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Homebrewing Needs a Woman's Touch

Posted by homebrewdad on 2/19/2015 at 11:11:18 AM


It goes without saying that I love brewing.  I find it to be such a versatile hobby - maybe you get your satisfaction from the creative aspect of recipe design.  Maybe you are more interested in the scientific angles, what with the various chemical and metabolic concerns related to fermentation.  Maybe you're a gearhead, and you get a sense of accomplishment from putting together the best/fanciest equipment for your brewery.  Perhaps you are a dyed in the wool DIY enthusiast, and your enjoyment comes from designing and assembling your gear.  Maybe you just happen to like beer.

I think that it's fair to say that, yes, a lot of factors enter into the motivations for brewing.  That diversity is really enjoyable to me, as it seems that it helps to foster a healthy hobby for everyone; people coming at the same problems from so many angles seems to create a lot of valid approaches to (and solutions for) problems that we all encounter.

However, there is one major area that I find homebrewing to be sadly lacking in diversity - and that is in gender. 

It's not like the historical precedent for female brewers isn't there.  In ancient times, brewing was almost exclusively the domain of women.  The same goes for medieval times; women handled the majority of brewing, as it was more of a household chore.  Even in colonial America, women were typically responsible for domestic task of brewing for a home.  In fact, the major impetus for the morphing of beer production into being seen as a man's task seems to be the commercialization and distribution of beer; once professional breweries became more of the norm, men moved into that role.

So why don't we see more women in homebrewing today?  It's not as if there is some magical factor preventing women from making great beer - the 2013 AHA Brewer of the year (Annie Johnson), happens to be female.  Anyone can soak grains in hot water, drain the liquid into a pot, boil it, and add hops and yeast.  Anyone can bottle beer or fill a keg.  Anyone can scrub gunk and mix sanitizer.  Am I missing some gender-dependent skill?

I believe that, for whatever reason, the culture of brewing seems to very much be that of a "boys' club".

Sure, I understand that, for whatever reason, craft beer itself seems to be far more popular with men than with women - but that is changing.  As craft beer culture overall grows (and craft beer sales continue to carve away market share from the big boys), women are consuming more and more beer; the percentage of total beer consumed by women is steadily increasing.  And yet, if you visit any popular online forum for homebrewing, you'll find that female members are all but completely nonexistent. 

Part of the reason behind that, I believe, is due to the culture that is so prevalent among brewers.  Terms like SWMBO ("She Who Must Be Obeyed", in reference to one's significant other) litter internet forums. Women who post to homebrewing forums are all too often challenged on their content - simply because of their gender - if they can manage to avoid being objectified.  Try listening to most of the popular brewing podcasts, and you'll hear ridiculous amounts of locker room humor, casual misogyny, "bros being bros", that sort of thing.  Even the sponsors are not immune - one major retailer advertises itself as increasing the buyer's sex appeal (by depicting their customers as the kind of guys who have a willing woman under each arm), another goes so far as to promote themselves as "blowing a warm load of customer service on your face."


Look, I won't pretend that I've never participated in locker room humor with my buddies.  Sure, it's part of being a guy, and if you are alone with other guys, what's the harm?

The problem is that we seem to take that small group mentality and apply it to our hobby as a whole.  Can you imagine almost any other industry where one of the biggest retailers would ever suggest "blowing a warm load" on their customer's faces?  Of course not.  In most industries, that would be a one way ticket to Out Of Businessville. 

But in homebrewing, we seem to actively encourage this.  Why?

I, for one, think that it's time for us - as a hobby - to make a conscious decision to change this.  I'm not suggesting that we push pink fermentors or sanitizers with flowery scents; that would be missing the point.  I do think, though, that we need to be more inclusive in our attitudes and our language.  I think that our retailers should be held to the same standards that would apply in other industries. 

If I can't listen to a podcast with my wife or daughter without being embarrassed by the content, then something is wrong.  If they can't post to a forum without the same sorts of reactions that a guy would get, then something is wrong.

Also, I think that it is vital for us to get the women who ARE involved in the hobby to get more active in the community.  Of all the homebrewing blogs out there, I've only heard of a couple run by women.  I think their activity needs more exposure.

