Does This Seem Slightly Sexist To You, Too?

See update at the bottom of the post.

On Monday, Patrick and I sat down with five women who work in the beer world to learn how far we've come from those babes-in-bikinis ads from the 80s and 90s (podcast to follow). It was an illuminating conversation, because we learned how far things have come--but how subtle sexism still lingers.

Well, today I got an email that makes me wonder if the more overt sexism isn't still an issue in at least a part of the beer world. AB InBev hired a firm to do some research about attitudes of women and what they drink, and the resulting "findings" are discouraging. Here's the set-up.
Picture this:  Three women walk into a bar.  The first orders wine, the second orders a cosmo, and the third orders beer.  Which woman, do you think, ends up in a conversation with the tall and mysterious stranger?  According to the Budweiser 'Beerpressions' National Survey—a first-of-its-kind study about how beverage choices influence first impressions—your drink may be worth a thousand words.    Based on a representative survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by Learndipity Data Insights, Budweiser asked respondents to match common bar drinks with the perceived personality traits of the people ordering them.
Got that? The research was designed to learn how men assess women in bars based on their beverage choice. At first glance, this appears to be a return to that neanderthal sexism of the ads, where women and beer become accoutrements for men's enjoyment. But surely that can't be right? It can.
Drink Choice #1:  Domestic Beer (Budweiser)
  • 70% say a woman with domestic beer (Budweiser) is "friendly" and "low-maintenance."
  • Conversely, only 36% believe a woman drinking imported beer is "low-maintenance."
To be scrupulously fair, women and men both rated each other, though the characterizations of women had a lot more to do with sexual availability than they did for men. ("Low-maintenance" is an especially freighted term.*) For a company that is trying to stanch the exodus from their brand, I wonder how effective this approach will be. Is this really going to be a winning pitch to a new generation of women drinkers?

*In comments, Nick asks about why "low-maintenance" would be especially objectionable. I almost made more comment of that when I wrote the post, so let's correct the oversight and do that now.

Sexism is an innately male-centered way of seeing things. The value of women is assessed based on what they can do for men. "Low maintenance" fits into this because it's not a judgment of the women themselves (like other words that popped up--"predictable," "shallow," or "cautious"), but how well women serve men's needs. Put another way, ff I call you shallow, I'm making a judgment about you. If I say you're low-maintenance, I'm making a comment about your utility to me. And that feeds a very ancient and unpleasant way of thinking.