CAMRA – can it be part of the equality solution?

The issue of women in beer is being discussed a lot lately – continuing reverberations of the session #81 I expect. Read those links, that’s background material.

GBBF Bar Staff

Opening-time volunteers on my GBBF bar

I want to know: how can CAMRA be a part of the solution to making the world a better and more equitable place for women. Currently the beer scene, and in the UK the “real ale” scene more so than average, is adept at alienating 50% of the human population. CAMRA publications, events, and pubs in general are often uncomfortable, and sometimes even hostile, places for women. I personally don’t think CAMRA is a source of the problems – my experience volunteering for CAMRA from the branch level (North Hertfordshire) through to GBBF has always given me the impression that your typical active CAMRA member is relatively forward-thinking and progressive. Why then do we sit by and allow the “real ale” scene to be regressive with respect to equality? Why does the organisation, in its passivity, help to proliferate misogyny?

I should note that I am in the camp of thinking that says: organisations must be pro-active about equality and the rights of women. Further to that: we live in a very inequitable society – the cultural, social, and political balance of power is very much in the hands of men. Men cannot dismiss feminism and equality with “ignore it, it’s getting better on its own” – because it isn’t really – we must do all we can to help push the world forward. By not helping to fix things we accept the status quo – we become, or rather remain, part of the problem.

Coming back to CAMRA, here’s some rough proposals that occurred to me today:

  1. Strict editorial standards banning advertising that sexualises or trivialises women.(Really ought to add the same for race, sexuality, and gender issues in general.)
    • Example: The infamous “Top Totty” pumpclip, and similar – never to be seen again in a CAMRA publication. Oh, and please toss this “keg buster” rubbish on the “relics of yesteryear” pile.
  2. The same standards applied to beer branding and point-of-sale material at beer festivals and events.
    • Example: As per above, pumpclips are a particular problem. But problem beers on a “banned” list until the marketing is altered. (I’m hesitant to suggest blanket-banning the brewery, but I wouldn’t object to the idea.)
  3. Strong & enforceable codes-of-conduct that apply to CAMRA office holders, volunteers, and event-goers:
    • Example: This is a hot topic in the technology sector, see what the Ada Inititive has to say on the matter of codes of conduct: Conference anti-harassment policy.
  4. A “FemAle” scheme, like LocAle
    • OK, I don’t like the name “FemAle” (and expect it has been used already) – but the point is to have a scheme whereby pubs agree to a code-of-conduct under which they will not display sexist materials (i.e. pumpclips again) nor sell beers with inappropriate “humorous” names. Furthermore they must come down like a tonne of bricks on harassment on the part of their customers. Like “LocAle” they will be marketed (i.e. a GBG icon) as female-friendly pubs – but they must be strongly held to account, to ensure they maintain their side of the bargain. Complaints will be taken seriously – perhaps using some sort of “three strikes” style of system.

This is a vague spur-of-the-moment rough idea at the time. Do the above make sense? If not: why not? What else could be added to the list? What can CAMRA do nationally and what can CAMRA branches do at the “grass roots” level to become a part of the solution?

How do you sell this to the CAMRA membership? A guideline/policy would have to go up for a vote at an CAMRA AGM. I think a simple justification is: the success of your beloved “real ale” and “local pubs” depend on sales… yet right now the “real ale” world is alienating 50% of its potential market. What is the sense in that?

In fact this ought to be priority #1 for CAMRA’s current key campaigns: “Encourage more people to try a range of real ales, cider and perries” & “To raise the profile of pub-going and increase the number of people using pubs regularly” (login required) – yet the issue is not even mentioned! I’m actually astounded that whoever wrote those campaign outlines didn’t even consider addressing this.

To stoke the fires we could even leverage a dirty bit of container-politics: right now the “craft beer” movement is doing a better job on this front, attracting customers who are uncomfortable with the misogyny in the traditional pub and cask ale market. They’re taking their friends and family with them… out of the traditional pub and into keg-only BrewDog bars. The horror!

Can we do this, can CAMRA be a force for good?

17 thoughts on “CAMRA – can it be part of the equality solution?

  1. As far as sexist advertising and branding goes, I think your difficulty is going to be demonstrating to people that this sort of stuff does genuinely turn people away from real ale pubs and the real ale scene. The problem being selection bias – most active CAMRA members being more-or-less by definition people who haven’t been entirely put off by it, a lot of them will tend to think that “if it doesn’t bother most of us, why would it bother anyone else?”

    • I can imagine this could be true… though amongst active members who’re female – my other half included – there usually ARE strong negative feelings about things like dodgy pumpclips. That said – I wouldn’t be surprised if a majority of CAMRA-AGM-voters are blokes, and older blokes at that. It may be a case where it’d help to mobilise/aid younger CAMRA members to vote. (Note to self: are postal votes for AGM motions possible?)

      Supporting evidence for motions is a good thing I imagine. But what? A survey perhaps – although asking the right question to the right people is always a difficulty. The most useful data would be to ask non-real-ale-drinkers if they’re turned off by certain sorts of branding. Finding the sample set is a hard thing… especially if you want to target current non-pub-goers. The lazyweb way is SurveyMonkey + some sort of marketing.

      • Its really, really time we could vote online for AGM motions. The selection bias of people with enough spare time and spare cash to go on a weekend jaunt across the country severely skews the voting towards the, ahem, traditionalist end of the spectrum.

      • ” It may be a case where it’d help to mobilise/aid younger CAMRA members to vote. (Note to self: are postal votes for AGM motions possible?)”

