Have you heard about the bottled water company that markets its brands with names such as the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies (yes really), and labels that depict cartoon images of women endowed with humongous breasts and over-sized nipples, or images of women that resemble inflatable sex dolls performing sexual acts on Santa? No, you haven’t, because no water company with any sense would stoop to sexist marketing that considers 51% of the population, women, to be nothing more than breasts and genitals (Full Brazilian was a beer brewed for the 2015 FIFA World Cup), or as a target for insulting terminology (Old Slapper).
Beer is composed of more than 90% water. Perhaps it is something about hops, malts, yeast and alcohol that make up the remainder of the beer that prompts some brewers to look for inspiration in Carry On films with their attitudes to women.
If you feel you’re having a déjà vu moment you are. This subject has been addressed several times before by male and female beer writers but, despite that, the culprits do not seem to care about their reputation. Or maybe they are following a business model that markets their product at 49% of the population, men, and do not care about growing their customer base within the majority of the population, women.
If you think it is just women who find sexist marketing offensive, that is not the case. I know several leading male beer commentators who despise sexism in all its forms.
Why does this matter - it’s just bantz. Lighten up and get a sense of humour you might be thinking.
It matters because if you are reading this then you care about beer and the future of the priceless institution of the pub. Pubs are already under threat from changes in drinking habits around cider, wine, cocktails – all of which can be consumed in places other than pubs. Cask ale can only be consumed in a pub and it is that format which is most at fault with the ludicrous and demeaning names and images on pumpclips.
It matters because this type of attitude to women is bad for business and some of the most influential people in the beer and pub world with significant spending power boycott companies that indulge in sexist marketing. And if those companies happen to own pubs then they get boycotted too.
It matters because countless people – men and women – with no public profile in the industry, but with a love of beer, hate how some brewers use methods of marketing that demean women. It also demeans men – it infantalises them and assumes that just because they carry XY chromosomes then they are complicit in the attitude that beer equals masculinity and to be real men they must ape Sid James and nudge nudge their manly mates when they order their pint of testosterone.
But here’s the irony, if any drink deserves the description of ‘feminine’ then it is beer. In the creation myths of many ancient cultures, beer was bestowed on humanity from a woman or a goddess. The major deities of beer are female – Ninkasi is the best known. The deities of wine, Bacchus and Dionysus, are male. Women were the original brewers of beer and for thousands of year were the primary brewers (they still are in parts of Africa and South America where brewing is considered to be ‘women’s work’). It is the female part of the hop plant that is used in brewing.
Hops are the second richest source of female hormones – phytoestrogens – in the plant world (soya is number one). Yeast, which bestows alcohol, is female, reproducing asexually – its offspring are daughters, not sons.
Each time a brewer chooses to portray women in a sexual, vulgar or demeaning manner it cancels out the hours of time and effort that the beer writers, influencers and groups like Dea Latis spend (most often with no payment) in spreading the word about beer and trying to encourage sceptical women – most of whom eschew beer because they perceive it to be blokey - to give our national drink a try. Beer is a convivial, classless and inclusive drink that is a gift from nature to all humans – not just men. So this is a plea to brewers – please market beer at people regardless of gender. And pubs – don’t stock brands with pump clips that are likely to feature in Pumpclip Parade’s Hall of Infamy.
There is a vastly successful business sector that also uses sexualized, demeaning images and derogatory terminology, and for which misogynism is the lingua franca – the porn industry. Do we really want our beloved beer and pubs to be hijacked by marketers with those types of attitudes?
Jane Peyton is a beer sommelier and award-winning beer writer and author. She tweets @SchoolofBooze