While advertising for beer often features female bodies, women are less often shown as protagonists or target market consumers for beer. It seems that the beer industry has been overlooking its female market during recent times. Obviously, women drink beer. Women brew beer, like beer and buy beer. So why is it still not being overtly sold to us?
In New Zealand, the beer industry has established the “man’s drink” guise for their consumers, and this mirrors the marketing strategies in Europe and the United States of America. You only have to google a few beer adverts for this to become pretty clear.
But all over the world, women are drinking beer. Why does advertising support the idea that we don’t, or that our drinking is somehow conditional? Why should it require a type of woman or a type of beer, to be visible?
The answer, I believe, is found in historical precursors to our modern drinking habits. The conditions of gender equality (if you haven’t noticed, this is another thing I care deeply about besides beer) has an effect on who consumes alcohol and where. It is not always that easy to walk into a bar and buy a drink, if you are not in a position of social privilege. To consume alcohol safely, one must also consider the social implications of “having a drink”. We all know the dangers of being young, drunk and female (cue: problematic gender assumptions and rape culture).
Temperance for all genders was advocated in the late 19th century by suffragettes such as Kate Sheppard, while campaigning for women’s right to vote in NZ. There was a Temperance movement in other parts of the world too, such as England, Ireland, Australia and the USA. It was a reaction to the heavy drinking culture that had been a formative part of the Colonial period and the Industrial Revolution. Temperance and abstinence were advocated as a means for a morally better and more equal society. While drinking celebrated economic and individual liberties for working class men and women, it also came with its own set of social problems.
During the First World War, NZ became sympathetic to the cause of Temperance as a means of showing support for our troops and for austerity. Hotels and restaurants enforced a 6pm closing time, unwittingly resulting in the working population knocking off at 5pm and heading straight to the pub, drinking as much beer as they could in the 1 hour before the bar stopped service. This environment became increasingly unfriendly to women drinkers.
Establishing our binge-drinking culture, this was known as the ‘six-o’clock swill.’ The legislation was introduced in 1917 with good intentions. However the result when it was lifted in 1967 was that a heavy-drinking, wife-beating culture was ingrained well and truly into our psyches.
Alcohol consumption, unfortunately, strolls along amicably with domestic violence incidents. In NZ currently, 1 in 3 women experience physical and/or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime. Lately, an average of 13 women, 10 men, and 9 children are killed per year in our country as a result of family violence (see below for reference). This is not always due to alcohol consumption, but it is too often a factor.
Beer, like Capitalism, is inherently neither good nor evil but it needs to be used in a responsible and considerate manner. If we want to become a just, fair and equal society, we need to address the social issues behind alcohol supply and alcohol abuse.
Modern drinking culture has introduced problems to indigenous cultures that did not exist prior to colonization. In many parts of Australia, indigenous people were not granted the right to vote and were not allowed to purchase alcohol legally until the 1960s. This encouraged illegal drinking and alcohol abuse. Disturbingly, it is reputed that there are premises in rural Australia today that will still refuse entry to Indigenous Australians. This is a feminist issue because sexism, class oppression, gender identity and racism are inextricably bound together.
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Words used by Lilla Watson, Aboriginal elder, activist and educator from Queensland, Australia.
Let us all drink beer, together.
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