Monday, January 19, 2015

The PC: Ripped straight from the pages of an Onion satire: “13 white males not really so eager to discuss issues like racism and sexism.”

It's a "double" IPA -- get it?
The PC: Ripped straight from the pages of an Onion satire: “13 white males not really so eager to discuss issues like racism and sexism.”

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

This column is written by an individual. It doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of businesses and organizations with which I’m affiliated.

The rise in support for same-sex marriage over the past decade is among the largest changes in opinion on any policy issue over this time period. A new national survey finds that much of the shift is attributable to the arrival of a large cohort of young adults – the Millennial generation – who are far more open to gay rights than previous generations … The long-term shift in the public’s views about same-sex marriage is unambiguous (Pew Research).

Shift happens, but today’s column is not about same-sex marriage. Rather, it’s about changing one’s mind.

To me, not only is this possible. It’s inevitable, and old dogs can indeed learn new tricks. Pertaining to humanity’s evolution, change and adaptation are necessary for our very survival, and if you need proof for this assertion, read Jared Diamond’s 2005 book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

I’ve changed my mind many times when presented with persuasive evidence contrary to my previous assumptions. I used to be satisfied drinking Stroh’s – then I wasn’t. My mind and my tastes evolved, and an immensely enjoyable 30-year journey through the world has followed. Changes in latitude could not have occurred without changes in attitude.


In 2011, the New Albanian Brewing Company participated in a collaboration with De Struise Brouwers and the Louisville Beer Store. The beer we brewed together at Bank Street Brewhouse was (and is) called Naughty Girl.

I’m not entirely certain who coined the name, though probably it was Urbain from De Struise. With characteristic irreverence, we all agreed to describe it as a Belgo India Blonde Ale. Tony Beard, NABC’s one-man graphics department, created a mermaid image, and we’ve used it ever since. Naughty Girl has been brewed once or twice a year, and the current plan is to do so again this spring.

A question has been asked of me on more than one occasion since 2011, most recently yesterday: Is NABC’s Naughty Girl an offensive example of stereotyping, using sexual imagery to sell beer?

My flippant stock reply has been consistent. Given the painfully small amount of Naughty Girl we’ve actually sold, in this instance the sex hasn't been nearly salacious enough. It’s a seasonal release, we’re a small brewery, and for us, viral remains something applicable to prevailing influenza strains and not annual barrelage growth rates. We don’t sell as much of anything as we’ve hoped, and the biggest mover remains Hoptimus, which bears a depiction of an anthropomorphized children’s toy.

In fact, when it comes to shameless stereotyping, we’ve thought of putting IPA in big, block letters on every label of every beer we produce: Belgian Table IPA, Robust Porter IPA, English Mild IPA, Doppelbock IPA, and so on. Now, there’s a strategy for cynical exploitation as it pertains to spotlighting and unfairly targeting obliviousness-ism.

But seriously: Is NABC Naughty Girl representative of sexism? Does it reinforce sexist responses?

Sexism or gender discrimination is prejudice or discrimination based on a person's sex or gender. Sexist attitudes may stem from traditional stereotypes of gender roles, and may include the belief that a person of one sex is intrinsically superior to a person of the other (Wikipedia).

Maybe it is sexist, and maybe it isn't, but either way, I’m prepared to think about it, to discuss it, and to open my mind to ideas differing from those I previously took for granted. I think Tony’s images reinforce positive tenets, because they’re strong women – and yet I can see where there is disagreement.

Although I don’t have any children, maybe it would be a good idea for me to imagine that I did -- and not only daughters. Granted, I could make the argument that my company is 67% female-owned, but I won’t. It’s irrelevant.

So much for stock replies, because I’m in the process of changing my mind, as well as slipping the leash. That’s because at the risk of hypocrisy, I’m suggesting that more “craft” beer advocates, whether brewers or consumers, insiders or outsiders, should take a step back and glance outside our self-congratulatory perimeter, out into the real world, especially when confronted with an image like this one.

