Today is the 41st birthday of Melissa Cole, UK beer writer extraordinaire. I’d met Melissa first online and then in person at the Rake in London a few years ago. She’s also been coming over to our side of the pond to judge at both GABF and the World Beer Cup. She’s a great advocate for beer generally, but especially for women, and is great fun to hang out and drink with. She also writes online at Taking the Beard Out of Beer! which is subtitled “A Girl’s Guide To Beer.” Her first book, Let Me Tell You About Beer, was published a couple of years ago. Join me in wishing Melissa a very happy birthday.
Earlier this week, I read in AdAge that Budweiser Pulls Puppies From Super Bowl Ad Plans for the very sensible reason that they weren’t terribly effective. As AdAge notes, “as cute as they are, the puppies apparently don’t sell beer.”
I also read in Bloomberg that ABI was going to shift their advertising focus away from the male-dominated imagery that they’ve employed for decades, objectifying and alienating one-half of the world’s consumers, in an effort to win over female beer drinkers. “‘Objectification of women is going away,’ said Jorn Socquet, AB InBev’s vice president of marketing for the U.S.” in the Bloomberg article, What ‘Gender Friendly’ Ads Look Like to Big Beer.
That strategy has created a demographic where only about one-quarter of women drink their beer, yet when they were riding high they didn’t seem to care at all how they treated the mothers, aunts, sisters, wives and girlfriends of the people who bought their beer. Despite loud and vocal criticism of those practices for years and years, only now that their sales are slipping have they seemed to have noticed and decided they should “win back women.” To do this, they’re going to air an ad during the Super Bowl “built around the idea that coming together over a frosty Bud Light can help solve the world’s problems, including unequal pay.”
But can one ad, or even a series of ads, undo decades of tone deaf ads that were, and continue to be, downright awful to women? And it’s not like things have gotten much better in the more enlightened 21st century. If anything, attacks on women have increased in politics, business and in the media.
As The Atlantic wonders, Are TV Ads Getting More Sexist? and Business Insider notes that These Modern Ads Are Even More Sexist Than Their ‘Mad Men’ Era Counterparts. And more specific to beer, Vinepair makes a compelling case that 13 Sexist Beer Ads Show How Little Has Changed Since the 1950s. There’s an entire Tumblr devoted to Bad Beer Ads for Women. There’s no shortage of material to show that it’s not really gotten any better in my lifetime.
But if corporations are people, they are people with convenient Alzheimer’s Disease. They’ll undoubtedly try to convince women that they’ve had this change of heart because it’s right thing to do (and even though it might be) but the truth is that it only has to do with profit. They’ll hope that no one will remember how bad, and how consistently sexist, their ads have been for decades upon decades, right up to the present day.
Fortune magazine weighed in with their take on the new plan, with how Beer Companies Are Courting Women, and here’s how you know that they don’t really get it and it will fail.
In order to win over women, the beer companies are designing more colorful packaging and creating sweeter drinks, like the Bud Lite Lime-A-Rita. But taste isn’t necessarily the problem — MillerCoors and AB InBev are focusing on the social aspect of beer, too.
I love how the big brewers always think that changing up the packaging is the way to woo customers. The idea that women will only respond to “more colorful packaging” and only want “sweeter drinks” is laughably naive and almost criminally insulting. And this is, remember, them trying to “court women,” a similarly insulting turn of phrase. How many times have we seen beer companies try fruitier, sweeter beers and pink packaging to entice women? How often has it worked? The now defunct Beer West magazine had a good overview of such failed attempts in Have You Really Come A Long Way, Baby? How beer is(n’t) marketed to women.
To illustrate that it’s not just Anheuser-Busch InBev wearing blinders, MillerCoors’ senior marketing insights director Britt Dougherty opined that they’re “going through a feminization of culture” as a way of saying the days of “airing ads that objectify women” are over. I’ll believe it when I see it. I suspect that as soon as this doesn’t prove as successful as they want, they’ll return to the tried and true male-oriented advertising that’s been their bread and butter my entire lifetime.
