Sexism in Beer: A Brewer's Perspective
By Allison Higi
“We only hired you because you’re a woman and we had a bad reputation. You don’t really need to work.”
“The only reason our boss hates you is because you’re a woman.”
“You can enter my brewery as long as you’re not having a bad day [i.e. menstruating]”
These are all phrases that have been said to me throughout my career as a woman in the brewing industry. I could continue with countless examples of misogyny and abuse but the point is, there is a clear problem that exists here. I do not want to focus on the problem though, except to say that there is one. Enough said. What I’d like to focus on are the solutions. How do we, as women and men in this industry change this “man culture” that is present every day?
It breaks my heart to hear the stories of women who insist on remaining anonymous for fear of retaliation. I have been retaliated against by both men and women in this industry for speaking out about inappropriate comments and actions, and I’m not afraid anymore. When I find myself in these situations, I don’t seek to change anyone's minds. I move on, stronger, smarter, more fearless and wiser.
I think the solution is three-fold. First, I think that as more women enter the brewing community and our visibility increases, it will decrease the visibility of the male-centric culture for which brewing has been known. This idea that a brewer is a big-bellied, bearded man will lessen with each woman who learns to brew and takes her position in the brewery. This will take time and it will also take strong women willing to work hard and turn a deaf ear to threats and inappropriate comments. Women who will persevere and look at the long picture, not the words of one singular man or a group of men grasping to preserve their male-dominated brewing culture. Stick with it, ladies. The benefits of doing what you love and are good at doing outweigh the costs of stinging phrases and embarrassing impositions in our lives.
The second part of the solution belongs in the hands of the men in the brewing industry. Good men. Fathers and husbands who say, “Enough is enough. I will not laugh at your sexist jokes. I will not support that mindset in my brewery.” I worked with a male brewer once and I wouldn’t necessarily describe our relationship as friendship. We rarely saw eye to eye when it came to the specifics of brewing or processes in the brewery. But when clearly inappropriate and sexist things were said to me at work, his response was, “I'm sorry that that happened to you.” I cannot tell you how significant those words were in my life.
I’ve also had the good fortune of having another male brewer friend stick up for me when nasty, sexual things were said about me in a chat forum in a brewing community. In response, he was called a “traitor” by our peers because he stood up for me. It will take more men like these men to stand up for us. To draw the line, to put their foot down, to hasten the elimination of this type of behavior in the brewing industry.
Lastly, I will point out that this problem lies predominantly within our industry, not outside. Yes, women in other male-dominated industries endure unequal pay, sexual harassment and retaliation, but I can say from my own experiences brewing around the world that not one man outside of our industry, to whom I’ve told what I do to earn a living, has ever said anything negative to me about my career choice. This has only come from within our industry. Most people, men included, are fascinated by my job and want to hear more. How did I become a brewer? How long have I been brewing? What kind of beers do I like to brew? They are usually more than willing to buy me another pint if I keep sharing my stories with them. Never has a consumer ever said anything negative to me in regard to my gender. This leads me to believe that we are perpetuating this male-dominated culture among ourselves.
As I have progressed in my career, I have learned to vet companies for whom I work more thoroughly. I have learned when to ignore comments and when to speak up and say it is not OK to be treated this way. And I have learned when to move on to a new company and leave a poisonous one. Along the way I have made many women brewer friends and I rely on them to vent and share stories; to not let the frustration bottle up into the emotional explosion that feeds the misogynists.
But what I do that is most important in changing the male-dominated brewing culture is this: I wake up every day and go to work in a brewery. Because I love the hard work, the challenge, the science, and the product.
Allison Higi was the first full-time female brewer in Vietnam, and has worked in brewing since 2008. She was most recently the head brewer at Phat Rooster Ales in Ho Chi Minh City and is back in the states to pursue her next adventure.