The recent survey conducted by Friends of Glass showed that 47% of non-beer drinking women think that a woman drinking from a pint glass can be seen as unfeminine and exposed that 43% would choose to drink beer from a continental lager glass, given the list of other options.
The important thing to understand is that there are two debates playing out in tandem here. The first debate is to consider, openly and fairly, how the industry can break down the barriers that currently stop women drinking beer. One has been identified in the glassware issue and, with those kinds of statistics as responses; it is an incredibly valid point to raise. The second part of the debate is trickier, because it identifies women’s preferences based on how they are perceived in terms of traditional perceptions of femininity and, rather than seek to challenge those, bends to become more accepting of what would be considered ladylike.
In the past I have been a pint drinker for all sorts of reasons. I like beer, but also I have not wanted to have been patronised out of a pint and talked into accepting a smaller glass across the bar. “What’s good enough for the guys is good enough for me,” I‘d say, proudly clutching my mighty drink.
But times have changed and so have I. These days, I am more interested in beer than ever before - in drinking it, in brewing it and in talking about its virtues as a truly great drink – but I am so much happier with a more sensibly sized glass than a standard pint.
I see many benefits in there being more of a variety of glassware available in pubs and bars. But not just for women but for men too. It is quite patronising to question anyone’s choices (male or female) upon ordering but it is not if everyone is introduced to a selection and asked to choose. When someone goes into a coffee shop and orders a latte, it is unlikely that if they select a ‘grande’ a ‘regular’ will be suggested instead. We are empowered by being given choices, but those choices have to be fair across both genders or we are taking backward steps in an ongoing battle for equality.
Let’s go back to the first part of the debate though, the part where a high percentage of women who could potentially be interested in drinking beer, but are not because of the glassware. Let’s look at that again. It seems clear to me that glassware needs to be updated to be appealing to men and women on equal terms and that way we dispel and outdate the perception of certain styles being overtly masculine or feminine.
But let’s not get caught up too heavily in the gender equality battle here and remember that this is about reminding people, all people, about the virtues of beer and to introduce more people who don’t think it is for them to find a style they do enjoy.
I remember when Richard & Judy first introduced their book club being cynical about the choices because, at the time it seemed like a dumbed down version of the Man Booker. I was so wrong. I had just read English at university and looked down my nose at what I deemed to be easy-reading holiday novels. I had a good friend haul me back from aloofness with the reminder that anything that got people reading was a good thing. Anything that got them excited about books, about talking to their friends about it meant they were expanding their repertoire and embracing a once considered old fashioned pursuit. Should everyone start with Ulysses? No, we work our way up, in everything. I think the same way as the book club analogy about the way beer is perceived by lots of women. There are only a few barriers to overcome and issues to tackle in terms of perception, for instance lots of women still believe that beer is unhealthy and fattening and it’s just not. We need to change that too.
But where do we start?
We start with glassware as one of the identified barriers. It’s the small book club that opens up the category to all. Then we get people talking about what they are trying. We get them excited to talk and interested in sharing their discoveries and favourites. We make beer interesting as a topic to all.
I’m still there and I still love it and my enthusiasm for such a diverse drink grows and grows. I’m still only just a fledgling brewer and getting into Goses. You see, there’s plenty of time for Ulysses.