I know what you’re probably thinking, so let’s pause here. Two weeks ago in France, fundamentalist Islamic terrorists of medieval outlook ruthlessly murdered twelve people over satirical cartoons, and this sickens us all, so you need to know that I’m on Voltaire’s side as it pertains to Route 2 Brews in Lowell, Indiana, and in defending the absolute right of this brewery to be utterly, remorselessly tasteless.

I suppose raincoaters have needs, too.

As an individual whose viewpoint is capable of evolution, I accept the customary dictate: I support your right to hold views contrary to mine, and when our spheres overlap, I reserve my right to try with all my might to persuade you otherwise, stopping short of physical violence, and relying on the veracity of my ideas.

Irrespective of the potential outcome of my efforts, it remains clear that individual conscience is the first step in this evolution. It can take time. So do a great many good things.


Now, to the next interconnected ring. From individual conscience, one moves to communities both great and small.

In general, the “craft” beer business is avoiding this dialogue about sexism, and I view this as a high horse in urgent need of dismounting.

In particular, Leg Spreader is a “craft” beer brewed in the state of Indiana. Does it convey the message desired of Hoosier beer?

In turn, this begs other questions: Collectively, what is our message? Exactly what are we espousing? Are we a collective, or does each brewery stand alone? If we are a collective, what are our rights and responsibilities as free-standing breweries within the broader grouping?

Why ask these questions?

I’ll answer this with another question, one referencing a familiar example: How many rugged individualists, by themselves, ever managed to convince the Indiana legislature to allow Indiana breweries to sell carry-out beer on Sunday?

The answer is none. Rather, it was all of them working together, collectively and cooperatively. That’s the message, at least in part.

As many of you know, I’m a director on the board of the Brewers of Indiana Guild (BIG). It’s a chartered non-profit professional trade grouping that works, organizes and lobbies on behalf of all Indiana breweries, including ones as small as Route 2 Brews and NABC, and as large as Three Floyds and Sun King.

To me, as it pertains to Route 2 Brews as a de facto member of this guild, irrespective of precise obligations implied by a dues structure, which the guild does not yet enforce (in my view, it should), there are certain understandings that need to be shared, and certain obligations that need to be recognized.

Most prominently, the guild works very hard, all year round, to make the business and regulatory atmosphere in Indiana more amenable to “craft” beer, as the growler sales example above illustrates. By extension, the guild obviously helps to improve the bottom lines of Indiana “craft” brewers, including Route 2 Brews. Leg Spreader has the potential to harm these efforts, and while censorship is out of the question, a firmly friendly chat about collective cooperation surely is not.

Interestingly, and in my opinion something fully applicable to the present discussion, the conceptual basis of BIG’s annual legislative agenda rests on a plea of exceptionalism. Because Indiana’s brewers are small-scale, artisanal producers, we qualify for special minority status. We get breaks. We can self-distribute. We’re delighted to pour growlers to go on Sunday when other outlets cannot. In a heartbeat, we’d accept lower excise taxes awarded us by virtue of our minority status.

To a greater or lesser extent, “craft” beer’s outreach in legislatures across the nation, and also with the federal government, is reliant on this argument from an exceptionalism based on size. We accept what amounts to affirmative action on the production end of the beer supply chain, and some (like me) advocate openly extending it to product placement in government-owned venues like sports stadiums, and at government-sponsored civic fests.

Given this, wouldn't you think that whether the grouping is Route 2 Brews, Craft Beer Nation or the BIG board itself, there’d be a bit more, shall we say, sensitivity to the sort of “minority” issues typically experienced by people who have been marginalized by discrimination?

Like women?


When Leg Spreader was brought to my attention, I duly forwarded the information to the BIG board, reasoning that as we enter the perilous rapids of the 2015 Indiana legislative session, sexist crotch shots with beer bottles might come to be seen not only as disturbing to one’s own conscience; they’d also would not likely be tidiest images to be allowed to define Indiana Beer as we walk the corridors of the Statehouse.

