From busty dirndl-clad blonde maidens to the Miller High Life Girl in the Moon, women's bodies have been used to sell beer to men since the dawn of advertising. Unfortunately, the rise of craft beer has hardly proven to be an exception to this long-standing practice.
Several essays published this year, including to some extent, one of mine, have called out sexism in craft beer culture, particularly in the form of problematic labeling. These commentaries were met with varying responses, but overall have seen an encouraging level of support from the broader brewing community in the U.S., namely the overwhelmingly white, straight men who have been brew house gatekeepers since the Industrial Revolution.
Discussion of sexism in marketing isn't new in the craft beer world -- but this year, perhaps because of the sheer shamelessness of some of the labels in question, more men started listening. Sexism in beer is most often a reflection of utter ignorance on the part of a mostly homogenous industry rather than outright malice. That's what makes it so insidious, as the men behind these thoughtless beer names and labels too often think feminists are just being unfair to them when challenged on the issue.
Madison's not a bad place to be a woman in the craft beer industry, all things considered. The city has Females Enjoying Microbrews, a wonderful women's beer appreciation group and the region's oldest craft operation, Capital Brewery, just crowned its first female brewmaster.
Still, given that labels like "Barely Legal" come up in a discussion about "funny beer names," and that it can still be necessary to explain why having a women-centric beer event isn't itself sexist, this conversation is both overdue and ongoing.
With this in mind, problematic names and labels can be found in Wisconsin’s craft beer scene too. Here's a look at several that stand out.
"I know! We'll brew a blonde ale, and we'll have a blonde woman on the label! Get it? Blonde?" Never saw that one coming.
Honestly, the irritating thing about Drop Dead Blonde is that it's advertised as being only 110 calories. Why does the light beer have to be the one with the woman on it, Point? Oh, and the brewery has a Drop Dead Blonde of the Year award in which women submit their photos for a beauty contest. Not applications to help in the brew house or anything. A beauty contest.
Even though the mascots for its beers are anthropomorphized goats, that doesn't really change the effect of "Baby Got Bock" and other direct-from-Spencer's Gifts labels used by this brewpub in Milwaukee. There's nothing wrong with being sexy, but as long as women's place in beer is on objectifying labels rather than in the brew house or boardroom, these names and images send a pretty clear message about where breweries like Horny Goat think we belong.
I'm a big fan of Hips Don't Lie. I love a good Shakira reference, and a double entendre reflecting a beer brewed with rose hips is exactly the sort of clever punnery I cherish and expect from the craft beer world. But couldn't such creative folks come up with more interesting label art for its beers than a woman in a crop-top and Daisy Dukes? "The Farmer's Daughter" wouldn't be a cultural trope if women weren't once considered the property of their fathers until they married. There's a reason "Son of a Preacher Man" doesn't hit quite the same note.
If the brewery wants to, as a press release reads, "pay tribute to the hard-working lumber industry that built the Midwest" by naming itself after Paul Bunyan's girlfriend, Lucette, perhaps she could be depicted as the badass pioneer woman that she almost certainly would have been had she existed. Renée Graef, illustrator of the Kirsten books in the American Girl series, gets it. Something tells me short shorts and a bare midriff wouldn’t make much sense in a lumber yard.
It's disappointing that a brewery deems it's okay to refer to women as whores and to make sex workers the butt of a joke. Mercifully, Hop Whore, like Who's Your Daddy? and High Class Broad, is one of its Brewer's Gone Wild! special releases, which means the beer bears a standard series label as opposed to original, themed artwork, because one can only imagine the alternative.
Can a business that employs a female brewing assistant who participated in the Pink Boots Society's collaboration brew day last spring please consider some new brand names?
The label for Coppertun Amber Saison, one of the Great Dane's Unleashed special releases, is a spoof of the classic Coppertone girl advertisement. Having experienced wardrobe malfunctions at the hands of enthusiastic pets on occasion, I wouldn't find this so egregious if one, the original ad didn't feature a small child, which makes the whole thing much more creepy, and two, there wasn't a general cultural problem of men consuming alcohol and then harassing women, often by attempting to pull off their clothes.
Breweries with a commitment to creating a safe space for women would do well to avoid any implication of blurred consent lines in conjunction with alcohol, in accordance with the Brewers Association Marketing and Advertising Code (PDF).
Yes, beer names based on penis jokes do exist. But these represent men making fun of themselves, rather than being objectified by women. I'm sorry to say that the still-glaring under-representation of women in the craft beer industry (not to mention millennia of systematic oppression and patriarchy) will require more than a few names like "Morning Wood" labels to iron out this issue. Male brewers and label designers can do better by putting their exceptional creativity and innovation to work by selling beers that don't perpetuate stereotypical views of women.
Can women handle objectifying labels? Of course -- we've been handling it our entire lives. Must we in order to enjoy beer? Absolutely not.