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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Sexy or sexist? This is not just CAMRA-bashing

I wasn't going to comment on this. But I started leaving a comment on someone else's blog and it started getting a bit too long so I thought I should stick it here instead.

In case you haven't heard: CAMRA, quite reasonably, would like to recruit more young people. To help do so, it produced and distributed a leaflet for use by university real ale societies. Some people who saw the leaflet were offended by it, finding it sexist. One even started a petition to have the leaflet withdrawn.

The outcry was a success. CAMRA has withdrawn the leaflet and apologised 'for any offence caused', defending its actions by revealing that sizeable numbers of young men and women were consulted on the design, and liked it. Crucially CAMRA's statement stops short of acknowledging that there was any real justification for people to be offended.

It's a classic beer industry ding-dong. Now the offending leaflet has been withdrawn and CAMRA has admitted that they 'got it wrong', some on either side think it's time to let the matter drop. But with opinions ranging from not seeing what all the fuss is about to wanting to burn CAMRA's offices to the ground, it's not going to go away easily.

It's important then that before we move on, everyone - especially CAMRA - needs to acknowledge what the problem is.

Everyone I've shown the leaflet to - mainly people outside the beer industry and with little interest in either CAMRA or CAMRA-bashing - has been appalled by it.

Whatever your views on sexism (or not) the women are highly sexualised and stylised, whereas the bloke in the top picture is just wearing an ordinary T-shirt. That gives a very clear contextual suggestion that the sexualised women are there for the ordinary ale-drinking bloke's delectation.

The front of the leaflet is sort of better in that both the man and woman are dressed in the same period costume. That would make it forgivable, were it not for the fact that in the pose, the man is physically possessive of the woman. You see, it's not just the clothes: in both sets of images, the women are portrayed as being subservient to the men.

The picture of the woman on her own shows a pose I have never seen a real woman strike when she's drinking a pint. Again, it's highly stylised, highly sexualised, and clearly has its roots in the imagery and shapes of Burlesque dancing.

Burlesque has been championed by some women as empowering, but ridiculed by others as 'middle-class stripping'. If a woman wants to dress like this, stand like that or even take her clothes off in public, she has every right to do so, but the choice is hers.

The problem here is that the women shown are presumably there to demonstrate that women drink real ale too. The reason CAMRA wants to communicate that message is that CAMRA, real ale and beer generally are still seen as being male-dominated. This broader context again reinforces the suggestion that these women are not empowered, but are here as eye candy for the lads.

There is still a great deal of sexism in the drinks industry, and real ale is no exception. I've just been working at drinks trade shows where young women were leered at and openly complemented on the merits of their tits and arses, sometimes by senior figures in the industry. Every female real ale drinker I know has at some point been subject to sexist comments for daring to drink real ale.

If these tasty birds had been in a Foster's or Carling ad, or in a lad's magazine, few would have defended their use as anything other than lairy, laddish titillation. If they'd been in an article about beer in Cosmopolitan magazine, I think they would have caused less offence, but I suspect ale-drinking women would still have seen them as condescending and patronising. Context is all.

And then there's the student context: when the LSE's rugby club has had to be banned for persistent misogyny, and Oxford and Cambridge have had to introduce compulsory sexual consent training, and the National Union of Students has published a report on the increasing prevalence of harassment,
stalking, violence and sexual assault, it's obvious that campus sexism is a real danger to female students and not just harmless 'banter'.

In the recent Cask Report, one of our main and most widely repeated headlines was that real ale drinkers no longer agree with the statement that 'real ale is not a drink for women or young people.' But nearly half of all publicans still DO agree with this statement.

The industry is behind the times when it comes to gender equality and relations with women. Someone in CAMRA - even if they personally felt the leaflet was fine and operated within the style and tone of contemporary studenty imagery - should have realised that it was simply too risky for a supposed consumer champion to use. If I try to tell my female friends that beer has thrown off its sexist image, as we were trying to suggest in the Cask Report, they could simply bring up this leaflet and laugh in my face.

It's good that CAMRA reacted so quickly and withdrew the offending article, but the damage is done. And what still upsets those who complained is that, while the organisation genuinely did not want to cause offence, it doesn't seem to understand why it did.


Dave White said...

Well said as usual.

It seems sexism has a stronghold in the beer community at the very least, if not in spirits too. Wine and cider see much less I feel although it does happen.