Sexism, perhaps more than any of the destructive -isms, makes no sense to me. I’m male, and it makes no sense. Why do so many men feel they have to keep down women? Every one of us has a female mother. Most of us have sisters, aunts, and daughters. Why would we ever want to keep them from succeeding? I know there’s at least some religious reasons for it, but even that can’t account for all of it. Why would you voluntarily keep you mother, wife or daughter from being able to climb as high as they want to in life? Why would you harass, objectify or otherwise insult every other female, just because they’re female? I honestly don’t understand it. How can you hate your mother? How can you hate your wife? How can you hate your daughters? Because hatred toward some women, by using sexism, objectification and other insults, is hatred toward all women, your own family included.
And yet it seems to be rampant, and growing, in our society. It should be a thing of the past, a relic, but as Gamergate makes abundantly clear, there are males in our society who hate women to the point that they want to do them actual physical harm for saying things they don’t like, disagree with or just having an opinion. That seems nuts, but perhaps more confusing is that we don’t do more to put a stop to it as a society. Can there really be enough men who are deaf and blind to what’s happening, or do they secretly agree with them or just not give a shit so long as they’re on top of the perceived hierarchy? I have a daughter who I want to grow up in a world where she can do whatever she wants, follow every opportunity available to her and live her life to the fullest, exactly the same as her brother, my son, is able to do. And as it stands now, that seems like it’s too much for society to bear, that true gender equality remains as elusive as the end of racism. Why the fuck should that be the case? If we can’t even erase it from the beer industry, which ought to know better, what chance have we for the wider world? So while I think this is the right step for the big beer companies, they haven’t shown themselves to take any action except ones that help their bottom line. And while that is to be expected (being a problem with the institution of corporations) you’d like to think that even male executives have women in their lives that would make such decisions increasingly difficult, yet so far that remarkably hasn’t been the case.
Maybe if we celebrated our similarities — like enjoying beer — instead of pandering to our differences, that would be a good start. So yeah, let’s keep sexism out of beer advertising, out of beer culture and out of the breweries themselves. We’re all just people, beer-loving people.
I believe we tend to think of marketing efforts to create a beer specifically aimed at women as a more recent development, but apparently that’s not the case. I recently discovered that in 1953 the Storz Brewing Co. of Omaha, Nebraska was trying to sell beer to women using the same tired tricks that are often still being used today.
Apparently, in 1953, Storz created the “Storzette,” a smaller package designed for the ladies to be “calorie controlled” and less bitter, and which also had a pink and lavender package with orchids on them, and whose slogan was — believe it or not — “The Orchid of Beer.” Rusty Cans has the full story, from 2004, of the brewery and this dalliance into women’s marketing.
In 1953 Storz tried to market a new product for women, “Storzette.” Designed to be a beer for the ladies it was supposedly not too bitter and was calorie controlled. It also came in a smaller can, 8 ounces, which Storz called “Queen sized” and it came in four can packs called “Princess Packs.” The brewery noted that market studies showed that many women felt that the standard 12 oz can provided too large a serving. The beer inside was also different, made to be less bitter than standard beers. The can even had a pink orchid pictured on it to help it appeal to women. It’s initial test market results in San Diego seemed positive, but in the end the effort was not successful and Storzette did not last long on the market. As a result, the little can with the orchid is very scarce. Storz also used a slogan on its regular cans for awhile in the 1950s, “the Orchid of Beer” which has to be one of the more unusual beer advertising slogans.
Absent any additional information, I can only assume “Calorie Controlled” is done through offering a smaller size can. Smaller portions equals less calories. Of course, you could just drink less, couldn’t you? The control aspect of their claim seems entirely up to the drinker rather than anything designed by the packaging or the beer itself.
According to orchid websites, the particular type of orchid on the label is a cattleya. Not only do they use a flower, but the color palate is soft pastels, pinks and purple.
I presume this is a vintage grocery display using a cart filled with six-packs and surrounded by banners. Notice on the side there’s a gal wearing glasses saying the beer is “Strictly for the Girls.”
And finally, here’s an ad for the beer using an orchid in the advertisement.
Interestingly, a group of local folks from Omaha revived the Storz brand and opened a newer version of the brewery in 2013.