Incidentally - I would LOVE to see a steady blog started by a woman here on our community.  Of course, ANYONE is welcome to host their blog here on our site, but I would be lying if I didn't admit that I think that a well written, regularly updated blog from a female homebrewer could be wildly successful.  If you are interested in doing a post or two - or, even better, in starting a regular blog to host here - please don't hesitate to contact me.

In summation, I think that diversity of all sort can only be good for our hobby.  It's past time that homebrewing started to show a little more of a woman's touch.

Tags for this post: homebrewing, women, misogyny, hobby, brewing

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I do hope to see this trend change as well. I think a big part of the reason is lack of interest as a whole. I have tried to get my wife involved in some of my brewing sessions and she's mostly not interested because she doesn't care for the end product no matter the style. I realize more and more women are getting into craft brewing and I say, "Bring it!" But outside of the points you mentioned (and yeah, the warm load comment goes a bit far I think), I think lack of popular interest plays a major role. Not the whole picture by any means, but definitely a huge factor.

posted by brianj on 2/19/2015 at 11:30:15 AM

Sure. My wife doesn't care for beer, so I'm not going to get her interested.

That doesn't mean that the current state of the hobby is okay.

posted by homebrewdad on 2/19/2015 at 11:31:36 AM

I agree with that. There is this couple that I really click with in our homebrew club and I love talking shop with both of them. It's awesome to get new perspectives.

posted by brianj on 2/19/2015 at 11:33:12 AM

After finding a link to this article elsewhere (and then reading people discussing it there), I decided to post a reply here instead of there. I honestly don't think many men are aware of how accidentally exclusionary language they use can be. It's why it makes it hard to actually solve. If the people who are misogynist don't see a problem with it and the people who aren't just argue that they don't make distinctions... well, it makes it hard to get anyone to listen.

It's not as bad as the designs and puns on cask beer pump clips. They're just terrible, but it's bad if that's the best I can say.

I'd write for your blog but I have one of my own.

posted by Kyrina on 2/19/2015 at 01:09:44 PM

I personally would love more women to be interested in brewing, I include my girlfriend in almost every part of the process.. she wrote her masters thesis on waste water treatment and has a much better knowledge of water chemistry/filtration than I will ever know.. I love explaining to her what we are doing, talk about how we can improve processes of brewing.. and also she's an amazing help when it comes to physically helping.. She drinks the occasional beer, but doesn't really have the strong interest in it that I do..

I can certainly say at the few home brew clubs I have met with, there were women brewers in attendance.. they have been brewing a lot longer than I have.. and are way more knowledgeable than me..

To blatant horrible/sexist advertisements and comments.. I would say they have the freedom to say what they want.. if you don't like what it is.. don't listen to them.. don't buy their products.. I personally do not listen to podcasts and haven't seen anything more than "locker room talk" on most forums.. but I can see how some of it may be leaning towards a deterrent to women..

I personally think forcing morality on a group/community isn't a good approach.. just my personal opinion.. You have the right to have an opinion and be offended as much as they have a right to have be offensive.. you just don't have to support them via. buying their products, or listening to their podcasts, or putting up with stupid comments aimed at you..

While I don't agree with misogyny.. I don't see how "softer" language is effective.. I know how strong, smart, and capable my girlfriend is by her actions.. she is all of those things regardless of what I or other people around her say..

Sure, I think homebrewers in general should be more inviting to women.. but I also think that being overly sensitive doesn't make a community any better.. to all the women who brew beer out there, you're awesome.. not because I said so, or somebody else said you're not.. but because you do something you enjoy, regardless of what others think..

posted by blur_yo_face on 2/19/2015 at 02:02:25 PM

Well put. Speaking from a strictly profit-driven perspective, it doesn't make any sense for a merchant to push away approximately 50% of potential customers.

As a lifelong comic book fan and tabletop gamer, I have always looked at increased diversity in any of my hobbies or interests as a positive - if nothing else, it's more people to talk to about the things I really dig.

posted by Ace1967 on 2/19/2015 at 02:04:42 PM

Thank you for writing this article. There are a few ladies in my home-brew club, and they are huge contributors to the club.

In general, I see lots men unaware of how their attitudes affect women around them. It's unfortunate they are unaware of the effect they have on others.