Another example I often find myself laughing about is that it is next to impossible to find a blonde ale beer label in the US without a blonde woman illustrated in some suggestive manner. OK yeah, we get it, blonde... Duh. But it's so cliché.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

As you say Pete, it's an age thing.
Young adults who have grown up watching the likes of Miley Cyrus twerking her arse are really not going to get their knickers in a twist over some fully-clothed piece of totty striking a pose.
But I can see how those people who have been round the park a couple of times might think they might be offended.
I'm sure if I was their age again I'd be too busy trying to meet like-minded,beer-drinking women to indulge in a spot of afters to worry about it.
I showed Mrs Professor Pie-Tin the poster in your piece and her reaction ? - " What's all the fuss about,she hasn't even got her tits out. "

Toby Badiola said...

From an advertising perspective it is quite unclassy, subpar work. The feedback of "sizeable numbers of young men and women" consulted on the design, liking it seems so improbable, but then again they can sloppily phrase this feedback into whatever shape they're after.
It hurts a bit that a non-profit org with a decent agenda at least make the most of their ad-budget with a more creative effort,

Cooking Lager said...

Yeh it's sexist but I wouldn't burn anyone at the stake for that crime. They will pay the price of alienating half the population without me getting in an uproar about it.

Of real interest is an organisation that started out as a grass roots movement based on the mutual self interest of those that signed up. People that liked cask ale figuring they'd like it to be more popular to secure it for themselves.

40 years on, it's a professional outfit trying to get down with the kids with no idea how to do it. paying good money for marketing consultants and ignoring their own youth wing that told them these leaflets were crap. 40 years ago they were all youth wing.

Oh dear. Reminds me of modern mainstream political parties. No idea how to communicate with regular folk and letting nutters like Farage do it better.

Maybe CAMRA should forget about engaging with the youth and just put the youth wing in charge of the whole shebang. Sack off anyone over 40 & bearded. Have a Logans Run type rule and let the kids run it! Then they will always be down with the kidz.

Dave Pickersgill said...

Thanks for this - totally agree with you. This flyer has probably put CAMRA back about five years.

Chris Ramsbottom said...

It's quite possible that the younger people who were consulted wouldn't think there was a problem with it. It's a trend I've noted a lot, for example my much younger sister-in-law who couldn't see the problem with accepting a demotion because she went part time to look after her family (technically that's illegal). Because the younger women haven't had to fight for women's rights like those of my generation had, they don't know why they should take up the fight with us, and are much more likely to accept everyday sexism as "the way it is". Which I find annoying because my generation of women fought at some cost to try and change it so it wasn't that way. And as CAMRA tries to employ younger people, that is where the problem lies. Us older ones wouldn't have made that mistake.

J Mark Dodds said...

It IS context is all.

IN the context of contemporary society the CAMRA leaflet is gauche not offensive and the outrage it's engendered is as silly as the leaflet. Google 'adverts with women' and click 'images'. I did. The first one that I got is an almost naked woman alongside with the slogan 'The cleaner you are, the dirtier you get' for new and improved Lynx shower gels.

The pub and drinks industry is run almost entirely by men, and it most certainly IS dismissive of women, and that needs to change. There is a LOT that is wrong about the industry but the misogyny in the sector doesn't live in St Albans, home to CAMRA.

I'm sure, Pete, you know as well as I do that CAMRA head office aren't prone to boorish or laddish behaviour of any kind. Generally they are polite, careful, cautious and risk averse with an academic slant. They use words carefully. They try to anticipate how their work will be interpreted out of context.

CAMRA head office staff don't go about trying to offend anyone. And head office staff includes women, Campaigns are organised by Emily Ryans.

The leaflet has been pulled, this ructious should go away. There are far more serious issues of fairness and social wrongs that people should be attacking now instead of CAMRA

Craig Hudson said...

Agree with your article Pete as know from comments on the blog it grew from, but your headline makes little sense. Something can be sexy and sexist. The women in these photos look sexy to me. The use of those photos in this way is sexist. That's not a contradiction.


Nick Griffin (The other one!) said...

Nicely put Pete and spot on. CAMRA does need to reflect the future as well as the past. It's a champion of a much loved product not the protector of a victorian attitude.

Pete Brown said...


I think this is the most important point and I went back to edit the post later last night. Young people may not mind, but there is a worrying trend back towards misogyny among that generation. Only yesterday it was announced that a female games writer - again, a very male dominated industry - has had to pull out of speaking events because of DEATH THREATS against a woman who dares to have a voice. The twitter trolling of the women who dared to say it was a good idea to have one woman on one bank note is another highly visible example. Less visible is the pressure being put on young women by young men to conform to the female stereotypes in advertising and porn, which increasingly resemble each other.

