Having the Discussion

In a week when three members of Congress have stepped down over various types of sexual harassment, it seems like a good time to bring up an important issue I've been thinking about lately. The beer world is a largely masculine one, populated by a majority of men, operating under the rules of men. Sexual harassment is an issue that has touched nearly every workplace in the country, so it seems unlikely the beer world is exempt.

We have come to an amazing moment in American culture. For the 400 years Europeans have been on the continent, women have had some form of restricted agency. Every century women have had to fight: during the temperance movement, in the struggle for the right to vote, and during the fight for equal pay. And yet, despite all these gains, women have still had to work among men who could serially harass them (and worse) while expecting their institutions to protect their positions of power.

This moment is a potential cultural watershed when the culture may permanently transform. The collective revulsion we feel toward harassment has been enough to drum powerful offenders out of their jobs. That's great, but we are far from seeing the pervasive cultural shift that will make this behavior equally objectionable in workplaces across the country, exalted and ordinary. It's a delicate moment, and the change is only possible, not certain.

In recent weeks, I've started to have private, off-the-record conversations with women who work in the beer world about their experiences. I hope to write about this issue over the coming year, because the way we help dissolve the culture that allows harassment is by shining a light on it. Having a discussion about what sexual harassment is, what behaviors are objectionable and why; by examining this "culture of men" just so we can understand its shape and substance--these are necessary steps in changing the culture. I've discovered in these conversations that it's particularly difficult because the beer world is so small. Personal examples, even unattributed, may well out the women telling them. How exactly we talk about this isn't yet evident, but the more I learn, the more I see what a cancerous effect not talking about it has.

(To that point, if you work in the beer world, I would love to hear your story. Whether you work in the brewhouse, an office, at the pub, or write about beer, your experiences are valuable. Contact me if you'd like to chat--via phone, email, in person or any way that's comfortable. Everything will be off the record and entirely private; I won't even share your story with other women unless you want your story heard. If you're interested in doing a guest post, that would be most excellent, too. I'm at Jeff(at)beervanablog.com.)

There is a role for men in all of this, too. We are certainly in no position to represent the experiences of women. And yet, our visible support is critical in all of this. Men of goodwill can't stand back and expect women to clean up the mess we've been at least complicit in sustaining. In a very powerful opinion piece last week, Jill Filipovic wrote something that really resonated with me.

"This moment isn’t about a nation of confused men. It’s about a minority of men who choose to treat women alternately as walking sex objects or bothersome and potentially devious nags. It’s about a majority of Americans who give men a pass for all manner of bad behavior, because they assume men are entitled to behave badly but hold women to an entirely different standard."

If we want to change society, we all have to participate. Ever since I began writing about beer, I've always felt that in the aggregate it had a positive, healthful effect on society. The dangers of alcoholism are real, but the way brings beer together is, too. I'd like to see it continue to be that wholesome space, but in order to do that, it needs to be a safe and welcoming for everyone.

COVER PHOTO: Drink Portland

Jeff Alworth2 Comments