Beer and the Patriarchy

Posted on February 17, 2011

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The first thing that might come to mind when you hear those two words together is probably something like this:

And with good reason! Budweiser, Miller, and Molson-Coors are responsible for some of the most disgustingly sexist rape-culture garbage in the entire mediaverse. It’s already been pretty well-established that that kind of bullshit is seriously detrimental to the ongoing project of raising women to something better than second-class citizens. But enough about the effect of patriarchy on women. That’s been done by bloggers who actually are women. I want to talk about something slightly different: How does fratboy beer commercial sexism affect beer itself?

To properly appreciate this post, you need to be both a feminist and a beer lover. If you are not a feminist, I can refer you to an excellent rant on the subject from et un peu de vitriol, but the latter point requires a bit of motivation from me. Brewing, far from a profitable way to help fratboys get bikini-clad women to come to their awesome summer barbecues, is actually an important tradition stretching back thousands of years. The oldest written document we have access to is a Babylonian beer recipe. Beer is just as bound up with our cultural history as are art forms such as music or literature. If you don’t consider yourself a beer drinker, or you only like “light” (read:watery and flavourless) beer, then put some effort into drinking some good microbrews with some colour and hops. I guarantee that you will thank yourself once you acquire the taste. Few things are better than enjoying some delicious malty porter, or a tremendously bitter hop bomb.

Like music and literature, however, beer has been horrendously cheapened by being mass-marketed to the lowest common denominator. Aggressive marketing has made beer more about the image than the product itself. And the prevailing image that the highly paid beer marketing consultants refer to again and again is that of the particularly insipid form of pop-masculinity found in thousands of commercials like the one above.

So beer is seen as a masculine beverage. The result is that men overwhelmingly feel the need to drink beer. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this except that, as evidenced in the bro-ish reactions to “dark beer”, it turns out there are quite a few people out there who don’t actually like beer. This has resulted in a very large market for a product which has the same gendered social cachet as beer, but which doesn’t carry the same challenge to the palate. In short, a beer that doesn’t taste like beer. Enter Bud Light.

The resulting market domination has resulted in significant marginalization of craft breweries that actually make delicious beer.. Going to a bar or a concert only to be offered eight different kinds of flavourless lager-swill, is a depressing experience akin to going to a city to find that all the food is from five different fast food restaurants, or going to a music festival to discover the diverse lineup of Nickleback, Theory of a Deadman, and Creed. This can be seen as a result of the masculinization of beer drinking.

Deliciously fighting the patriarchy.

Good beer has four ingredients: malt, hops, yeast and water. You will notice the conspicuous absence of testosterone. Beer will not put hair on your chest or make you more attractive to women. So fratboys: Drink beer if you like it, but wine coolers will not make a man grow a vagina. Drink whatever you want, regardless of whether it’s a chick drink or not. If you don’t like beer (and if you only like Bud, then you don’t like beer), then don’t drink beer!

Gender essentialism doesn’t do anybody any favours. Insisting that women are wives and mothers first hurts their career prospects, while insisting that men are first and foremost providers and go-getters hurts their family prospects. The side-effects of these baseless patriarchal distinctions extend even so far as turning what should be a treasured piece of cultural heritage into a bland and unintersting mass-market product which is more social lubricant than enjoyable beverage. People should be able to behave how they want, think how they want, and drink what they want regardless of what’s between their legs. I wrote this post while drinking a Garisson Hop Yard pale ale. I enjoyed it because it has an awesome aroma, a decent malt balance, and a wonderful hop character which stands out without being overbearing, not because I think it will make me more of a man.

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