I once worked fleetingly at a fancy bakery next to a construction site for an even fancier retail store. The general contractor for the construction site would come in every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and order cappuccinos with four extra shots, and, if my boss were around, harass her.
“When will you marry me?” he’d ask.
She’d laugh it off. “I’m taken. I’m spoken for.”
“You’d be such a perfect wife. When are you going to leave him for me?”
The rest of us knew she was uncomfortable. In fact, she loathed him. We all loathed him. It got to be so when he came in she’d try to disappear. We wished we could disappear, too - he’d comment on our looks and baking abilities like he was selecting a bride from an auction block. But he reserved his most pointed attacks for my boss. One time, while she was frosting a cake, he said, “You’re a good spreader.”
Although we – an almost entirely female team – loathed this man and dreaded his appearance, we said nothing to him. In fact, after one particularly egregious visit, when I and the other women working that shift were talking about whether there was something we could do, my boss shut us down.
“Don’t you say anything to him,” she said. “Don’t say anything. Just give him his cappuccino.”
At the time, I remember being more disturbed that I was instructed – by my female boss who was being terrorized – to remain silent if I felt violated than I was by any violation itself. It was more important to protect his comfort and entitlement than my own safety and sense of self. It was her damn store, and yet she felt there was no recourse against an old lecher who strolled around like it was his.
That messed up bullshit was one of the many reasons I quit.
I had forgotten about this man, but recently, these and other memories have been resurfacing. They crack open in me like a wound that I have gotten so accustomed to I sometimes forget I am split open. I forget that I walk around cut in two.
Like many women and genderqueer and trans folk, I’ve been heartened by the sudden surge of accountability, reckoning, and conversation about what it is like to be female-bodied in this world and the male-patterned bullshit that must stop. Heartened, and also saddened and horrified and broken open. It feels like we are showing our wounds, saying, “Remember when you did this? It was today, and yesterday, and the day before that.”
The men I’ve spoken with are saddened and horrified, too, but they also use words like “shocked” and “surprised.” They seem a little wide-eyed, a little cowed.
The women are surprised that suddenly it seems to matter, the men are surprised that it’s been happening all along.
And the men I’ve spoken with remain wary of seeing their own complicity. They are inclined to want to believe it’s some bad apples who had too much power and abused it – it’s funny how it can turn into an abuse of power, instead of an abuse of women. There is an anxious undercurrent of, “who’s next?” as if it’s not just about everyone. As if it’s not probably them. There is a subtext there of “not me.”
There is a part of me I don’t like very much that finds their fear sweetly comforting. For what is sure to be a brief cultural moment, they have a glimpse of what it is like to have their voice doubted, their decisions interrogated, their blithe freedom to do whatever the hell they want curtailed. For this brief moment, we have a glimpse of what it is like to feel like the world gives a shit about the shit we’ve endured. For a moment there are consequences.
For a moment it feels like our “no” means something. Perhaps we can finally have our bodies back. Perhaps we can finally be free.
I know some folks feel like it’s out of control, like wildfire. But I think they don’t realize the fires have been raging for a long, long time.
For Whose Brews and in my own foray into the craft beer industry, I’ve spoken with many women in the craft beer world about their experiences in a male-dominated, male-centered space. Even though the food and beverage industry is rife with sexual harassment and assault (along with other low-wage work), the women I speak with often can’t immediately name an example of the way this has shown up in their lives. When I ask them about the sexism and misogyny they experience, they’ll say, “yeah, it happens, but I just shake it off,” or “I don’t let it get to me.” Sometimes they will even say they aren’t affected by it at all.
Then I’ll ask the question in different ways. I say, “this happened to me, did you experience that as well?” and then suddenly it’s like I poked a hole in dam. Yes, yes, that happened to me. Yes, I noticed that. Yes, me too.
Women have so normalized misogyny that it’s just the way life is. It is so baked into our lives that our best coping strategy is sometimes to pretend we are immune to it, or even that it doesn’t exist.
We get used to thinking this must be what being whole feels like, when really we are broken in two.
When I talk with folks about sexism in craft beer, a lot of fingers are pointed at AB InBev, which controls about a third of the global beer market. Of course, AB InBev has major stuff to work out. But it’s easier to think that Big Beer is where all the sexist bullshit is, and craft beer is a fun time for the whole family. But if Big Beer is Uncle Harvey Weinstein, craft beer is your cousin who thinks he’s evolved and is a good guy but might have not learned about consent until two weeks ago.
Craft beer is a space where women are called “girls” and “ladies” like we don’t know that means you don’t take us seriously. It’s a space where you drink and get a Dad Bod, but we are supposed to drink light beer so as not to gain weight, because heaven help us if we are fat and deemed unappealing to you. It’s a place where men are assumed to be experts simply by showing up and women might feel lucky if they get to drink their beer without anyone telling them to smile.
It’s a place where books and magazines about the industry feature white man after white man after white man and lump “non-drinkers and women” in the same breath. It’s a space where the history of beer is told as a triumphant story of the so-called self-made man, instead of the enslaved labor and alewives who formulated early recipes and brewed for centuries before.
It’s an industry where addressing parental leave or pumping needs are rarely considered and pregnant people are subject to public judgment and you can bet there isn’t a diaper changing station in the bathroom.
Craft beer is a place where bottles are called “Panty Dropper,” “Me So Honey,” “Sexual Chocolate” silhouetted by a black woman’s face, and feature busty white pinups mysteriously without pants riding bombs. Beers are named after a process during labor when women pass blood and mucous, a sexual act where a low-wage worker jacks a man off after massaging him for some extra money, and a sexual act that involves ejaculating onto a woman’s chest and neck.
It’s a place where women are more likely to be objectified on a bottle than to have brewed the beer.
It’s a place where men are masculine and drink beer and women are feminine and don’t drink beer and people who are neither of these things don’t exist. It’s a space with really, really stupid signs.
It’s a place where, when I share these words, I will be told I’m being too harsh and that it’s not really that bad and the real problem is that women like me are too sensitive and don’t get the joke.
For some time, I had talked myself out of posting this. Then, a couple of nights ago, I was at one of my favorite craft beer bars a few blocks from where I live in Washington, DC. A white, bearded, 30-something man with a hipster haircut was talking loudly and tipsily to another white, bearded, 30-something man with a hipster haircut.
“She was on the larger side so, you know, not something I’d ever be into.”
By the time I had ordered my drink, an older black man had interrupted their conversation to tell them to cool it. Things got heated and…biblical. The last part I caught before my friend joined me was the white bearded hipster man retorting, “Well, women were created second.”
I feel the need to write that this is everywhere, and it’s endemic, and it’s constant, and it manifests not just in cornering a woman in your hotel room and whipping your penis out. You can keep your penis in your pants and still be a total dick. You can be a “good guy” and still need to reckon with the ways you prop up and benefit from the pervasive nature of men’s violence, abuse, and hatred of women. You can, in so many ways, make choices and decisions and assertions that remind women that they are unsafe, unwelcome, and less than, that they are there for your own pleasure and consumption and disposal.
It’s toxic masculinity’s world and we’re drinking it.
It’s long past time for us to brew something else.
Feeling kinda down? Yeah, me too, sometimes. But hold on! Stay tuned for tips on what we can do right now to help make craft beer a place where everyone is welcome.