I Did Not Order My Beer with a Side of Sexism

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Source: coffeefirstalways
Source: coffeefirstalways

 

While I’ve regrettably come to expect national-brand beers to perpetuate the stereotype of beer as a man’s drink and insult women in the process, what about craft beers? Caroline Wallace of  Bitch Beer recently discussed this in her article “How to alienate female beer drinkers in one easy step.”

Bitch Beer is a Austin, Texas-based beer blog written by a group of women. Bitch Beer’s name is similar to that of Bitch Magazine/Bitch Media:

We went with the name Bitch Beer because we want to disprove the old adage that women aren’t really beer drinkers. We’re evoking a name often given to sugary, low-alcohol content beer substitutes like Smirnoff Ice or Mike’s Hard Lemonade to prove that, from a stout to an IPA, these so-called bitches can drink any damn beer they please. You heard us, every beer is a Bitch Beer.

Wallace starts with a comparison of two beer ads seen at a local roller derby event. (Please refer to article for photos per BB‘s request that “All beer labels and photos of advertisements are displayed for educational purposes and should not be reused”). The first ad

was for [craft brewery] South Austin Brewing and features a bottomless woman toting a bottle of beer with the tagline “Your Champagne Just Got Jealous!” Now, as opposed as we are to the use of exclamation marks, and as confused as we are about why she’s still wearing her cowboy boots, the more disturbing thing here is definitely the use of a half naked female to sell beer.

Image from South Austin Brewing Company's homepage.
Image from South Austin Brewing Company’s homepage.

The second ad, by

Lone Star, a beer brand started by Adolphus Busch and owned by Pabst Brewing Company…[was] a female-targeted ad featuring a skater crushing a beer can on her head. The ad (pictured right) was as clever as it was badass. Frankly, if my beer purchasing decisions were based on the contrasting vibes of the advertisements alone, I’m suddenly a lot more likely to shotgun a can of the ol’ national beer of Texas than to pour myself a snifter of saison. For a gal like me, that’s saying something.

Wallace goes on to debate not whether the South Austin ad and similar ads/labels objectify women, but why and how it alienates female consumers–by using a female body as an object to sell beer instead of as the subject of beer consumption. As Wallace puts it, “Furthermore, in the Lone Star ad, it’s pretty damn clear that the woman is supposed to have consumed the beer herself, while in the South Austin ad it looks like the gal is just offering the beer up to horny/thirsty readers.” The message is that the beer is not for you, the potential female consumer, but for heterosexual men. In the case of this ad, the message is not given through using a male as the subject–say, a man drinking the beer–but using the female as object in the form of a passive woman meant to sell the beer to the man.

Interestingly, in the comments, Dave Wolfe writes,

I’m thinking maybe the joke is to subtle here. The idea for this ad was to take the piss out off the misogynistic beer advertising you see everywhere. Hence the exclamation marks, cowboy boots, and us trying as hard as possible to make it look like some corporate beer advert in parity [sic]. I think we did our job a little too well. When you see the follow up ads you will get the joke I’m thinking.

If this is true, then I hope SABC takes the criticism to heart. Even if the ad concept were created by the model (Eva Strangelove) as parody, the ad looks exactly like a sexist ad without any clearer element of satire or parody. If the ad appears more obviously a parody/satire piece in the context of a series of ads, it probably shouldn’t be shown alone, at events or on their website. So yes, it missed the mark, good intentions or otherwise.

The other two SABC ads that are not on the SABC website–and thus not in the BB critique–and which Wolfe links to later in the comments, actually don’t illuminate the supposed parody element of the  ad in question. These two ads, which I have screencapped here, show both the female and male models consuming beer as subject, which is good. I rather like the first one:

Image via the Dave Wolfe Fan Page on Facebook.
Image via the Dave Wolfe Fan Page on Facebook.

As I said, both models are consuming the beer. The text reads “Makes Even a Bad Date Good.” The female model is exasperated with the male model, who is consuming all of their food on a date at an Italian American restaurant. The text sells the beer, while the models are characters in a narrative, not objects.

SABC ad. "A Gentleman is a Patient Wolf." From Eva Strangelove's Facebook (linked by Dave Wolfe).
SABC ad. “A Gentleman is a Patient Wolf.” From Eva Strangelove’s Facebook (linked by Dave Wolfe).

A nit pick on this ad: this one could be improved with the removal of the text “A gentleman is just a patient wolf,” which suggests agency on the part of the male and hints at nonconsent–the tired narrative of the male as actor and the woman as passive in romantic/sexual pursuit. However, the image is fine. A man and a woman share a strand of spaghetti while both drinking beer (a glass is in front of her, a bottle in front of him). Neither of these explains the champagne ad at all, but both of them are well done and are miles beyond the first ad.

"Men Who Rock!" by Emily Nokes and Bree McKenna. Image via Bitch Magazine.
“Men Who Rock!” by Emily Nokes and Bree McKenna. Image via Bitch Magazine.