I think there is also a push to market your business with an "edgy" feel based on the axiom, "all publicity is good publicity". Unfortunately, many businesses have chosen to use sex appeal to market their business rather than just run a great business. Unfortunately, these tactics get them the attention and the business they want.

This whole issue ties in to so many other areas of life, and "acceptable" behavior based on out-dated stereotypes. A good article, and I hope home brewing becomes more welcoming.

posted by superbrewers on 2/19/2015 at 04:07:54 PM

Hmmmm - I think we're conflating a few things here.

1. Women can be just as 'bawdy' as men, can talk about sex, can have a laugh with both men and women and make jokes of a sexual nature. There's nothing wrong with this - in fact it's healthy, and there's nothing wrong with sex or talking about sex.

2. The advertising industry uses sex to sell to both men and women - there are tons of women's products that use sexy men to help get the attention of women, make them feel good and use that to help sell their product to women.

The real issue here should be about the brewing community being derogatory and exclusionist to women - and this can be done in a million ways that have nothing to do with sex.

Far too many people automatically assume that men talking beer and making jokes about sex is 'bad'. If I'm on a brewing radio show and I make a joke about having a small penis - how is that derogatory towards women? It's not - but it is somewhat NSFW - and that's what's being inadvertantly added into the mix here.

We need to differentiate between shows that have adult content and those that don't. Kids shouldn't be listening to shows with NSFW content, and that will save some embarrassment.

Shows that do include NSFW content (and beer is often an inherently 'adult') aren't automatically exclusionary or degrading to one sex or another. I have no problem with these shows - they're healthy and fun - and if talk about sex makes you uncomfortable you can choose to listen to 'cleaner' shows.

There are also shows that are degrading to others (and I include some of those disgusting beer names referenced here). These deserve our ire - personally I won't listen to them - I'm not interested in people who think and talk like that.

In fact, am I the only one that finds it patronising and insulting to women to suggest that we need to clean up all sexual content from shows so that their delicate little ears can participate? I believe that's just another form of sexism, and much more insidious. Do men need to police that for women? Women can make the same decisions as me - to listen or not to listen, based on the type of content they'd like.

Anyway, this has turned into a bit of a rant - my main point being that we need to 'clean up' sexism, exclusion and discrimination - but not confuse that with mature, sexy, and fun. I think as home brewing gets more popular, more accessible shows will appear, and sexist shows will be shown for what they are.

posted by Endisnigh on 2/19/2015 at 11:33:35 PM

Thanks for your post. I actually said something like this in a long "Confessions" thread on homebrew talk recently.

To me, the issue is not one-off comments of a sexist nature: it's the pattern of fairly blantant sexual stereotypes, often used in a form of humor, that I find troubling. It's a mere--a recurrent idea that seems to attach itself to discussions even where it's completely irrelevant.

Much of it can be really easy to miss, and I think people often miss it. Take a subtler add from, tag line "Where a man can brew like a man." What's so sexist about that? Well, and a woman can, what, brew like a woman? What does that mean? Or maybe a woman can brew like a man? (You know, in that better male way that we manly men brew like.) Gender suddenly became part of how a person brews, and this was sported as a good thing. Huh?

I don't think everyway of talking about sex is alienating to women. (I personally find it a little awkward when people start talking about their sex lives in front of me, but I'm not offended.) However, I think men often, accidentally, do it in a way that makes women's role in sex to provide them with pleasure--even a fascination with female orgasm is often an empowerment fantasy for men, in which a woman's pleasure is a vehicle for his greatness, perhaps a kind way to use someone, but still using them--it's objectifying and I don't think women should feel wrong for thinking so.

posted by philosofool on 2/20/2015 at 02:36:06 PM

Well stated, philosofool.

posted by homebrewdad on 2/20/2015 at 02:43:05 PM

I started homebrewing precisely for this reason (more women SHOULD be brewing), and a few of us in my local homebrew club started a subgroup that's focused on women and making the hobby and club more accessible to women. (It's less intimidating to walk into a meeting with 50 guys when you know you won't be the only woman there, especially if you're new to brewing.)

