Sexism and Harassment in Craft Beer
“As I sit here, crying into my coffee, reading all the stories of sexual harassment in the craft beer industry, I am tired, and exhausted. Sexual harassment has been a part of almost every single career and job I have had in my lifetime, and let me tell you, seeing it in craft beer is gutting me. It really shouldn’t surprise me, being a male dominated industry, but, it does and it hurts. Thank you Brienne @ratmagnet for bringing this to light, and continuing to report on this challenging subject.
On my end, there will be some changes going forward. I am linking a piece in my bio with regards to my experiences with sexism and harassment. As for IG, my pledge going forward is: to be an active participant in making this industry better, by supporting breweries who are in line with my core values, and calling out problematic behaviour and actions so change can happen right now, and we can again be proud of craft beer.“ BeerLover_BoobOwner
I love craft beer, but after reflecting, crying, and then getting incredibly angry at everything coming to light about the sexual harassment, sexism, exclusion of BIPOC, and the unfair treatment of workers within the industry, I am realizing that I am not in love with the environment, in fact, far from it. And because so many of the anonymous stories hit home, I knew I had a responsibility to add my voice to the discussion. The #MeToo movement of craft beer is gaining traction all over North America, and this gives me hope that the boys club of the past, will embrace the inclusive diversity of the future. But before we can look to the future, let us take a brief look at the industries past, and how it got her.
Craft Beer Lore
I have always romanticized the birth of craft beer as being forged by passionate masters of the hops, bringing people together, with one uniting force, beer! This band of bearded, plaid shirt wearing pioneers spread out to every major city, slinging their wares, and working together to jump the bureaucratic hurdles put in place by agriculture, big beer, and in some cases, laws left over from prohibition days. Money, resources, drunk planning sessions, and collaboration were the necessary elements to breaking down the barriers, and bringing craft beer to the people!
While this fantasy may not be entirely accurate, it is one that many people hold as brewing gospel. And there is no doubt that this unique ecosystem took a lot of hard work, and perseverance to reach the height of popularity it is currently enjoying. Even though I am a very small part of such a complex system which includes farmers, distributors, suppliers, sales, brewers, and the front facing staff, it’s difficult not to feel immense pride for working with them. From the outset it looks like everyone plays nicely together, brewing amazing malty, hoppy, boozy treats for all to enjoy in bottles and cans. But, underneath all the interconnectedness, there is a dirty secret hiding, that the foundation was not as inclusive as the products offered to the public. In fact, there is toxic masculinity that pervades every part of the operation. And while immensely difficult to write about, or even accept in my mind, these issues need to be brought to the surface in order to change.
The Interconnected Roots of the Craft Beer Industry
For good, or bad, the craft beer industry grew from an elite bubble. In my local district, almost all of the brewers I’m on a first name basis with got their start either from working at one of our big local breweries, or can say they spent some time at the brewing college just outside my city. With only 2 real points of origin, and over 50 breweries in my city, it’s easy to see that 6 degrees of separation just doesn’t apply here. Everyone knows each other, and amazingly, everyone wants each other to succeed. There is a real sense of community, where, the mentality of if one succeeds, everyone succeeds really holds true. While other cities man not boast quite this level of connectedness, there is no secret that brewers love beer, and thus drink a lot of beer, and not only from their own brewery. So, no matter what, there is an inherent level of support, either with time, finances, expertise, or some healthy competition in trying to brew a better beer than your neighbour.
But more than support, the industry depends on one another, and that makes a perfect breeding ground for problematic behaviour. When you rely on neighbouring breweries to assist with supply, marketing, and support or feedback for your business, the last thing you feel like you can do is call someone out for questionable behaviour. The balance is too delicate, and the risks of being outside that protective bubble too great to make a stand or call to action, if you are even able to see it.
And what’s worse, is that the whole culture was built with like-minded individuals, because it was families, friends, and trusted investors who came together. The industry was forged with immediate connections, further re enforcing the almost incestuous climate we see now. Often even the first hires were from people that brewers already knew, who begged (like me) to get a start in this budding industry. The interconnectedness while at first was necessary for survival, is now the one thing holding it back. The skeletons in the beer family closet, are coming to light, and those include sexism, harassment, elitism, and racism. While all of these aspects need a spotlight here and now, I am going to focus on my experience being a woman in craft beer.
Being A Woman in Craft Beer
The long and the short of it is I constantly have to prove my worth in the craft beer industry. And no, I don’t just mean the physical lifting of kegs, and heavy drinking of the beer, both of which I can do. Being a woman in this elite club gives me a sense of pride that I have been included, and yet, this strange sensation that I don’t really belong. The day to day, is that there is a pervasive feeling of being not good enough, often by management, coworkers, and customers alike. The idea of not fitting in is exemplified in the daily sexism, and mansplaining that I encounter. But what does that actually look like for me? Here are a few examples in no particular order.
- When I work in the taproom with a male counterpart, I am constantly overlooked for beer knowledge by customers in favour of hearing the same information from my co-worker.
- More than once a guy has asked me a question about a beer he is trying for the first time. And rather than listen to my answer, he will proceed to get on his soapbox and tell me all about his home brew knowledge and why I am wrong. Thanks for mansplaining beer to me… yet again!
- I have been challenged or asked to prove my taste buds by listing my favourite beer, breweries, or styles. None of my male counterparts have been asked the same…ever!
- I have been told flat out, that I know nothing about beer, because I don’t have a beer gut.
- I have a variety of pet names like kiddo, sweetie, hun from regulars, and absolute strangers because that is easier than learning my name. Again, none of my male counterparts have pet names.
- I have told a coworker that I didn’t want a hug or him feeling sorry for me when I was going through a rough patch at home. So, he proceeded to put his hand on my thigh, for a long period of time. I drove home sobbing.
- I have had a woman tell me that someone from industry is creepy, and asked me to stand close to her whenever he walked by, because he wasn’t taking no for an answer.
- And let us not forget the gent who told me that I’m just too pretty to drink beer.
- Or that my breasts detract from my beer drinking knowledge and it is hard to pay attention to what I am actually saying
These are just a few of the many examples I have, and I know that I have it easier than many in the industry. But even so, knowing that I just accept sexism, mansplaining, and the occasional rude customer doesn’t make it OK. Re-reading this list, what hurts the most is that these are daily events and admittedly, I’m pretty sure that I’ve been worn down to accept them as all part of being in this elite beer club. And that, needs to change, from management all the way down to the customer.
As it stands, craft beer has, and in most places still is a boys club. It has been successful as such, and we are all aware, sometimes even painfully so, of what happens when people get together with booze, unchecked. That is exactly what has happened here. The combination of beer, men (primarily white), and isolation from the real world created this toxic environment. Chauvinism, racism, and harassment have been slowly seeping in, completely unchecked by reality for far too long. Now that it has been exposed for what it really is, there is no going back.
With the elitism exposed, brewers, managers, and owners need to step up, and take a stand against sexism, racism, and harassment in the workplace. This needs to be done publicly, because the whole bubble method clearly didn’t work. All of this is solvable, but, each brewery, supplier, and distributor need to take the complaints seriously and with compassion for the victims.
I want to fall back in love with the craft beer industry, but it won’t happen until craft beer is accessible to everyone that wants it (18+ of course)!