Session 81: Women & The UK Beer World

I missed that this “Scary Beer Feminists” (aka “Women In Craft Beer”) “Session” thing was happening. A detailed roundup.

I do have my own typically grumpy point of personal experience to add… it is, as it must be, UK-centric…

GBBF Bar Staff

GBBF Bar Staff

My other half and I are just the “young” side of mid-30s. Kat is as keen on drinking beer as I am. We go to the pub together, we share beers together at home, we go to beer events together, we’ve both volunteered at beer festivals small, big, and independent. We’ve even both “done time” on a CAMRA branch committee. Kat was the one who got her own work group going to the pub regularly on Thursdays for lunch. We don’t really think of any of this this as being odd – perhaps because we’re from Australia? Though we do recognise that it isn’t exactly usual…

Kat with Table

Kat with Table

But that does not excuse the typical crap we experience from (almost always “older”) blokes in pubs and beer festivals in the UK. Fucking hell it is getting pretty damn tiresome. It likely doesn’t help that Kat’s small, of south-east Asian background, and is quite happy drinking a pint of 5+% stout or porter… but again, no fucking excuse. “I’m just curious.” “Where are you really from?” “Where does she put it all!” “Hur hur hur…” *leer*

Sadly I don’t expect this dire situation to change in a hurry. It’ll probably change only as fast as these relics of an outmoded worldview pass away with time. What this situation does is cement a developing beer-culture divide – if there’s a younger, hipper, more “craft” venue available then we’re likely to prefer it just to avoid the asshats. So-styled “craft beer bars” may have a “full of young hipsters” feel to them – but that’s a hell of a lot better than a  “full of leering, sexist, racist, old fools” feel[1]. The same can be said for events. CAMRA[2] festivals tend to have more of the “problem” customers while events like the Independent Manchester Beer Convention and the Birmingham Beer Bash are far more comfortable (and diverse in both people and beer).

Real Ale Twats - A Stereotype

Real Ale Twats – A Stereotype

I do not, of course, accuse all traditional pub goers – not even a majority of them. I haven’t done a comprehensive census.[3] But even if the problem types are a minority – the majority accept them, don’t bat an eyelid, a handful may apologise for them – thanks – but nobody tackles the issue. We understand, been there done that, it is difficult, it is exhausting to have these arguments – and the usual response is a brick wall of offended consternation. So we, ourselves, rarely say anything – we just uncomfortably put up with it and choose our drinking venues and events accordingly. Normally none of these folk are bad per se, many could be thought of as “good old chaps” – but they exude an unwelcoming subtext, an accusation of being different, out of place, incongruent, an amusement.

In contrast… I feel that “new wave” venues and events are providing a more comfortable experience for the non-“old white male” drinker. Somewhere where people of all backgrounds and genders can feel comfortable having a drink… OK, that’s stretching things… we’re not yet at such a Utopia. I speak as one of the privileged – I’m a white male – it takes effort and experience for me to understand and sometimes even see these problems (and I don’t claim to understand them completely, it’s complex). But within my understanding the “craft beer” community in the UK is an improvement on traditional beer culture in the UK – for that I am thankful – but there’s still plenty of room for further improvement. As certainly documented in the session roundup. This “Session” is also an example of how the modern beer scene benefits from having these discussions and is lucky enough to have a whole raft of people keeping things in check. We must be ever vigilant and also self-critical: as the saying goes “Check Your Privilege”[4]. But more simply & specifically to our case in the beer world: all humans should have the opportunity to to enjoy a beer in happiness and comfort. If you’re doing anything to work against this ideal: CHANGE.

1. I tried to find a good image of the “craft beer hipster” stereotype, but failed. I was hoping for a “craft beer” equivalent of the Real Ale Twats. Somebody should do this. :)

2. CAMRA customers are less diverse than “craft beer event” customers. As observed by me, I don’t have stats of course. But there is a huge variance. Cambridge festival is pretty good but our own Hitchin festival isn’t so good – although both have a distinct problem element that is far less noticeable at the new wave of indy fests. Interestingly enough diversity amongst festival volunteers seems higher. Sadly, female festival volunteers have a hard time of it thanks to the certain sort of customers my vitriol is directed at here. A win/lose situation for CAMRA.

3. The bulk of our UK pubgoing experience is in the London/Hitchin/Cambridge corridor, an area I’d have thought would be more on the progressive side.

4. I really don’t like this phrase, it makes me feel uncomfortable… perhaps that’s why.

[This post reviewed and approved by Kat.]


4 thoughts on “Session 81: Women & The UK Beer World

  1. While not seeking to defend offensive language or behaviour, is it perhaps to some extent the case that certain types of venues and events are more welcoming to people like you rather than people in general? Many folks, for example, might feel very ill at ease in a BrewDog bar.

    There’s an edition of the “Real Ale Twats” where they celebrate the “wide range of fascinating characters” in pubs, who actually turn out to be all people just like them. People naturally gravitate towards those with similar interests and outlook.

    • I can only presume that by “people like you” you mean “people who do not want to be racially or sexually harassed” – I don’t see why anyone should consider this to be acceptable in any venue or event?

      I’m not talking atmospheric differences between loud pubs and quiet pubs, sports pubs and cracking fire gastropubs, craft bars and cask pubs, lager dens and real ale havens… these things are fine and have their place. Sure, some I prefer over others – but I don’t consider this an issue. The problem is a very specific kind of direct social encounter that can very well occur in any circumstance, that happens to occur more in a “traditional pub” than a “new wave bar”. These encounters don’t actually happen to me, simply because I have the privilege of being white and male – but I happen to be in a position to observe & thus feel the discomfort, upset, and anger they cause.

      Personally we prefer a proper pub over a BrewDog bar, we like BrewDog bars but we certainly wouldn’t want to be regulars in one. For the most part we find ourselves locals with a good community & good cask ale. The problem is that in nearly every good pub the issues covered above will be in evidence to a greater or lesser extent. It is tedious… & we observe that these uncomfortable moments, inquisitions, confrontations just don’t happen much – if at all – in more modern hipster/craft beer venues and events. We can understand why some people, probably a lot of people, will experience these encounters and simply stay away from the pubs – probably forever.

      We like the culture around “real ale” & pubs in the UK. That’s why we’re involved in CAMRA and volunteer our time, explore a vast array of pubs, and have at least 5 we consider “locals” despite their wide geographic distribution. Unfortunately there is an element within the culture, often being propped up by the bar, which needs to die out… relics of closed mindedness, sexism, xenophobia, and many other remaining ingrained inequalities. By so often ignoring it, by saying nothing, by putting up with it – we’re all silently supporting it. It makes people unhappy – for no good reason – why should we let it continue, why should we think it acceptable.

  2. “People naturally gravitate towards those with similar interests and outlook”

    Yes fine, but what’s that got to do with age, sex and skin colour?

What do you think?