On May 11th, Brienne Allan –Production Manager at Notch Brewing, in Salem, Massachussetts– asked her Instagram followers “what sexist comments have you experienced?”
The result has been an outpouring, a flood really, of messages from women (and a handful of men) sharing their experiences. In response, Allan has made her Instagram story feed ( @ratmagnet ) into a space where those stories can be shared, and the stream of DMs has not let up for even a bit.
Reading through every one of those messages –some 700 at last count– is a brutal, heart-wrenching experience. They detail everything from ignorant or lewd comments, to open discrimination, to sexual assaults and even rape, at the hands of customers, clients, peers, and bosses in the beer industry.
Just as sickening is the frequent unwillingness of management to protect female employees or to even mildly reprimand offending male colleagues. Over and over, from establishment to establishment, the same tale is repeated: the women who speak up are punished and driven out, while the male perpetrators are protected, even promoted. We all knew this happened, as it does in every sector, but what is shocking to an outside observer, like me, is the pervasive hostility towards women that’s been normalized across the industry. The sense that, not only is brewing a male-dominated field, but that it –including the women in it– belongs to men.
Across a widespread field, some breweries are named over and over again –Founders, BrewDog, Tired Hands, San Diego’s Modern Times, Hamilton’s Tavern. In fact, the entire San Diego beer scene comes off looking pretty damned toxic. Now, are all those accounts true? Probably not. Some, perhaps, are pure invention, but I doubt they comprise even a sizeable minority. Even if we did dismiss that handful, we’d still be left with damning testimony that across the industry, even at well-know and well-regarded establishments, women workers do not feel safe. Are not safe.
The industry -breweries, bars, distributors, retailers- needs to take a good, hard look at itself and do some fixing. Not some spit-and-polish kind of job, but real fixing. We have been shown many individuals -and not all of them men- who should not be working in the industry nor be allowed to run or manage a business in it. Some, frankly, should be in prison.
There’s bound to be a reckoning. In fact there already is, as word spreads, and the discussion being is taken up and establishments and individuals are being called to account across countless social media threads.
What we, as customers, can do may be a little hard to figure out. Calls for boycotts are already being made, but many of the cases described are not recent and the people involved are no longer employed where the events took place. The culture at those places may have changed. Or not. In any case, how much can we as customers expect to be privy to when it comes to the behind-the-scenes culture of the places we chose to patronize? Voting with our wallets may not be as simple as it may first appear.
However, one thing that is clear from all those stories is that we can help by speaking up and intervening every time we see something that shouldn’t be happening. Every time.
It should not be the case that women in beer “feel lucky” to land a job at a place where they aren’t discriminated against, harassed, propositioned, belittled, or groped at every turn. That shouldn’t be “lucky”. It should be the norm.
[NOTE: Even though the stories she’s shared are not her own nor composed by her, Brienne Allen is reportedly already being threatened with legal action for having brought them into the open. If you’d like to support her, there is a fundraiser for her legal warchest at https://www.gofundme.com/f/Briennelegalfees.]