of a drunken illusion--that there really aren't sides to take at all except in the sense that we're all clinging to the same edge of a singular pool, like organisms fermenting in a vat of basically sweet ingredients that can either age into something spectacular or go sour in the worst way possible.
Yes, sometimes there are clear cut assholes. But mostly, people are all right.

Because of this, it is (perhaps naively) always my earnest hope that we can wade away from the edge a good distance, and maybe float along on a bit of drunkenness together before weighing each other down with stones. Or skip the whole swimming bit and sit around stoned Colorado style. Don't harsh my mellow, dude.

I am at times a little too enamored by the idea that beer (craft beer specifically, which still has the potential to maintain some distance from the commodified mainstream) can be a path toward this type of communion. I am admittedly very tender-hearted on this topic.

Without delaying the point much further, and to clarify some uninformed conclusions that were drawn by anyone seeing the excerpts included in the unfortunately titled article ("How Craft Beer Fails Its Female Fan Base") I've included my full responses, as well as the initial questions, that resulted in my being included in the article.

I do not, for example, find the depictions of women in beer "infuriating" as one might reasonably conclude from the article. I'm bothered extensively less by the ads than how people treat each other in the commentary about them.

I don't feel failed by craft beer. But I do think the article fails to complicate the issues, offer solutions, or give men fair consideration as targets of the same limiting and outdated marketing.


Q: "How do you think women beer drinkers are stereotyped?"

A: "I think the stereotype of women drinkers hasn't seen much evolution. There are still examples of women-as-accessory-to-beer or of women-accessible-by-beer that dominate the global mindset.

Women are still predominantly cast as non-beer drinkers--typed as uninterested, or less interesting than beer, as in Amstel’s 2014 commercial (but Amstel is pretty notoriously embedded in the “guys drinking beer” concept, which does as much disservice to men, in my opinion).

Bud Light is equally out of touch, infantilizing it’s male target consumer. Heineken and Dos Equis, though at least more creatively entertaining, don’t do much to reach women as a market. 

I’d like to say craft beer is immune, but there’s room to evolve. The coyly named PD Peach by Pig’s Mind was rightly called out for being “rapey” not long ago. More recently Mother Earth got some press for their “got cans” ad, which struck me as an odd and incongruous brand decision. Neither of seemed particularly suited to seduce women drinkers, who are a (growing) minority."

Q: "What specific jobs in the beer industry do women tend to occupy—or is it pretty consistent across the board? Why do you think that is?"
A: "I see a lot of women in marketing or social media. I think women are traditionally better communicators when it comes to these roles (not always, but often). As a general rule, women tend to look more for connection, and build relationships through talk, so in that sense they’re probably better suited for these roles. 
There are of course, exceptions. You’ll find women taking on the role of brewer, or barrel house manager. Pink Boots Society does a great job of advocating for more equity and participation on this end, but in general I’d say there are mostly men in this role. 
I think it has less to do with gender though, and more to do with disposition. I personally love hearing Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver speak, and he is a great example of how a man can be a dynamic (and “delicious” as he likes to say) face of a brewery. I don’t know that I can even think of a female equivalent."

Q: "What are the annoying stereotypes you've encountered, and why do you consider them to be false?"
A: "I find it annoying when men assume I don’t know anything about beer, particularly when I’m on location for a shoot or have made arrangements to interview someone. It’s subtly done, but the mansplaining is ever present. I’m all for learning, I certainly don’t know everything, but it’s done in this casually insulting and presumptive way that fails to ask questions or qualify the expertise of the listener. It’s this predetermined sense of superior expertise--that I find doesn’t really hold up. There are plenty of educated women out there who are writing about and talking about beer. Julia Herz of the Brewer’s Association is one example. Denise Ratfield of Stone Brewing is another."
Lindsay Bohanske, Nora McGunnigle, Kim Leshinski, Amy Ellsworth, Carla Jean Lauter, among many others should be added to a list of notable women writing, working in, and talking about the beer industry. [**]

Q: "How are women beer drinkers marketed to (and why do you think that is)?"
A: "I’ve addressed some of this above... I think the reason for ignoring women as a market have to do with a lack of imagination, and a lack of women in positions of power and influence. There are a growing number of female and male drinkers who are interested in equitable or gender neutral approaches. New Belgium does a good job. So does Dogfishhead. 
New Glarus, who does virtually no advertising, is a great example. I think the way these breweries market to women has a lot to do with being integrated--you’ll find women in positions of power, responsibility, and influence from grain to glass in these breweries. Less of a strategic decision to market to women, than to address the market as a whole."

A "boys only" strategy is not only out of touch with today's market, but isn't doing the bottom line any favors. What I would really love, more than anything, is to see marketing that flips the script--addressing women as they are.

Sometimes that means they steal their boyfriends beer because it tastes better (too bad, so sad). Sometimes it means they join or start their own homebrew clubs, or initiate groups devoted to drinking beer (mostly to the exclusion of men). Sometimes it means the beer cellar is really their domain, while their husband is resolutely clinging to their all-time-favorite, inherited, light lager. And so on.

Addressing men and women in all their diverse incarnations, instincts, and interests--including non-white and same-sex contexts, isn't really being done. 

Why? Is it because the positions of power and influence aren't equitably inhabited? Is it mostly men in the front row? I'll admit, I don't really have an answer. But I know there are plenty of creative folks out there who could give it a try.

What would your ideal marketing strategy look like? Do you feel represented in today's advertisements, label artwork, commercials, etc. when it comes to the beer industry?

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