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?