On the Unfortunate Sign at Anchor Brewing
For our anniversary, my sweetie and I went on a tour of Anchor Brewing in San Francisco. It was an amazing opportunity to see the gleaming copper wort vessels (so historic!) and view the giant foaming fermentation tanks (so foamy!) and pass through the whirring canning room (so industrious!) and imbibe the generous servings of Anchor beer that took us through a historic catalogue of American microbrew evolution. It was an all around fantastic experience, and I’d recommend it to everyone who is even remotely interested in getting a little closer to a catalyst of American beer as we know it today.
It was an all around fantastic experience…except for one sign.
Behind the bar where the tour begins and ends, prominently displayed and easily viewable beside the tour guide, is a sign that reads, “There is no strong beer, only weak men.”
When I saw the sign, my heart sank. I was super bummed that Anchor had bought into that whole dude-beer-high-ABV bullshit. But the salt in the wound is the hypervisibility of the sign. It’s an even more visible element of the visit than the last known earthquake bottles, which the tour guide explicitly tells you to look for. You literally cannot tour Anchor and miss this sign.
You know how I know everyone saw this sign? Everybody and their momma is taking a photo of this sign thinking it’s hilarious.
One of the most ironic photos is this stunning shot by Daniel C:
Y’all. Stop. It is not hilarious. It’s sad and it’s keeping us small. Briefly, here’s why:
- Gender is totally made up (so is sex, but baby steps). It’s what the fancy people call a social construction – a thing that isn’t a truth but something we make true by pretending it’s true. We are really, really, really good at gender charades. And if gender is a made-up thing where people are concerned, that gets even weirder when we say a beer – specifically an ABV level – is male or female or masculine or feminine. What the hell are we doing butching up a high alcohol level? It’s alcohol by volume! It’s not trying to convey a gender identity! It wants you to drink it and marvel in its transcendent qualities and go watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. So do that instead of implying all this other nonsense.
- This joke is way not cool about women. Because of the nature of this artificial thing called gender, men/women and masculinity/femininity are treated as opposites. Men are supposed to be strong (better thing), women are supposed to be weak (worse thing). So when you call a man weak, you are saying he’s like a woman, which is…dang, such a jerk move. You want to explain that joke to the beloved women in your life?
- This joke is way not cool about men. Men face enormous social pressure to exhibit these made-up masculine traits, such as physical strength, stoicism, and an affinity for grilling outdoors. This joke means men don’t get to be their full selves; instead they are supposed to be these triple-imperial-barrel-aged-barleywine-chugging gladiators. There is more to be said here about the larger culture of violence that is fueled by this kind of thinking. For now, I’ll just leave it with: I believe that men are capable of a much wider experience of their own humanity.
- This joke is way not cool about people who do not identify as women or men. No one fits neatly into the stupid stupidness that is the gender binary, but people who do not identify as male or female, or do not easily "pass" as male or female, especially do not fit. This sign not only makes transgender, genderqueer, and other folks invisible, but it reinforces a set-up that makes living freely challenging and often dangerous.
- This joke is way not cool about people with disabilities or who do not exemplify whatever "strong" is supposed to mean in this sign. By framing physical weakness as a bad thing, anyone who can't down an imperial or deadlift their own weight is supposedly a lesser person. But "weak" ABV beers actually rock, as do all people regardless of their physical abilities.
- Also, this joke boooooring. I’m going to tell you right now, If you think you need to be a “manly man” to drink beer with a high ABV, you are drunk on male privilege. This joke is old and stale and it’s been done, people. It is not retro or ironic or tongue-in-cheek or something anyone else needs to take a photo of and post on Yelp thinking they are being cute.
In the post tour survey for Anchor, I asked if they could take down the sign, but I don’t expect it to be removed. I’m pretty sure it’ll be perceived as request to end all fun, which is how most people react when you ask them to do things in a way that includes others but means they can’t blithely do whatever the hell they want anymore regardless of its impact.
It’s not that we can’t joke about gender or that all fun must end – it’s just the sexist fun that isn’t actually any fun that must end. This joke in its current form is taking something really great (beer) and making it about something harmful that keeps us in our place (gender). But it could be a chance to take something really great (beer) and celebrate something else really great (human beings in all their complexity).
You want to know a funny sign about beer (again, real) and gender (still not real)? Here’s one:
There is no gendered beer, only gendered beliefs.
If you are listening, Anchor Brewing, I'd be happy to send this to you, framed and ready to display alongside your other bold innovations.
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P.S. Bonus signs about gender and beer:
Our beer isn’t gendered, and neither are you.
Do you have hops in your pants?
We don’t either - we drank them all.
You say "weak" like it's a bad thing #allsessionsallthetime
Roses are red, violets are blue,
This beer is weak, which means you get two!
There are strong beers, there are weak beers, and there are also inadequate excuses for patriarchy.
*A special thanks to Allison Harrison for supporting this post*