If you are a woman who loves beer, or sports, or heavy machinery, you're going to face sexism—beginning with the assumption that you don't know what you're talking about. If you love beer and work as a bartender, you'll enjoy the additional assumption that you're only here because you're attractive (and remember, ladies, that's a compliment!).
Since it's unimaginable for women to be really into beer, when men find a woman who is, they have to fall in love. Well, it's not love, exactly. Picture a guy looking at you the way they'll look at the snacks in the Trader Joe's checkout area: They didn't know they needed it, but now that they know it exists, they have to have it.
A few years ago, a brewer who I'm going to call Chad started inviting me to take walks on the beach. Often. He confessed he was jealous of my boyfriend, and he gushed that he wished he had met me "20 years sooner." He wasn't bothered by the fact that I worked for him, or that he had a wife and two young children, all of whom I'd met and grown to care for. He wasn't halted by our 20-plus-year age difference. My only coworker also noticed my boss's bad behavior and backed me up.
After I told Chad he shouldn't be asking me to go on walks, and that he couldn't speak to me the way he was speaking to me, things didn't change. Eventually, I told him I couldn't work for him anymore. He said he understood. We never spoke of it again, and that's where it ended—for him. For me? An otherwise great working relationship had been ruined. I had to find a new job. And new employers tend to ask: Where did you work previously? Why did you leave? Can I have a reference? Why not?
When I eventually did get hired making beer for another company, I had a hard time working with the new brewer. Sure, he was older, married, and had young children—but that meant nothing in terms of my own sense of security anymore. I moved out of brewing, back to a front-of-house job. But this employer bought the beer Chad's company made. So Chad came into my place of employment again and again, because, well, why wouldn't he? He feels safe everywhere.
For years, I didn't share these experiences with more than a handful of people. Being respected and valued as a woman in the beer industry is an uphill battle to begin with. I don't want Chad's stains on my record. I don't want to be perceived as "difficult to work with." I want to be able to have a great rapport with my employer without fearing sexual harassment. I want none of this to have ever come up—the same way it never comes up for Chad. His example is blatant and obvious and, hopefully, rare. But he's not just one bad apple.
I went back to bartending for a third company after working as a brewer, and one afternoon a (different, but same) Chad sat down at the bar. He was wearing the uniform: a beard, a Holy Mountain T-shirt. He stayed for a few hours, carrying out a long monologue on his work history and things he knows, like, a lot about. He explained, "Women just aren't physically cut out for this job." They're weaker, you see. "They can't lift kegs!" Also, they tend to change team dynamic. Speaking about the only woman on a team of nine bartenders, he said: "The girl that works with us now, she's cool, but..." Women start drama. "And not to mention, they can be really distracting!" He laughed. He works for one of the largest beer establishments in the city.
It is oblivious and outrageous to tell a woman who is currently serving you beer that there's no place for her in the beer industry. The emotional weight I lifted for him that day was far heavier than any half barrel, but it's easy to get stuck between a rock and a hard place. Say nothing, and he keeps coming back, staying longer, assuming you enjoy his idiotic rants. Say something, and risk being labeled as bitter or mean. The environment is so sexist that before he ever has to, I'll tell myself (and other women will counsel) that it is easier and safer to accept dehumanizing language than to stand up and defend myself. I am forced to choose between my dignity and my safety, and that's not a fight my dignity can win.
And when you give up your dignity, what's left of you? Are you there at all? Like that time a sales representative walked into my work, where I was standing behind the bar, looked around, made eye contact with a male patron, and asked: "Do you work here?" He'd rather talk to any male at all than engage with the woman behind the bar. The awkwardness was delightful when the patron's face soured as he pointed to me and said, "No. She does. Obviously."
One time, I was able to bring in a beer I love, and I was incredibly excited to have it on the shelf. When two patrons bought a bottle, they asked me if I'd had it before, and just as I was about to answer, a male coworker—might as well call him Chad, too—jumped in. Assuming I couldn't possibly know anything about it, Chad cut me off and, with confidence, told the patrons things about the beer that were not true.
I have been "taught" things about beer and brewing I already knew by men who never thought to inquire about my knowledge first. "Well, you know, there are many different ways to use hops." Yes, I do know. In fact, we could be having a productive, possibly fun conversation about those options, which has the potential to open us both up to new ideas. Instead, I'm dull-eyed, absorbing the impact of his power trip.
Sexism happens everywhere; it isn't specific to this line of work. But these are the specifics of how sexism happens here, in our beer industry. I could go on for days with stories like these. I'm writing them down now because they tend to go unheard by the men in the beer world. Most often, they're simply forgotten, absorbed by women who have to get through their shift, or make the sale, or mash in, and move on. There are so few of us in this business because it's a difficult place to be. Women are underestimated and undercut, sometimes profoundly, but mostly quietly. And yet we're still here.
It is normal, and it should be expected, that I am outraged by blatantly outrageous behavior. I want, just this once, for my dignity to win the fight. We just want equality, bro. That's all.