WHAT WOMEN WANT

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - COVER STORY -

But do ei­ther of these stud­ies show we can tell what kind of beers a per­son will like based on gen­der? Ab­so­lutely not. From the minute we are born, numer­ous things can in­flu­ence our tastes and pref­er­ences. Add to that the fact gen­der and as­signed sex are not one and the same thing, and you re­alise just how use­less (and kind of of­fen­sive) it is to make as­sump­tions.

What about the fact that way more men than women drink beer? And they do: women make up only a fifth of the beer mar­ket in the United States, and al­though there aren’t re­li­able re­cent fig­ures, it’s likely to be an even smaller per­cent­age in New Zealand. Not that you need statis­tics. The im­bal­ance is so ob­vi­ous I still get peo­ple say­ing to me, al­ways very well-mean­ing of course, ‘It’s so cool that you know about beer and you’re a chick.’

The rea­son women drink less beer, I reckon, has noth­ing to do with the way beer tastes and ev­ery­thing to do with ad­ver­tis­ing — the last 40-odd years of it specif­i­cally. Based on my ex­ten­sive re­search (a full af­ter­noon search­ing “old beer ads” on the in­ter­net), it seems beer ad­ver­tis­ing in the 1950s and 60s was friend­lier to­wards women, prob­a­bly be­cause they were the ones do­ing all the shop­ping. Amer­i­can brands like Sch­litz and Bud­weiser typ­i­cally showed thin, glam­orous cou­ples drink­ing beer to­gether at home, of­ten while car­ry­ing out such whole­some ac­tiv­i­ties as carv­ing pump­kins, in­te­rior dec­o­rat­ing, and en­ter­tain­ing guests with dodgy look­ing plates of Jell-O salad.

By the 70s, how­ever, there was a shift. Beer ads no longer showed men in their bor­ing old houses with their bor­ing old wives, but alone or with other men do­ing fun, ma­cho stuff. Stuff like play­ing poker, hang­ing out in dark bars, and just gen­er­ally be­ing rugged out­doors. These ads fea­tured the kind of man who could grow a mous­tache at the drop of a hat, lasso a wild bear from 20 paces, and would rather die than or­der a glass of chardon­nay.

As for us ladies, we were rel­e­gated to one of two rather sad roles. I will call these the “ob­sta­cle” and the “prize”. The ob­sta­cle is the dreary wife or clingy girl­friend who tries to get in the way and spoil all the man-fun (search Carl­ton’s “The Nag­ging Wife” on YouTube for a per­fect ex­am­ple). The prize is the busty, scant­ily clad babe who will pre­sum­ably sleep with any­one who drinks the beer. In print ads, I’ve no­ticed, this woman is of­ten the same size as the bot­tle she’s stand­ing next to, pre­sum­ably to con­fuse the male viewer into think­ing she and the beer are one and the same.

After decades of ads like this, we’ve got the mes­sage loud and clear: beer is a drink not just for boys but for men. Rough, manly men who like their beers cold, their pur­suits dan­ger­ous, and their women the shape and size of Bar­bie dolls. It’s no won­der the prod­ucts ad­ver­tised haven’t been hugely suc­cess­ful with women, but then big beer com­pa­nies never seemed to want our lame lady-money any­way. Why bother, when they have al­ways done so well with men? At least, that seems to have been the at­ti­tude un­til quite re­cently, which brings me back to this idea of beers for girls.

They do ex­ist. Or at least they did a few years back, and this is where they are prob­a­bly best left and for­got­ten. These beers — prompted, no doubt, by a world­wide de­cline in over­all beer con­sump­tion — were the re­sult of clumsy at­tempts by brew­eries to win back women after forty years of ne­glect. Bri­tish beer writer Melissa Cole de­scribes the move as “the busi­ness equiv­a­lent of some­one break­ing up with you hor­ri­bly at school, only to beg you to come back in your mid-30s”.

In­stead of try­ing to mar­ket their ex­ist­ing ranges to women, many com­pa­nies cre­ated a brand new breed of “fem­i­nine” beers. Pret­tily pack­aged and light in al­co­hol, calo­ries and taste, these tar­geted brews all had the same ba­sic premise: that in or­der for a beer to ap­peal to women it needed to not re­sem­ble beer in the slight­est.

I can only speak for my­self here, but if beer com­pa­nies want to at­tract more fe­males — and they should, be­cause we make up half the po­ten­tial mar­ket — they need to re­move gen­der from the equa­tion al­to­gether. Maybe take a leaf out of wine’s book and talk about the prod­uct it­self — who made it, what it tastes like, the ter­roir and stuff — rather than fo­cus­ing on the type of per­son who should be drink­ing it.

Within the craft beer sec­tor, that’s what hap­pens most of the time. Craft brew­ers love noth­ing more than talk­ing about their own cre­ations (have you ever met one in a bar?), and even if they wanted to they prob­a­bly couldn’t af­ford to pay mod­els — even minia­ture ones — to pose in biki­nis. Their mar­ket­ing tends to be lim­ited to so­cial me­dia, and fo­cuses on sub­jects like yeast strains, hop va­ri­eties and what type of French oak the beer was aged in. This may be bor­ing to some peo­ple, but at least it’s bor­ing in a gen­der-neu­tral way.

One question re­mains unan­swered. If there’s no such thing as girls’ beer, what was it the peo­ple who asked for it wanted? And, for the record, it was just as of­ten men or­der­ing “some­thing girlie for the mis­sus” as it was women or­der­ing for them­selves. Did they want beer that was pink? Straw­berry cheese­cake-flavoured? Served from a glass shaped like Chan­ning Ta­tum’s chis­elled torso? No. (Well, there might have been a few tak­ers for that last one.) When I asked, I found most of them did not re­ally know what they meant by “girls’ beer”. They just thought it was a thing we would have, like low-al­co­hol or gluten-free.

You’ll be pleased to know I did not se­quester these cus­tomers with long rants about the prob­lem­atic his­tory of gen­dered beer ad­ver­tis­ing. Nor did I say, “Well I’m a girl and I like this one” and slam down a chilli-in­fused dou­ble IPA in front of them. I’m proud to say I han­dled these re­quests with the grace, wit and charm of some­one who clearly was born to work in hospitality: I told them we’d run out.

It’s no won­der the prod­ucts ad­ver­tised haven’t been hugely suc­cess­ful with women, but then big beer com­pa­nies never seemed to want our lame lady-money any­way.

Edited ex­tract from How

to Have a Beer by Alice Gal­letly (Awa Press, $26), avail­able now.

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