In the previous edition of The Morning Advertiser (MA), my fellow columnist Sophie Atherton wrote about the growing acceptance that more needs to be done to tackle sexism in the beer and pub industry.
As a white, middle-class male who is typical of the industry’s demographic, I have to tread carefully around sexism. I may not have experienced it directly, but I’ve witnessed it on a regular basis.
A few years ago, when I called out a brewery on Twitter for its sexist pump clips, some of the brewery’s supporters argued that I was a man fighting women’s battles for them, so it was in fact me who was being sexist for not allowing women to fight their own corner. I wasn’t preventing women from saying anything: I was fighting with them, not for them. Sexism degrades women, but it also coarsens men.
The lazier defences of offensive practices in the industry are that opposition to them is political correctness gone mad, that it’s all a bit of fun and can’t we get a sense of humour? I’m not quite sure how a belief in the principle that we should all show each other basic, human respect regardless of our gender, race or sexual orientation can ‘go mad’, or whether these people will ever accept that ‘sane’ political correctness exists, but our industry shows it is needed, and that’s no laughing matter.
And sexism is not the only area that needs tackling.
Since Sophie’s piece was published, MA has run a story about a CAMRA branch crossword, which had clues that many would perceive as being racist and homophobic, and another story about a pub in Essex that refuses to stop displaying golliwogs behind the bar after complaints they were racially offensive.
I have gay friends who claim they don’t feel welcome in many pubs, and I’m inclined to believe them when one of the great many controversial actions taken in the Samuel Smith’s pub estate in recent years was an apparent ban on public displays of affection by gay people.
Pubs are a traditional institution. They move slower than other aspects of society, and don’t keep up with the times as much. In many ways this can be a good thing – how many other industries can still boast of such beautifully preserved Victorian architecture?
But the social awareness of the industry still feels too often like it is stuck in the 1970s, when TV was full of women being pinched on the bum and having their chests leered at, and sitcoms whose entire premise was that gay people or ethnic minorities were strange and deserved to be laughed at, not because they were funny or odd in any way, but simply because of the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation.
This was a decade when many pubs still didn’t allow women in at least some of their bars unless accompanied by a man. Is there anyone still in the industry today who believes that’s an acceptable policy?
Freedom of speech
The debate around freedom of expression is a complex one that has been dealt with by many philosophers over the centuries. The consensus seems to be that my freedom of speech extends up to and not beyond the point where it damages your wellbeing, though the debate still goes on.
So, for example, I enjoy using the word ‘f**k’ quite freely, but it offends some people, and so I tend not to use it in front of anyone whom it might upset and understand why it will probably appear in the MA as ‘****’. My free speech is countered by consideration for others.
Sure, sometimes people can seek to take offence over things that are generally considered not to be offensive, but sexism, racism and homophobia don’t fall into this category. People are frequently murdered as a result of each, so even if you personally don’t see why a sexist pump clip, cuddly golliwog or caricature of a gay man might be offensive, if a woman, person of colour or gay person tells you it is, the decent, human thing to do is believe them.
If you respect their feelings, you never know, you might get more women, people of colour and gay people spending money in your pub as a result. And if that doesn’t sound like a good thing to you, then I think we’ve identified what the real issue is here.