        Remember how CAMRA set up a panel composed of people who worked in advertising industry with the apparent intention of bypassing its own democratically-constituted Young Members Committee, which led directly to the publication of the sexist leaflet the YMC had rejected? Any effort to mobilse young members (those who haven’t already left, as several of my friends did over that incident) runs the risk of simply being circumvented, or the positions or committees it influences just being replaced or their powers sent elsewhere.

  2. Agree completely.

    I don’t think it’s just a “real ale” problem (and indeed, could name plenty of real ale pubs where I feel welcome and engaged) but your solutions strike me as fairly simple ways CAMRA could set the right tone.

    • Thanks. Yes, the serious problems are not universal – and are not isolated to the “real ale” world. But – I think CAMRA is in a position where rather than bumbling along ignoring equality issues it could actually make a positive contribution, albeit a small one, that should result in a win-win situation with respect to both campaign goals and the organisation’s public image. I’ve seen “CAMRA” taking a bit of a beating in this area… not entirely deserved in my experience, but it is a mapping of general problems in pub/real-ale culture onto the organisation. Why shouldn’t CAMRA try to improve that culture?

  3. I agree that CAMRA should actively tackle this and with the AGM coming up, am minded to try and do something about it, particularly sexist pump clips, which to me are insulting and unnecessary.

    A caveat though. I found your opening paragraph contradictory and unpersuasive. You say “in the UK the “real ale” scene more so than average, is adept at alienating 50% of the human population. CAMRA publications, events, and pubs in general are often uncomfortable, and sometimes even hostile, places for women.” what exactly do you mean? What examples can you give? Pumps clips for sure, but CAMRA doesn’t have pubs, though it does have events. Hostile to me would mean being actively against. Examples please and not just someone called me “Love”.

    You then go on to be rather complimentary to CAMRA, its people and events. Hmm.

    Proposal 1 makes sense and should be supported, though I think your dislike of Keg Buster isn’t the best example. He is a bit past his “sell by ” date though

    Proposal 2 Seems more or less the same as number 1 but I’m against black listing

    Proposal 3 Pretty sure CAMRA does have a code of conduct though need to check it out and what it includes. Seems a sensible thing though. In either way I think a complaint to a Branch Chairman or Festival Organiser about sexist behaviour would be taken seriously.

    Proposal 4 is wildly impractical. CAMRA are not the Pub Police.

    Finally “the misogyny in the traditional pub and cask ale market” is something that may occur from time to time I have no doubt. Just as getting your head kicked in might. You seem to imply though that misogyny and cask ale go hand in hand. I dispute that strongly and you don’t seem to me to prove it.

    But I do support the general thrust of what you say.

    • Hi, sorry – I don’t think “CAMRA” is responsible. More that CAMRA is associated with a generally negative beer & pub culture, and damned by association. A lot of anecdotal evidence lately says “CAMRA is sexist” – but IMO they’re getting it wrong – mistaking problems in general society that bubble more to the surface in situations involving drink for problems with CAMRA. That said… some things I’ve heard regarding some CAMRA branch publications indicate some branches do house problems. (I’d have to ask others to provide the evidence of this – though even our local ones are guilty of posting full-page ads for Top Totty).

      Yes, 1 & 2 are very similar. But 1 applies to beer and 2 applied to CAMRA members directly. I split them because of the scope – I expect 1 might be easier to pass than 2 because 2 will rile folk up about “censorship”…

      Proposal 4: I see it as little different to LocAle myself. Engendering a wider sense for equality in the pub trade – I don’t see the overhead of it being significantly more than for LocAle. It’s just a badge in WhatPub. Then again knowing from experience how badly many branches lack resources on the ground maybe it’d be a bit too much for them.

      Cask ale market: I don’t think the cask market is specifically worse than the pub market in general. I do think it is worse than the “craft beer” upswell… (using the term “craft beer” to indicate places like BrewDog, Port Street, Carft Beer Co… albeit mostly anecdotally as I have nothing like that anywhere near me so my own sampling is sadly scant). I think the problems exist across society – and I’m strongly of the mind that organisations and individuals should be pro-active in fixing the situation. I think CAMRA specifically addressing the issues puts it in the right camp, and as well as being generally beneficial is also good marketing that puts CAMRA and cask ale in a position ahead the rest of the industry.

    • Global warming concerns don’t affect the consumption or image of cask ale to any great extent, as far as I know. Racisim in marketing is comparatively a solved problem — though, sadly, not quite eliminated. Racisim within British society is still a big problem… (I did suggest that racisim be covered as well in point 1.) But by comparison to racisim & awareness of race issues, sexisim is much futher behind in terms of both action & awareness. Sexism does seem to affect the image and uptake of beer to a significant proportion of the potential market. So as well as being for a “greater good”, actively addressing sexisim is a good thing for the objectives of the campaign. IMO.

      • Several of Curmudgeon’s blog posts have indicated quite strongly that he’d like to see rather fewer women in pubs, so I wouldn’t expect your well-reasoned explanation to have much impact.

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  7. I think CAMRA also needs to have a think about the kind of merchandise it allows to be sold at its festivals: every year at GBBF, I’m surrounded by t-shirts and posters ranging from breasts to car-parking jokes to this kind of thing:

    Fortunately, I didn’t see any sexists ones at the Pig’s Ear festival in Clapton a couple of months back, but I did have to spend the evening looking at this charming image, which must have been delightful viewing for many people in a highly multicultural area, as well as any of the Italian brewers who accompanied their beer over:

What do you think?