So I know this is one of those thorny issues that tends to fire people up and argue from an emotional point of view. That being said, the issue of a woman drinking when pregnant is a tough one, especially because the science is not exactly as settled as people believe. My understanding is that it’s not clear how drinking effects an unborn fetus, though a significant amount of drinking has been shown to have potentially disastrous consequences. Generally speaking, a modest amount of drinking probably won’t do any lasting damage, especially in the very early stages of pregnancy. But since when and how much are fairly unknown with any precision, doctors, and the medical community as a whole, have tended to recommend that a woman abstain from drinking during pregnancy. And that seems almost reasonable, except for the fact that prohibitionist and anti-alcohol groups have taken that advice as sacrosanct without really examining the science behind it and have done their best to shame women who might have an occasional drink and make them feel as guilty as humanly possible.
For example, WebMd says. “For decades, researchers have known that heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause birth defects. But the potential effects of small amounts of alcohol on a developing baby are not well understood. Because there are so many unknowns, the CDC, the U.S. Surgeon General, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics advise pregnant women not to drink alcohol at all.” But again, that’s just because they don’t really know, not because it’s proven that any amount of alcohol is harmful. If you do a quick search, you’ll find that a lot of websites claim that pregnant women should never drink because, as most of them put it, “[t]here is no known safe amount of alcohol that you can consume if you are pregnant.” But that’s misleading. It’s not so much that no amount is safe so much as the amount that is safe is not known with precision, and for every person. I know that sounds like I’m splitting hairs, but I think it’s an important distinction. There are safe levels of drinking alcohol that would have no effect on a woman’s pregnancy, and for any given woman that amount would differ, but so far we don’t know how to calculate that amount, so instead doctors recommend abstaining. But that’s very different from hounding women who might have the occasional drink or acting as if they’re actively or willfully harming their unborn fetus.
It’s quite easy to find this scaremongering in all sorts of places. Not surprisingly, Alcohol Justice, who is a leading propagandist, regularly tweets “Save Babies From Birth Defects: Don’t Drink While Pregnant,” with a link to International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day Aims To Help Save Babies From Birth Defects: Don’t Drink While You’re Pregnant. Which would be reasonable, except for the fact that the Medical Daily piece is littered with exactly the sort of absolutist misinformation I’m talking about.
There’s a common misconception that it’s safe to drink during certain points in the pregnancy, or that one glass of wine or beer is harmless. It has been almost 30 years since the medical community recognized mothers who drank alcohol while pregnant could result in a wide range of physical and mental disabilities, but still, one in 13 pregnant women reports drinking in the past 30 days and one in six reports binge drinking. Fetal alcohol syndrome can be devastating, which is why a day [September 9] has been dedicated to spreading the awareness and clearing up the truth for mothers to understand that anything they eat and drink affects the baby.
The NIH’s Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism branch has supported years of research to reveal the dangers and understand when developmental problems within the womb begin. Babies who are born with fetal alcohol syndrome have been born small and premature, develop problems eating, sleeping, seeing, hearing, learning, paying attention in school, controlling their behavior, and may even need medical care through their life. The severity of drinking alcohol while pregnant cannot be underplayed because of the profound confirmed health effects that could follow a child throughout their life.
Every pregnancy is different and unique to the mother’s health, genetic composition, and the baby. According to the NIH, drinking alcohol the first or second month of pregnancy can hurt the baby with irreversible health consequences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs up the NIH by saying there is no safe level of alcohol to use during pregnancy. If drinking continues throughout the pregnancy, babies are likely to develop fetal alcohol syndrome with characteristic facial features such as a wide set of eyes, smooth ride on the upper lip, and a thin upper lip border. But that’s only the surface, because within the brain lies the possibility of intellectual disabilities, speech and language delays, and poor social skills.
Unfortunately, the “truth” as they put it is not exactly the whole truth, nor is it the same advice given universally by the medical community, despite the fact that both the NIH and the CDC take the absolutist point of view just to be safe. That these government agencies here, and in other places, take this position without actually explaining why, or even how they arrived at it and the uncertainty about it, seems to me a condescending way to treat people. I know, or hope, they mean well, and the goal is to bring healthy babies into the world. Everyone agrees that frequent drinking or drinking large quantities of alcohol while pregnant is a terrible idea, but not giving women all of the facts is yet another example of the medical community talking down to people and treating them with condescension. And it’s taking its toll on some women in unexpected ways, as I’ll explain later.
