March is Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day is this Sunday, March 8. This is a day that was first established in 1911 by activist Clara Zetkin, leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany. The idea was to set aside a day in every country that allows women to unite in tabling issues and celebrating women’s achievements.
You would think that by 2015, the need for such a day would be redundant. Women can now vote. We run companies. Heck, we even run countries. However, there are still many places in the world where women are not given equal opportunities as men, and their plight is still being met with ruthless opposition. A need for this day is as vital as it was back then.
Not to diminish the misogynist, horrific, violent events that are still targeting women on a daily basis around the world, but this is a publication about alcohol after all. And it seems the discussion about gender roles in this industry is not over, despite the opportunities afforded us.
As a nearly 10 year veteran of the beverage industry, I am happy to report there has been considerable progress when it comes to gender equality. Brand ambassador positions from which my female colleagues were often snubbed even just a few years ago are now increasingly offered to women. Just last week at Whisky Live NY I noticed far fewer “models” in place of knowledgeable brand female brand representatives. I noticed more women in attendance, who weren’t just there as arm candy for their male dates, but eager whisky drinkers taking part. Women are holding top positions at breweries, wineries and distilleries than ever before, and running the marketing and distribution agencies that promote them. Women bartenders are now commanding as much respect for their talents as their male colleagues.
We have a great legacy to live up to. This week Laphroaig Scotch sent around information about the legacy of Bessie Williams, who owned and managed the distillery from 1954 – 1972, and their current global ambassador, Vicky Stevens. In our own publication, Alwynn Gwilt, a.k.a. The Miss Whisky, wrote about the women who founded Cardhu Distillery. Author Fred Minnick released a terrific book last year, Whiskey Women, about the legacy of women in the whiskey industry. Also last year, Heather Greene published one of the most comprehensive books about whiskey written by any gender. Period. This is not to mention all the respected women in the wine and beer industries shattering that glass ceiling once and for all. Examples like these have certainly paved the way for intelligent discourse and less focus on a perceived gender gap.
So why then does the industry constantly feel the need to bring up the gender issue again and again in the media?
Someone recently asked me what it’s like to be a woman editor in chief at a beverage publication.
You know what that’s like?
It’s like being asked that question every. Single. Time. I am interviewed. That’s what it’s like.
It seems that no matter what, if you carry two X chromosomes, you are going to be singled out. And no matter what, people of both genders are amazed (WOW!) by women who drink, and not that they drink, but what they drink. It doesn’t help that recent articles have shamefully made these female drinking empowerment blanket statements (Drink neat whisky or boozy, stirred cocktails instead of pink drinks or “mommy wine”!) by simultaneously promoting these backhanded sexist observations. (Ooh! Women who drink neat whiskey are empowered and you know what THAT means.. nudge nudge, wink wink. That’s why you should buy them a dram then date them! Women who drink red wine are low maintenance! Women who drink beer or tequila are party animals!) I refuse to repost the links here. I don’t want these people to get any more attention than they already received, because that’s why they were circulated in the first place. We know who you are.
Since, as you can imagine, the majority of my friends are in this industry, I see the subject debated to death on social media. Interesting, worthwhile observations are juxtaposed with some of the most asinine commentary imaginable, and even from both genders. It’s a tough subject, and nuances from both angles can be extracted. For instance, if a sexy female celebrity is chosen to represent a product, what is her main selling point? Is she providing an example for other women for education purposes, to learn to drink something new that might be outside their comfort zone? Or, is she merely there to add sex appeal to the brand? Is this trend offensive or something to be celebrated? If it’s offensive, how to make it less so? Hell yeah! Women who drink whisky -whoooooooo!
There’s so much more I could discuss here, but let’s just leave it and say that no matter what, this topic is as hot as ever in 2015. Really, it shouldn’t be. Maybe we should concentrate on bigger issues, like, say, those aforementioned horrific acts that are taking place in certain countries.
The good news is there is plenty of femtastic stuff to be proud of in the industry, and events around the world are showcasing our achievements.
But it’s not just these women’s causes and the women who make and market the products, or even the women who serve us the drinks we drink that are cause for celebration on International Women’s Day. This goes out to all the women everywhere who like what they like and drink what they drink. There’s no need to discuss why or how a drink is chosen, just let her enjoy it. Sure, I’m a seasoned whisky drinker and brown, bitter and stirred is my cocktail of choice. I have extensive knowledge of wines and can find my way around a list the size of War and Peace. Yesterday, I conducted a whole business meeting on a frigid, snowy day drinking stout beer. But here’s another thing about me: every once in a while I have a sweet tooth and crave a well made White Russian or Chocolate Martini or Grasshopper, and I happen to live around the corner from the bar owned by the man who is credited with inventing the Cosmopolitan, so damn straight I order one from him sometimes if he’s behind the bar, and I’ve never once sipped one wearing stilettos either. If you met me for the first time on one of those occasions, would you think I’ve just taken us back three decades by my drink choices?
photo courtesy of Amanda Schuster
What needs to happen is to cease categorizing genders by what we drink, and marketing to us based on sweet vs. strong. Plenty of men unabashedly drink pink drinks too, or can’t get past their vodka soda or corporate beer habits, or don’t know a damned thing about what wine to order when they go out, simply because they haven’t had the right experience yet to gain that knowledge. That’s the thing about us humans. We have a capacity to learn. So why haven’t people learned that already?
I don’t drink like a man. Or a woman. I drink what I want. And, like many women or men, I’m always eager to learn more about what’s out there to try.
Cheers to all the ladies, and for knowing what you like.