After all, does anyone really want me to be seen wearing a logoed t-shirt like this one to the important annual legislative reception tomorrow?

Yes, I expected differing opinions from the board in response.

No, I did not expect to be outnumbered 11-2 (thanks, Nick), even after offering the suggestion that take no more action as a guild than issue a faux coincidental, non-specific, general statement reaffirming the guild’s commitment to universal principles of non-discriminatory fairness as the legislature reconvenes.

Even this was too much.

We don't need to make statements regarding this type of stupidity. It just draws more attention to them. The guild needs to ignore their tactics and let the consumers make their own choices.

Yes, except we’re a professional trade grouping, aren’t we, and these sorts of entities can have standards, can’t they?

I do not like it either, it’s not my style, BUT... we have no authority or moral high ground to talk to an independent business owner about how he promotes his business … it seems obvious Route 2 Brewing has realized their branding wasn't going to work for them, so they canned it. There is absolutely NO reason to reach out to them with some bizarre I'm-big-brother-and-I'm-watching-you message.

I agree: No reaching out, EVER. But ... guys, we don’t exist in a vacuum, do we?

If we venture into making policy statements about things non-beer related issues do we include drone strikes, child labor, sex trafficking, domestic violence? All of which are horrible, offensive, and much more oppressive than Route 2 Brews poorly planned branding exercise.

Unfortunately, even if we had the time to think about policy statements, there’d be no time to act on them.

I believe we should ignore it, because it is not even close to being the biggest issue on our plate … why are we wasting time on this at all? … issues like this need to be prioritized, and right now this need not be a priority.

Go tell it to Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King … but wait.

Perhaps I needed a supporting example, so I asked. “What if an Indiana brewery were to attach to a beer an image such as this one from the 1920s?”

Well, yeah, THAT might be considered off-limits – kinda sorta, as long as they're males.

I am in absolute opposition to the Guild having any sort of moral standards being dictated or implied in any manner as part of our mission. Trying to equate racism and sexism, is misguided. No racism is acceptable in our culture (but) a level of sexism is acceptable and it pervades almost every part of our society, every gender (assuming there might be more than 2), and is the basis for whole industries.

So, sexism is acceptable, and whole industries profit from it, although it remains that while Victoria’s Secret is supposed to be about sexy lingerie, since when is “craft” beer supposed to be about spreading legs?

Furthermore, who’s to say that we as “craft” brewers cannot have a higher standard rather than a lower bar?

At least this comment offers hope that my thoughts didn’t go entirely unheard.

I don't believe that policing and judging our membership is part of our mission as a guild, but I do think that we have a responsibility to membership to act on those items and issues that impact our industry as a whole. How we define what those are is for us to decide as we move forward.

Let’s hope we do move forward. As Dr. King once said, "We must keep moving. If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl; but by all means keep moving."


My term on the BIG board ends this year, and I’ll be up for re-election at the annual meeting in March. I understand and accept that my thoughts today might harm my chances of remaining on the board, although this ultimately depends on whether others want to serve. However, my father raised me to speak my mind, and to fight for my beliefs. It’s what I’m trying to do, right now. I'm not at all sorry if it "bugs" you.

Would I have done so two decades ago? Ten years ago? In 2011, when Naughty Girl was brewed for the first time? The record shows I didn’t. But my mind seems to be changing, and now I must be willing to follow where it takes me.

After much deliberation, I’ve chosen to use real quotes, but to pass them along anonymously, because at the end of the day, I enjoy serving on the board, and I respect my fellow board members. More than anything else, the “craft” sexism issue is about a collective mindset, one composed of individual consciences that I hope are evolving. The collective group-think extends far beyond our own board, into the whole of Craft Beer Nation, and I believe that as opposed to a glass of Pilsner, it requires lots and lots of sunlight.

I’m not angry at the individuals on my board. After all, their views are no different from those I’d expect to hear from the man in the street.