Mark, I do see a big difference between deliberate laddish posturing and naively going along with contemporary imagery without seeing what the problem is. I believe CAMRA were guilty of the latter, not the former, which is why my post wasn't ranty and witch-hunty like some of the criticism has been.

Craig - I was thinking a better title might have been "CAMRA-bashing? Or CAMRA bashing one out?"

And Cookie - I do love it when you break character and talk sense, and feel privileged that you do so on my blog, fella.

Richard Hamer said...

Last month I was at the Cycle Show at the NEC, and was driven there by a friend. On the way I mentioned that the last time I was at the NEC was in 1986 when I was at sixth form where I studied building. Us students had been told that there'd be women in bikinis in shower cubicles; perfect for us 17-18-year-old boys. There weren't.
However, at the Cycle Show there was a clothing company with a woman dressed in a skinsuit, unzipped to reveal a lot and high heels. It was ridiculously out of place and old skool. Can't say I saw anyone from Camra making notes though; "must tell committee, sex sells".

Anonymous said...

Yes, a lot of unfortunate caveman attitudes around.
That said, phroar.

py0 said...

The problem with putting the kids in charge Cookie, is that they have largely heretical views.

John Clarke said...

Having recently been involved in an email exchange which I think will have finally eliminated the sexist t-shirts from GBBF, I was pretty dismayed when I first became aware of this leaflet – especially as that exchange (and the recently produced Volunteers Charter leaflets) really do show that CAMRA wants to eliminate this sort of casual sexism.

So, this is certainly cock-up rather than conspiracy but I think it will cause some difficult and necessary discussions within the higher levels of CAMRA – and rightly so. One question I would be asking is not whether focus groups or whatever thought the leaflet was a good idea, but whether it was ever a good idea for such a leaflet to be considered suitable for market testing in the first place. Backsides will be kicked I am sure.

However this controversy will burn itself out and valuable lessons will have been learned (the hard way, but learned all the same). Will it cause long or even medium term damage to CAMRA? I’m guessing not (apart from among the professional CAMRA bashers of course).

Craig Hudson said...

If you have experienced the backwards trend Pete mentions; if you have heard misogyny amongst students, the foul terms used, then you won't make light of "totty" and terms like it. This isn't "oh ding dong", kiss me quick, Sid James chuckle territory. I'm hoping that by the time my 6 yr old girl reaches college she won't encounter "men" using phrases like cum dumpster... Yes this leaflet isn't a big deal. But it is part of a big deal, and defense of it, dismissal of it, is part of a big deal. The bigger fuss made the better, and those who can't see why need to look harder, or perhaps outside their normal bubble.

Chris said...

OF course it's not sexist. Five years ago no one would have called it sexist. Only in the context of the media-imposed feminist takeover of the last few years could anyone possibly consider it sexist.

Garrett Oliver said...

I've always been baffled by CAMRA's appalling knee-jerk sexism. All of their "appeals" to young people and women over the years have struck me as cringe-worth affirmations of all of the worst image problems with which CAMRA's been smeared over the years. I'm not shocked, just embarrassed. As a person who grew up revering the razor sharpness of British comedy and satire, it really has been a tough thing to get my head around. They seem stuck in the Benny Hill era; the whole thing looks like it was put together by an 11 year old boy, and not even a bright one. It's sad. CAMRA really should be our heroes. I hope they figure it out; it would be nice to have them back.

Pete Brown said...

Chris: you're either a troll, or a moron.

py0 said...

Chris, have you thought of applying for a position on the CAMRA exec? You'd fit right in.

J Mark Dodds said...

Pete - I should have said - your take on it is, as ever, considered and well balanced.

I just wish you'd take such a balanced position on the issue of abuse of the beer tie by pub companies to asset strip our pubs all over the country!

It's still resolutely not being dealt with adequately the mainstream press while more and more pubs are going forever.

Jules Gray said...

Oh dear. Very disappointing behaviour & a little laughable really from Camra.

It's not going to engage any young members. Rather put a lot of existing & 'could have been' members off.

The imagery definitely is more burlesque night than lets talk about & enjoy this beer.

As a Camra member I joined because I'm passionate about beer & I liked the fact Camra have done lots of positive campaigning in the beery world. Also I like Beer magazine & the beer festivals organised.

If Camra could purvey the good bits
of those areas they'd easily attract more young members. Maybe support up & coming young artists & designers at university who could have submitted design ideas.
Simple really.

Knackered Mother said...

Great post, Pete. Helpful, unlike the leaflet.

Pete Brown said...

Hi KM,

Thanks for posting! Love your work.

Liefhelm said...

I would add this to the 'everything is sexist' meme: