A Pint of Beer is Every Woman’s Right
January 17, 2013 | by Faber Social
The first Faber Social of 2013 – RE-TOX on 29th January (now sold out) – will be a celebration of all things beer. We haven’t worked it out, but we’re pretty sure that a good proportion of those attending will be women, and that a good number of those women will be holding in their hand a serious pint of ale. Because women drink beer too! Representing the new real ale sisterhood is Naomi McAuliffe, who drinks beer, tweets here, blogs here and writes for the Guardian, and below is her feature which ran originally last August.
Naomi McAuliffe writes…
Many years ago while we were at university, a female friend told me a story about going out for a drink with a man who, when she asked for a pint, brought her back two halves. Another woman chimed in: “Well a pint isn’t very ladylike, is it?” This was the late 90s – 1990s not 1890s – and I had never before considered that my womanhood was dependent on the size of the drinking vessel I was holding.
While the stereotype of “a pint of your best bitter barman, and a white wine for the lady” has been persistent, it is very much changing. Major brewers have been after the dainty-wristed, lady-pound for a long time, but generally try to target lager at women. Others have suggested that women might favour fruit beers, although they would have to admit that they are unlikely to count as one of your five-a-day.
However – incredibly – they are finding that women’s tastes tend to vary as much as men’s. I’m not a great fan of fruit beers, but they’re not in fact a new-fangled wheeze dreamed up for the fruit-salad-craving womenfolk, as using fruit to spice beer predates the use of hops by millennia.
No, what is really stopping many women from drinking beer is culture. And possibly the fact that you need to go to the toilet more often, which means queuing, because there are never enough women’s toilets in a pub. Yes, I’m looking at you, every landlord in the country.
The mannish reputation of beer-drinking culture is not always helped by beers called Top Totty being sold in the Strangers’ Bar of the House of Commons. It’s hardly as if the place needs to feel more like an Eton tuck shop. However, I would certainly never be tempted to curtail the naming creativity of the brewing industry. I don’t want to live in a world without a Whiter Shade of Pale ale, Malty Towers and Milk Street Funky Monkey. Although the blonde-beer jokes could do with being put of out their misery.
Last week I went to the Great British beer festival at Olympia, it having been kicked out of Earl’s Court by the Olympic volleyball. And while those at the Olympic park could only buy Heineken for the equivalent of £7.20 a pint, across the town another diverse crowd gathered to cheer and attempt Herculean tasks: sampling the best ales in the country for an average £3.50. An antidote to uniform, mundane corporate sponsorship but certainly with the same quality of volunteer and far better facial hair. This is where the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) celebrates the diversity and quality of British brewing industry, which is in rude health. There are now more breweries in Britain than at any time since the second world war – a return to form after dipping to an all-time low in 1970.
When something you love experiences a rise in popularity, it is always a double-edged sword. While it’s fantastic that the industry is doing well, this comes with the excruciating realisation that cask ale is becoming “cool”, which increases the potential for ironic theme nights with people in rolled-up skinny jeans playing darts and bar billiards and screeching that everything is “random”.
The Great British beer festival is still immune to this. There you can enjoy the unironic and unutterable joy of skittles and roll the barrel. Witness mountains of pork scratchings and rows upon rows of pies. Buy a T-shirt with “Campaign for Surreal Ale” on it next to a picture of melting pint glasses. No ironic veneration of the late great Sid Waddell here, because it’s a place for sincere admiration (nearly everyone in attendance could tell you his and Fred Trueman’s contribution to Yorkshire television in the 70s). There are pub quizzes and auctions and I made sure that I went on Hat Day – Ladies’ Day at Ascot this ain’t. The winner of last year’s Hat Day was a woman with a huge papier-mache wasps’ nest on her head. She was representing waspwatch.co.uk. Now that was not a marketing idea cooked up by an agency where everyone sits on beanbags.
There is an authenticity here that is both knowledgeable and welcoming and you get a real sense of this as a craft industry. Not one that is stale and outdated but vibrant and innovative. Plus reading out the names of breweries makes you feel like you’re in Game of Thrones.
While at times the Great British beer festival can feel like a dad convention, more and more women are going along, they are brewing, they are putting on beer festivals and blogging about beer. People such as Marverine Cole, AKA Beer Beauty, show that you don’t need to be white, male and bearded to enjoy the national drink. That said, if you are a fan of the beard, which I am, there is no better place on earth to see so many fuzzy faces, apart from possibly a Seasick Steve concert.
Gender inequality leads to economic disadvantage for women, gendered violence, exclusion from the higher echelons of power but also from enjoying a good pint. Arbitrary and anachronistic feminine stereotypes are internalised by women; making them conform and subjecting them unnecessarily to bottled lager.
I really do encourage women to take the plunge and try a real ale when next in the pub. Look past the lineup of generic lagers that are your oppressors to the brassy sparkling liberation of the real ale pumps. Marvel as the bartender has to put their biceps into the job of getting your drink and feel your forearm strengthen as you lift it for every sip, while shouting “We can do it!” for the sisterhood.