Yet maybe – just maybe – that’s an important aspect of this issue, because my board is composed of 13 white males. Typically, they're quite busy. Are we really hearing about racism and sexism?

Maybe – just maybe – this homogeneity causes us to miss a few important social and cultural nuances. Like I said, we get busy.

Maybe – just maybe – we all get so involved with "dollars and cents" issues that we forget about the varied composition of the marketplace supporting our efforts. I have never been in this game for the money, and yet as a closing remark, here is a snapshot of the “craft” beer market, gleaned from survey data captured in 2014, as contributed by Julia Herz of the Brewers Association (thanks TM):

Women consume almost 32% of craft beer volume, almost half of which comes from women 21-34.

Even as our minds are changing, perhaps we could do a better job of thinking with our wallets. How can there ever be an "acceptable" place for sexism in craft beer?


Iamhoosier said...

You have written many fine pieces over the years(& a few stinkers). This has to rank in the upper tier of the best of the best. So many ideas brought forth and examined.

The New Albanian said...

Thank you very much. My muse made me work hard for it.

Unknown said...

As the Lennono said, woman is the n*gger of the world. A very synchronicitous post as the topic of changing perspective and neurological adaptation has come up several times in the last few days. It also just so happened that I was enjoying the fine beer and grub at the NABCP&PH Saturday night and was struck, again, at how many NABC labels feature very buxom women as the focus and that the artist seemed to have a strong preference for a certain boob-type. Not nearly as tasteless and rape friendly as Route 2's but I would have to say there was some prurient intent. I can accept some argument that given the style of a kind of cartoonish play on propaganda posters, that a certain exaggeration of features is appropriate. An equally spectacular display of masculinity; bare chested, broad shouldered, musclebound and tight pantsed; would be equally appropriate, there just don't seem to be any. This isn't meant to be an accusation of sexism on NABC's part, it's just a further exploration of what you were saying. Everybody agrees that there is a line which should not be crossed (almost everybody), but no one agrees where that line is, and as individuals within the collective of society, all of those lines are constantly moving. So another question is, are they mostly moving in the same direction and if so, is that a good direction? Thanks for stimulating the thought process. Good work.

Unknown said...

As I read this, and the comments from the members of your BIG board, I wondered whether there were any women on the board. You obliged by answering that question.
I have boys. I would be so proud to say one of my kids had his own business. Not so proud if he branded it at the expense of women.
What is it about human nature that leads (some of) us to "go along to get along"?

The New Albanian said...

Scott: Thank you for these serious thoughts. Prior to this most recent instance, the label I found most tasteless was Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp. Now, in light of Leg Spreader, I find myself questioning lots of ... well, just questioning is enough. We've actually talked before about a label with a "hot" male bod ... not sure if Tony would want to create such. I'm hoping that the questions themselves are enough at the outset. I'm sure short on answers.

The New Albanian said...

Denise -- thanks, and it's good to hear from you. Oft times before I've pondered how much easier life would be if I could follow that axiom. It seldom works for me. At times, like now, I get very annoyed with myself for failing to think about matters of substance, and going along without really knowing it. But it's all part of learning.

Patty Marguet said...

you and those like you are exactly who should speak out as you have done here .. . because you can potentially change deep-rooted sexist attitudes that have become acceptable, if not normal among your peers. and, if for no other reason: because it is empowering for someone else to notice us, & to recognize that these kinds of images cause women harm .. . cause us harm .. . cause me harm.

thank you for saying it. thank you for noticing.

Lee M said...

Nice piece, Roger. Thank you.

brewella deville said...

Thanks for writing this.

The New Albanian said...

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and comment. As a side note, the next guild meeting takes place this Wednesday (February 4). In spite of initial indications that we'd not comment publicly, eventually this statement was released:

It's largely what I'd asked for at the start. If I learn anything else at the meeting, it will be written. Thanks again.

Bobber said...

One of the largest members of the guild produces a beer called "Big Tiddy Assassin".

Look at that label. It reaches far more people than Leg Spreader ever will.

It *is* Indiana Beer.