A quick note on sexism and the beer industry

by Heather Vandenengel

The annual Craft Brewers Conference took place this week in Portland, Ore. The event is organized by the Brewers Association, who define and represent America’s craft brewers, and includes panels, discussions and BA-sponsored parties and concerts. Breweries also host their own events outside of the conference at local bars, restaurants and breweries. This year, some of those events were held at strip clubs.

This may not come as a surprise because Portland has an odd number of strip clubs with probably a better beer selection than your neighborhood bar. (See: this article.) It is also not surprising because the craft beer industry is still a male-dominated industry and while the CBC is certainly a valuable educational and networking experience, it is also an excuse to party.

I am not anti-strip club or anti-sex workers but when I saw tweets earlier this week about breweries hosting events at strip clubs, I rolled my eyes. Then when Carla Jean Lauter, the @beerbabe, started a conversation about it and the idea of inclusion in craft beer this morning, it made me think about last year’s Craft Brewers Conference in Denver, when at the World Beer Cup reception a brewer I had just met made me so uncomfortable that I had to leave.

That experience wasn’t a surprise to me either. I started writing about beer when I was 21 and have since found myself in plenty of situations where I felt uncomfortable as a woman while brewers and industry professionals make lewd jokes or suggestive comments. Sometimes it’s a matter of disrespect; on the same night at CBC last year, a brewer I introduced myself to wouldn’t look me in the eye and started walking away in the middle of our conversation. Sometimes it’s about crossing lines, like when brewers I interview send winky-face texts afterwards. Sometimes it’s incredibly offensive, like when I commented on Don’t Drink Beer’s Facebook post that it was not cool that he made an allusion to beating up a woman and then a slew of commenters replied with images and jokes of women being raped and beaten. (And this is a blog that many well-respected brewers and writers read and share.)

I’ve drafted posts about these experiences before, but have always deleted them because I struggle with questions of if there was anything I did to put myself in these situations. Did I not come off as professional enough? Did I insinuate that it would be OK to casually text me later? That is nonsense, of course, but it’s difficult to make sense of these experiences in the context of an industry that paints itself as a big, happy family united by the bonds of craftsmanship, collaboration and community.

The reality is that dealing with casually and overtly sexist men who don’t respect women is something that all women of all industries and backgrounds deal with all the time, in both their personal and professional lives. It’s no different in craft beer.

I don’t know what the solution is other than to acknowledge it and at least talk about it. Women belong in this industry and I think we could all do a better job at making them feel like they do.