Though Wolfe’s and Wallace’s comments focused on intent, the other comments in the Wallace article about “man-hating feminists” and the like reminded me another stereotype: the “humorless feminist.” This stereotype is used to silence people who criticize sexist acts–“it’s just a joke” and “lighten up” are frequently used. However, humor, particularly satire and parody, is actually one of feminism’s great tools. Bitch Magazine actually did an excellent piece on Emily Nokes and Bree McKenna’s parody Rolling Stone covers “Men Who Rock!” for The Stranger. Kelsey Wallace writes in “Men Who Rock! Funny Because it’s Sexist (and True),”

The feature includes interviews with six Seattle-area men musicians, accompanied by the kind of photos that are usually taken of women (think bare midriffs, coy gazes, and roses). They’re eye-opening and hilarious, but the best part is the questions Nokes and McKenna asked in their interviews. A sampling:

The humor lies in how ridiculous the questions and poses are–which makes us question why asking male musicians about juggling work and family or their hair seems so silly. Another similar work is Rion Sabean’s Men-Ups! (which I have cited before)–why do men posing in canting positions and making the 1950s’ version of duckface seem so funny? K. Wallace (not to be confused with C. Wallace) continues (emphasis mine),

I’m not one to argue that what’s good for the objectified goose is good for the gander (we’re better off with no sexism, not double the amount), but these interviews are funny not because of the shirtless pics, but because they get at a larger truth: Women are treated this way by the media all the time and men aren’t. We laugh because it’s absurd, but if these interviews were with women, the douche-y infantilization and focus on looks probably wouldn’t even register.

Like K. Wallace, I don’t think that it’s necessary for South Austin Brewing Company to use an objectified male model to make a point about sexism, but if the company  really wants to parody sexist beer ads, they need to readjust their strategy.

Wolfe commented again on the Bitch Beer piece,

Well… I understand your rebuttal but as I’m sure you know if you state any opinion with enough passion and forwithall you will get many people to agree with you. The problem here is that you used a fun loving small town brewery ad to take your aggressions out on sex in the media. This idea is the epitome of misplaced intentions and you should work to disaggregate your call to arms here. We all have a opinions on what you speak of. I’m just saying you may of misplaced your focus in regards to the South Austin Brewery Ad. I my eyes it is art. All of it. No matter how bad. We all love beer. DRINK IT! ;} Smell what I’m stepping in? Sincerely -Dave Wolfe (Beer and Strong Opinionated Woman Lover)

And here’s where Wolfe changes gears and goes for the “lighten up” tactic, which is well described in The Real Katie‘s famous post “Lighten Up,” emphasis mine:

You, person who told me to lighten up, saw one little thing. It didn’t seem like a big deal, did it? One little line! One joke! One comment! But it’s not just one thing to me: it’s one of thousands that I’ve had to endure since I was old enough to be told that ‘X is for boys!’ It’s probably not even the first thing I’ve had to deal with that day, unless you’ve gotten to me pretty early.

That’s the main problem with subtle discrimination. It leaves those that it affects the most powerless against it, quietly discouraging them. If they speak up, they’re treated to eye rolls at the least, and at the worst, are called oppressors themselves. We’re accused of not wanting equal rights, but of wanting tyranny. 

Wolfe accuses Wallace of going after a small brewery that apparently can’t defend itself. Bitch Beer is a blog for women (and men) by women who want women to enjoy craft beer–they are not picking on a small craft brewer for shits and giggles. For its part, South Austin Brewing Company did not have to run a sexist or failed parody ad–the company chose to do so. If we all love beer and should drink it, as Wolfe suggests, then women should be treated as targeted potential consumers rather than objectified marketing tools. That is, if a brewer wants to target female consumers, women should be the subject of the ad, the drinker of the beer, like in the Lonestar ad. Women’s bodies should not be used to convey the beer to the male consumer. Yet Wolfe in his comments accuses those who want change from the tyranny of sexism of tyranny against small businesses. But it’s okay, because he likes strong women! (See also anti-feminist bingo.)

Now, to end on the quote I always end on, the one I ought to tattoo on my forehead:

When victims sue, when victims protest, when a desperate move causes public disruption of the daily status quo, it becomes terribly easy to reverse the roles of the protagonists. Too often, it is somehow quite easy to believe that those who seek justice after being injured are the attackers, and that those who have caused the injury are the victims. -W.Eugene Smith & Aileen M. Smith, Minamata

I’ll drink to that, and to the recent 1-year anniversary of Bitch BeerKanpai!

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Word. Thanks for writing about this so eloquently.

    1. Leah says:

      Thank you for the comment! I hope that really dissecting these issues helps show how absurd and entrenched sexism in advertising on all levels is.

  2. Jean says:

    I’m not a beer drinker and neither is he. We both like our different wines. So that advertising is just lost on us.

    I’m jus amazed by outright stupid misogynistic beer bottle labels.

    Well, true I can claim I’m not bothered because I’m not on the lookout for beer to buy. But still are the marketers, incredibly dense if they want to expand their market.

    1. Leah says:

      Thanks for the comment, and you’re absolutely right. Target demographic or no, any marketer who alienates half of a potential customer base for a small client is just doing it wrong. I find small wine producers’ graphic design to be less focused on the quirky factor like craft beers’ is, and as much as I like the clever names and labels, some of them just don’t get the whole “women are human” aspect of life.

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