More recent studies are beginning to show that in fact the occasional drink is not only harmless, but in some cases beneficial. For example, a 2013 study at Harvard found “no connection between drinking alcohol early in pregnancy and birth problems” and at the University College London, they found “Light drinking in pregnancy not bad for children.” Others found A Drink A Day While Pregnant Is OK and Moms Who Drink Wine While Pregnant Have Better Behaved Kids. Yet another recent New study shows no harm from moderate drinking in pregnancy. Likewise, Moderate drinking during pregnancy may not harm baby’s neurodevelopment and the Parenting Squad says that Yes, You Can Drink While Pregnant.
In Is It OK to Drink While Pregnant? Why Scientists Really Don’t Know, the author details why it is that the science is so difficult to pin down, and as such many doctors advise abstaining altogether. One of the problems with this contrary advice is that some people who are convinced that any alcohol represents a danger to an unborn fetus and they make life difficult for anyone who’s received different advice, or who has looked at the issue and come to a different conclusion. Despite it being unsettled, some states have, or are considering, passing laws to punish women who have the temerity to have a drink while pregnant. Both of my wife’s baby doctors advised her the occasional drink was not a problem, and even told her that if it helped her relax was a positive. She tended to have a drink only every so often, rarely even, and I certainly enjoyed the months of having a designated driver. But many other women report having been publicly shamed, ridiculed and punished for drinking while pregnant in public. At least one person reports being accosted for simply buying alcohol (it was for a party and she had no intention of drinking it) and I suspect that’s not an isolated incident. The clerk at the liquor store acted like it was against the law for her to simply purchase it.
Many have written about their experiences with alcohol during pregnancy and are worth reading. See, for example, Take Back Your Pregnancy, by an economist writing for the Wall Street Journal. And for Slate, Emily Oster explains herself in “I Wrote That It’s OK to Drink While Pregnant. Everyone Freaked Out. Here’s Why I’m Right.” In addition, Dr. Peggy Drexler, a research psychologist and gender scholar, examined the history and psychology of shaming such women in A Loaded Question: On Drinking While Pregnant. Not surprisingly, it’s only been since 1981 that the U.S. Surgeon General’s took the official position pregnant women should completely abstain from drinking alcohol. And for a while, drinking among pregnant women declined, but since 2002 has been on the rise again, though it’s the “‘every now and then’ glass of wine or two” rather than binge drinking and the biggest demographic to see this increase is “college-educated women between 35 and 44.” Her answer to why “as a whole we continue to judge women who opt to have that occasional glass of wine,” is that “[w]e’re so fully entrenched in the age of over-parenting — having opinions, and voicing them, about how other people raise their kids — that, it seems, we can’t help but start in before the baby is actually born.”
Similarly, in a lengthy piece for Boston Magazine, Pregnant Pause?, author Alyssa Giacobbe details this explanation.
“As soon as you’re pregnant, or have a baby, it’s like all bets are off,” says Kara Baskin, a 33-year-old mother of a two-year-old boy. “People can say whatever they want, touch whatever they want, make whatever comments they want.” A few years back, she was at a Starbucks when the barista asked her, “Are you supposed to be having any caffeine when you’re pregnant?” She wasn’t pregnant — it was just the shirt — but of course that didn’t matter. She ran out crying.
Of course, it wasn’t always that way. My mother drank, and most likely smoked, while she was pregnant with me. If you’re close to my age, or older, your Mom probably did, too. Entire generations did, and while it would be hard to argue that children today aren’t better off thanks to their mothers watching what they consumed or what they did while pregnant, our species made it pretty far before 1981 just by being sensible.
But back to Dr. Drexler, who concluded with these words of wisdom.
This is not a call to drink while pregnant, or to be careless in any way. We know much more now than our own mothers did, and that’s an advantage. But years of experience studying gender and working with families have shown me, time and again, that mothers get a bad rap. This can create needless fear, anxiety, and self-doubt. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the tendency to assign blame, constantly monitor, and voice our every opinion about the choices other mothers make. After all, isn’t the prospect of having a baby daunting enough?