Check out our HOPS (Homebrew Outreach and Participation Sisterhood) group here:

posted by sbond on 2/20/2015 at 04:07:32 PM

I am glad to see this is something that has bothered me about the homebrewing community for awhile. We should definitely be aware that homebrewers are NOT the first group to discuss this--check out any number of articles and threads from scientists, computer gamers, sci-fi and fantasy fans, etc. Although things are by no means resolved there (in fact, it is overtly worse in some cases), I think the discussions and actions being taken to make various interest groups more welcoming to a larger group of people (including women) might provide a good template as homebrewing moves forward.

A few random thoughts:

1) I agree 100% that many ads, logos, etc., cross lines of acceptability. I also do not think it is being oversensitive to say so. Let's call these ads what they are -- tacky, outdated, and sending a negative message about what the companies value (as well as a negative message about homebrewing). Companies are welcome to make these kinds of ads. But, that also means that they are going to receive criticism, and probably won't get my business.

2) It is up to all of us to set a positive example. Set a better standard for how we present ourselves on-line and in club meetings. Speak up if someone says or does something that is less than welcoming to others. This applies not just to sexist comments, but to everything. Would you stand by idly while someone bashes craft beer and homebrewers? etc. It's hard to do, and none of us (me included) succeed in this all of the time, but I think the more people speak up about the issue, the more things will change.

3) Talking about these issues, and asking people to dial it back on sexist or unwelcoming words and actions, is not "forcing morality" on people. Nobody is calling for blanket censorship or closing down companies that have stupid ads (which, like banning homebrewing, _would_ be forcing morality). It is perfectly fine, I think, to speak up--that's called having a backbone.

posted by FossilBrewer on 2/22/2015 at 05:23:01 PM

I agree with the article's overall sentiment. I find the "bro culture" in a lot of the brewing community to be pretty ugly. Thankfully my home city of Melbourne, Australia is reasonably progressive and its inner-city brewers are on the whole open and welcoming. Even so, of the fifty-odd members in my brewing club only two are female. Sometimes we get more women in at meetings but they are usually partners of brewers as opposed to being brewers themselves.

The article is correct to point out that women in the past brewed a lot more than they do at present. This shift started occurring when brewing industrialised in the 16th/17th century and male capitalists began to replace the gentry's influence in society, taking brewing out of the home/home business and into the factory. Krenze's 2014 PhD thesis, "Change is Brewing", touches on this, but the most relevant text is Bennett's "Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women's Work in a Changing World". It's not an objective disempowerment however, as one can also argue that women were only majority brewers prior to industrialisation because of patriarchal demands.

Either way, in brewing as in all things we who are privileged should be cognisant of the gender imbalance and work to diminish exclusionary behaviour. If more women want to brew, they should have the means and support to do so.

And geez I wish the American podcasts had less penis jokes.

posted by Luke Corbin on 3/19/2015 at 09:37:04 PM

As a female homebrewer I couldn't agree more with the original post.

I know exactly the add you are referring to, and I do find it offensive (and I wont'be spending my money there). Similarly disgusting; one of the more popular brewing podcasts was sponsored for a long time by a porn vendor (Really?). Last week I was listening to one of these podcasts (I won't name the hosts, but you know who they are) and found it interesting that on one particular show they were touting the need for more women in the craft brewing industry/homebrewing and in the next breath talking about a female fan they had just met--and apparently her most interesting attribute was how hot she was (sigh, you just don't get it do you?).

Yes, I could choose to not listen to these podcasts. I could have also chosen not to enter a male dominated field (science) and get my PhD. Throughout my schooling and career I have been exposed to the "boys club" so I'm pretty used to it. And these podcasts have really helped accelerate my learning curve as a brewer, so I tune out the offensive stuff and listen anyway, though it is tiring at times. If you can only find humor in sex and toilet jokes it really makes you sound rather unintelligent and one dimensional.

I have avoided joining any local homebrew clubs for exactly this reason. I get enough of the boys club in my professional life, I don't need it in my hobby. Just this week I found a local womens craft brew appreciation club (Craftsy Women, Denver, CO). I think a few of the members are homebrewers, and I'm looking forward to checking it out.

posted by tracyy on 7/15/2015 at 02:50:18 PM