Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
Diversity in beer – or the lack of it – has been a bit of a running theme in the beer media over the past few months. It is something which needs to be acknowledged and discussed before change can happen.
But it is difficult for some people to come forward and share their stories. New Zealand’s strict defamation laws mean that naming any person or brewery while sharing experiences of sexual harassment or assault could land you in court, trying to convince a jury that your experience is the truth. You could be slut-shamed. You could receive a pile-on from strangers who just straight-out don’t believe you, or who try to point out why you were the one at fault.
I have found it difficult to speak out about my experiences with sexism in the beer industry, for many of the above reasons.
It is hard enough to call out the racism. When I commented on the thread of a poorly-named dark beer homebrew competition, suggesting they rename it because the name was racist and in poor taste, I received comments ranging from defensive, to a personal attack, to outright racism. Nevertheless, I have been speaking out about racism and cultural appropriation in beer for a few years now, and while it is not always easy, I will continue to do so. I tell myself, I have to be brave, otherwise nothing will change.
Now we are facing a #MeToo movement in the New Zealand beer community, it is time for me to be brave, otherwise, nothing will change.
I have been actively involved in the beer community for more than 15 years. In that time, as a bartender, duty manager, beer writer, beer judge and beer drinker, I have been told “you know an awful lot about beer, for a girl” more times than I can count. A male brewer made fun of my questions and brushed me off at Beervana one year, despite me being the only festival-goer at his stall. I’ve been called “love”, “sweetheart” or been told “good girl” pretty much daily whenever working behind the bar.
I’ve also been assaulted. One year, on the night of the Brewers Guild Awards, I was at a bar before the event. A prominent New Zealand brewer grabbed me from behind and groped me. He was a friend of mine at the time. He knew I had a boyfriend. He also made lewd comments about me, and in front of me, to my boyfriend. I felt confused and embarrassed. I felt shame. I felt … icky. I still feel those things. Only now, I don’t just feel like it was wrong, I know it was. It was assault.
A couple of years later, that brewer was in the same bar as me, late at night, with a woman who was drifting in and out of consciousness. He was pouring beer down her throat, kissing her and feeling her up – while also trying to prop her up. My table complained to the bar staff, and eventually the pair were kicked out of the bar, together. I still feel guilty for not stopping her from walking out with him, for not doing more to protect her.
These are not isolated incidents; similar stories and, in many cases, much worse, have been shared among New Zealand’s beer community for years. We tell each other these experiences to warn one another, so other women can avoid a similar fate.
Many people will be shocked to hear some of this. But these stories shouldn’t remain as whispers. It is time for the industry – and wider community – to listen to and acknowledge these stories. To put your own hand up and say “I’ve not always behaved appropriately in the past”. To recognise what you can do to prevent this from continuing to happen. To be brave.
Being defensive, going on the attack or being outright ignorant will not erase the fact that beer people are not always good people.
Where to get help:
Rape Crisis: http://www.rapecrisisnz.org.nz/ – 0800 88 33 00
Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline –https://safetotalk.nz/ -0800 842 846
Male Survivors Aotearoa: https://malesurvivor.nz/contact/ (males only)
If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 111