The brewing industry has a reputation for being male dominated, but women were historically brewers. (Pic: iStock)
The brewing industry has a reputation for being male dominated, but women were historically brewers. (Pic: iStock)

Why would anyone give beer name that offends women?

LAST week, independent Gold Coast brewery, Black Hops, caused a social media storm when it released a new beer called "Pussy Juice" along with a poem laden with revolting double entendres.

Critics from within the independent brewing scene and public came out in force against the marketing campaign. Others supported it and disparaged those offended, describing the negative reaction as merely "political correctness" or people unable "to take a joke."

While Black Hops withdrew the name and advertising the moment they became aware how problematic and distasteful it was, admitting it was a huge marketing flop from which they'd "learn", they failed to moderate the comments under their social media admission. Allegedly from supporters and friends of the brewery, these comments were laden with vulgar, sexist claptrap against women that has no place in the craft beer scene let alone society.

What's most disturbing about all this, is that it even happened in the first place.

But let's get something straight. The adverse reactions to "Pussy Juice" were never about PC.

 

Black Hops Brewery used this image to market their new brew before the backlash led them to reconsider the name. (Pic: Supplied)
Black Hops Brewery used this image to market their new brew before the backlash led them to reconsider the name. (Pic: Supplied)

Firstly, they were an irate response from both sexes to a long and entrenched history of exclusivity, male dominance in terms of drinking spaces, choices, service, marketing and the lack of contestation around these things.

Secondly, it was incredulity that in 2018 we're still having these kinds of conversations and debates.

Sexism and prejudice are something the Independent Brewers Association (IBA) of Australia has fought long and hard against, as have numerous craft breweries, their owners and workers.

(I'm part owner of a microbrewery, Captain Bligh's, along with my husband who is head brewer. I also pour beer.)

Following the divisive feedback to the launch of "Pussy Juice", the IBA issued a powerful statement on Facebook:

"Beer has a long history in modern times of being male-dominated, boorish, sexist, exclusionary, and sorely lacking in diversity. Women continue to fight an uphill battle to be welcomed, included, considered and respected…."

What the Black Hops marketing fail and possible attempt (as some have suggested) to go viral sadly demonstrates is that regardless of broad and positive social changes designed to recognise and celebrate women and include them in the industry, sexism - conscious and unconscious - is alive and well. Just because a valued female employee creates a coarse name doesn't make it alright.

Black Hops Brewery have a selection of brews, and have apologised for using an obscene name for their newest beer. (Pic: Supplied)
Black Hops Brewery have a selection of brews, and have apologised for using an obscene name for their newest beer. (Pic: Supplied)

The fact this kind of marketing, which erodes respect - professional and personal - reinforces redundant stereotypes and objectifies women is even defended, or when it's called out is seen as, as one beer writer despondently noted "an attack on all men", actually exposes how deep-rooted the problems are.

Ironic really when you understand that, historically, brewing was traditionally the province of women.

Primarily a domestic industry, for centuries women were responsible for producing ale for their families and neighbours.

The female brewer would sell any excess she made, tying a bushel of twigs above the door - an ale-stake - to let folk know she was open for business.

It was the modern equivalent of the pop-up bar.

It wasn't until hops became a major crop around the 1400s, allowing ale to last longer and be distributed further afield, allowing profits to soar, before being industrialised, that men took over.

As Joan Thirsk notes in Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women's Work in a Changing World 1300-1600, "If a venture prospers, women fade from the scene."

 

Brewing beer was traditionally the province of women. (Pic: iStock)
Brewing beer was traditionally the province of women. (Pic: iStock)

No longer. Nowadays, far from fading, women play active roles as brewery owners, brewers, judges, writing about beer, marketing, retailers, serving and as enthusiastic and passionate consumers and connoisseurs. Look at Two Birds Brewing in Melbourne as an example.

What a name like "Pussy Juice" does, whether intended or not, is use a so-called "joke" to appeal to sexist attitudes and a male audience at the expense of women.

As The Crafty Pint, an e-magazine on Australian craft beer, eloquently said, this happens at a time when "bigots all over the world are being emboldened."

The international Pink Boots Society, which seeks to assist, inspire and encourage women beer professionals through education was, understandably, deeply disappointed by what just about everyone in the independent brewing scene saw as a (possibly deliberate) gross misstep.

In a statement on their Facebook page, Pink Boots described it as, "A throwback to the old times where women and their sexual worth was somehow an acceptable marketing practice … it is degrading. It is tacky … We as an entire industry should be setting higher standards than this."

They're right.

The campaign also, in its inception and the support it received, demonstrates these kinds of attitudes are still out there and even defended. If we don't continue to call them out, they'll thrive, demeaning women and men in the process.

Most independent breweries have set the bar high. It's time the rest of society stepped up as well.

As the IBA says: "Let's be better."

Karen Brooks is a Courier-Mail columnist.

@KarenBrooksAU



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