Indeed, I think we can all agree that over-indulging during pregnancy is not a good idea. But making hard and fast rules, giving people a hard time about it, or even punishing them socially, or legally, is going too far. Which brings me back to my statement earlier that this is “taking its toll on some women in unexpected ways.” An article last week in London’s Telegraph, Pre-pregnancy test binge-drinking: 5 myths busted, detailed the darker side of humiliating pregnant women with the abstinence only propaganda so commonly employed by prohibitionist groups.
Most women try and follow the existing guidelines, or avoid alcohol altogether.
But what about those who don’t know they’re pregnant? What about the women who have spent the first few weeks of their pregnancy binge drinking, because they had no idea they were unexpectedly expecting?
Today, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said that many women are so shocked to discover they’ve been binge drinking through the early stages of pregnancy, that they consider having an abortion.
The organisation reports an increase in women who are so worried about having unknowingly harmed their baby that they’re enquiring about ending what would otherwise have been a wanted pregnancy. BPAS is now trying to reassure pregnant women that this is not necessary.
That’s right, some women have been so traumatized by the scaremongering propaganda out there about binge drinking that they’re considering terminating their pregnancy, that is having an abortion rather than risk giving birth. The BPAS is now scrambling to reassure women that they don’t need to go to such extreme measures, and author Radhika Sanghani takes on five common myths which lead women to consider an abortion, and in the process contradicts much of the absolutist rhetoric and rationale for advising women to completely abstain from alcohol during pregnancy.
What struck me about this story is that it’s a real example of harm being perpetrated on women — not to mention their unborn children — through prohibitionist propaganda. I want to believe that the healthcare community has been giving the abstaining advice in an abundance of caution and with a greatest good sort of mentality to protect women and children. But I have no such illusions about the motives of prohibitionists, who have shown they’ll use any tactic to promote their agenda, and will exaggerate any claim that shows alcohol in a negative light. This is what can happen when propaganda goes unchecked. This suggests that there may be children who were terminated and not given a chance to live full lives thanks to exaggerated propaganda by prohibitionist groups and other anti-alcohol organizations. As my British colleague Pete Brown tweeted when this article first appeared; “Proud of yourselves, Alcohol Concern? These are the, hopefully, unintended consequences of prohibitionist propaganda.
For our 81st Session, our host is Nichole Richard — better known to the beer world as “Nitch” — who writes online at Tasting Nitch. She’s originally from the West Coast and lived in Hawaii, as well, has lived in 15 countries on three different continents, and is currently an expat living in France, and trying her best to “create a craft beer movement among cheap wine drinkers.” Her topic for this session asks bloggers to weigh in on the gender issue — Women in Craft Beer Culture. Are they “scary beer feminists?” Or “a healthy growing demographic?”
Feel free to write about what you want as long as it is beer and woman related!
I would love to see some of our historian beer bloggers give a bit of in depth back ground information on history of women in beer culture. Praise Ninkasi and what not, but were there male brewers before the fall of Rome?
Who did most the brewing in early colonized North America?
How is it that most current African brewers are still housewives while modern brewing is male dominated?
Do a feature on a woman in the beer industry!
Have you inspired your significant other to become beer culture involved? Call it, high five your beer loving wife day.
Are there any men out there who think that women in beer is a bad thing? For religious reasons, women aren’t allowed to tour many Trappist breweries and there are still French chefs who believe that a women on her menstrual cycle cannot make whip cream. (Truth.)
Woman’s palate’s are changing the direction of beer! Are women to blame for the recent increase in fruit beers? …
Are there any women out there who are crusading a flag of femininity while milling malt. Tell us your story!
So two days from now, on Friday, November 1, shake off that post-Halloween hangover and no matter which gender you are, weigh in on the female half of humanity and their role in craft beer culture.
Depending on your perspective, there’s good and bad news for women who love beer. Yesterday, Marketwatch casually mentioned that “SAB Miller, the world’s second largest brewer, is testing a new line of lighter and sweeter beers. Executives are also planning new ad campaigns geared towards women.” Other CBS affiliates, such as WREG Memphis, picked up the story but added little, apart from saying the new line will be “brewed especially for the ladies.” That’s all the information there is, so far, not even the SABMiller website has any additional information or a press release, at least not yet.
But if you’re one of those of the female persuasion that can be reduced to the stereotype of only liking sweet flavors, and don’t mind being pandered to, this just may be the beer for you. But if you’re a real person, like pretty much every beer lover I know who also happens to be a woman, this is probably just going to piss you off. I honestly don’t understand why the big beer companies keep trying this. Has it ever worked, anywhere in the world? People who understand and can appreciate the complex flavors of a good beer, will like it, irrespective of their reproductive organs. So just make good beer, educate your customers about it, and beer lovers — male and female — will drink it. Why is that so hard?
A new survey of women by Insights in Marketing found that while women control 80% of all purchasing decisions, the large beer companies are not doing a good job of reaching them. According to the results, only 6% of women thought ABI is doing a good job reaching them, while 5% liked Coors’ approach and a mere 2% had anything positive to say about Miller’s methods. The survey included 1300 women, and 200 men, across a wide demographic, and asked how they thought top national brands, in a variety of consumer goods, were doing in “effectively marketing their products and services.”
For all products, they found that 49%, or just less than half, thought they did a good job, suggesting that marketing and advertising in general, across the board, could be doing a better job reaching women, but that beer companies are doing a particularly bad job. All three brands surveyed — Bud, Miller & Coors — ranked in the bottom half for all women. Anybody surprised by that result?
The survey also found some slight differences between generations. For example, Baby Boomers seem to like Miller and Coor’s just fine, but not Budweiser. Gen X thinks Coor’s and Bud are doing great, but Miller, not so much. Millenials didn’t respond well to any of the beer brands, with Miller coming out on top, at just below the middle for all brands (beer and non-beer).
Today’s infographic was originally created for Valentine’s Day earlier this year, by Save on Brew. I picked today to feature it because it’s Women’s Equality Day. Entitled Beers The Ladies Love, it gives tips for beers to give to the lady or ladies in your life. I’m not sure about their list of “10 Top Rated Craft Beer,” and especially the three that are imports, but they’re pretty good beers, at least. And there’s not a fruit beer in the bunch. It’s certainly better than many other attempts at this sort of thing I’ve seen.
As you may be aware, today is International Women’s Day, and although I’m up to my eyeballs in work, I do want to pause and celebrate the many, many women in beer. Time was, beer was an all-boys club, and to a certain few it still is, but I couldn’t be happier to see an ever-increasing number of women attending beer events, writing about it and brewing it. There was a time when brewsters made almost all of the beer, but then men grabbed the reigns and kicked women to the curb. I, for one, think beer was all the poorer for that decision, but then it happened centuries before I had any say in the matter.
Because I don’t want to leave anybody out, I’m not going to even try to list all of the wonderful people I’ve met over the years I’ve been writing about beer who just happen to have been born female. To them, today and really on every day, I raise a toast to you.
Although I’m not naming names, here are a few others who have, and some organizations, too, that are also worth singling out. It’s not complete, of course, and I’m confident there are others I’m forgetting, but suffice it to say I mean to include everyone. To all of you, thanks for what you do, and making the world of beer a better place to work, to play and to enjoy life.
- 10 Amazing Women in Craft Beer You Should Know and Follow by the Beer Wench
- Barley’s Angels
- Brewess: The Blog for Women Who Brew Beer
- Ladies of Craft Beer [website currently down?]
- The Pink Boots Society
- Queens of the Beer Age by the Weekly Pint
- Real Women Drink Craft Beer
- Women Enjoying Beer
The Pink Boots Society, founded by Teri Fahrendorf, “created to empower women beer professionals to advance their careers in the Beer Industry through Education.” Today there are nearly 900 members for all facets of the beer industry.
Barley’s Angels, co-founded (I think) by Lisa Morrison in Portland, Oregon. “Barley’s Angels is a growing collection of individual chapters around the world that work with craft beer focused breweries, brewpubs, restaurants, alehouses and other public beer establishments to advance the female consumer craft beer enthusiast, resulting in increased patronage and revenue from women, while encouraging education and interest in beer among this often under-recognized demographic group.” There are currently 25 chapters in 18 states, plus 12 international chapters in five countries.
Women Enjoying Beer, started by Ginger Johnson. “Women Enjoying Beer develops and serves the female beer enthusiast. We’re the only organization anywhere doing as much, from the consumer vantage point, to benefit the craft/beer industry.”