How to Be a Feminist and Have a Sense of Humor About Craft Beer

It’s no secret that many beer ads aren’t exactly woman-friendly. In fact, beer companies have long gotten away with jaw-dropping sexism in their marketing. So what happens when you’re a feminist ordering a craft brew?

If your experience is like mine, you spend a fair amount of time wondering where the line is between cringing at misogyny and feeling self-conscious about your inability to “take a joke,” even when the joke is, “Haha! What if you got wasted and someone took your clothes off?” I get that raunchy humor has been a mainstay for beer marketing throughout the industry for a long time. Wine is for sophisticates, while hops and suds are for the guy/gal next door. Telling a blue joke or two is meant to be a sign that we’re all pals, that we’re off-duty from the stricter spheres of our day-to-day lives. A clever label is cue to relax.

The thing is, it’s hard to relax when the bottle in front of me literally labels me a bitch or a tramp or a wench or promises to remove my clothing later. I can’t picture a guy asking the bartender for a “Frat Asshole” or “Man Whore,” after all. In 2017, it’s about time breweries realized that women are customers, too, and mean-spirited or derogatory portrayals aren’t “all in good fun.”

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The Brewers Association is (finally) taking note. They recently announced updates to their code barring lewd, demeaning, and derogatory language and imagery on beers that bear their seal of approval. While they won’t keep those beers from winning awards, they have promised to refrain from announcing those awards. This could be an important step to putting healthy pressure on the industry to adjust its marketing strategy.

The thing is, there’s room to be risqué and funny without being sexist. Yes, it’s true — though this may surprise some, there are funny and raunchy jokes that don’t treat women like objects. I’d recommend beer companies take a page out of some sex-positive, feminist playbooks. A few simple questions help establish a safe, fun environment for everyone:

  • Are all genders being treated fairly? (Could you switch up genders and have the joke be as funny?)
  • Does the premise of the joke pit one group of people against another, or is everyone “in”?
  • If there’s a sexy component, is everyone enthusiastically on board? Or does someone need to be “nudged” along?

Lagunitas’s Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ ale is cheeky and fun to order out loud. (Yes, there’s a ubiquitous busty coquette on the label. I’m picking my battles.) Similarly, while Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch is anything but femme-friendly, there’s no reason Doggie Style shouldn’t be a consensual good time for everyone involved. Dogfish’s Romantic Chemistry and Monkish’s Feminist beers also expand past beer-branding stereotypes. I’d like to see a guy stride into a bar and declare, “I’d like Romantic Chemistry, please!”

There are also other ways to encourage humor in beer marketing. Surly’s “Overrated” IPA gets a laugh from the especially self-aware craft beer fans in the room. 668: The Neighbor of the Beast or Hoptimus Prime keep the clever, in-crowd wink without leaving women behind. The best kind of beer night is one where everyone, regardless of gender, gets what they came for: a refreshing libation and a few good laughs.

Context matters, too. Case in point: Midnight Sun Brewing Company’s Panty Peeler has landed on many a disapproving internet list. The label features a smiling, nude woman astride a caribou, bra and panty set flung into the wind. But the brewery is woman-owned and self-described “consensual sex-positive.” In fact, Midnight Sun chose the imagery carefully to cast panty-dropping as a form of female empowerment. The brewery got plenty of responses from women sharing their “panty peeling” experiences over Instagram. But others pointed out that the brewery’s home state, Alaska, has some of the highest reported incidences of sexual assault in the country, thus finding the branding choice might be just a tad insensitive.

Is the fact that the brewery is woman-owned enough of an alibi for Panty Peeler? The medium is the message, as they say. If my bestie encouraged me to cut loose a little at a topless beach in France, I may well lower my inhibitions and enjoy some sunbathing. If a random dude at the local dive made the same offer, my bra’s staying on, and I’m probably looking for backup to keep this creep away from me.

Bottom line is, being a feminist and having a sense of humor are not actually mutually exclusive. The opposite, in fact. Those of us who live at the overlap of feminists and craft beer lovers on the Venn diagram of life appreciate a good joke. Why not make sure it includes us?