She wears short skirts. I wear t-shirts.

And I seem to be more welcome because of it.

Welcome to my late entry to The Session. And thanks to that damn catchy Taylor Swift song for the title.

A year or more ago, long before Beer 3Up, I was at some beer event with Karl of Guys Drinking Beer, and he asked me what I thought the ratio was of men to women at the event. The answer, based on looking around was, “pretty even.” But I couldn’t help following up with a comment that though there appeared to be even numbers of (apparent) men and women in the group, almost no one was presenting as particularly feminine.

I think this is common. And I suspect it’s femphobia in the beer community.

I’ve been considering this for a long time. There’s probably three entries in my “drafts” folder, and the oldest dates back to January 2013. Even as I have watched festivals, events, and more skyrocket to gender parity in these almost three years, I haven’t seen much budge in how people present.

I wear t-shirts. Also, jeans and sneakers. My bag is more of a messenger bag or a tote bag than an obvious purse. This is my default, my most comfortable, and I am not ashamed of that. But I also know that when I’m out in the world, even at fairly casual places, the default level of “casual” for most women is less casual-seeming than what I’m wearing1. There’s jewelry, make-up, fitted shirts, slacks or skirts…

Except at beer events, where I blend right in. I am completely unremarkable in every way for a woman at a beer event (especially a festival). The women who are remarkable are the few who present as more feminine than I do, and they are rare. And I want the beer community to ask itself why that is the case.

I think it’s because beer still is seen as a hyper-masculine drink, and the community very much a men’s space. And, generally speaking, the men in beer either actively work to defend this status quo, passively defend it, or don’t notice it at all. This leaves women allowed in if we’re perceived as Cool/Real, but not if we aren’t.

In my experience, the more feminine-presenting a woman is in beer, the more she is bold, brash, and has a huge personality. It’s becoming more obvious to me that you can be a quiet woman in beer, if you’re not terribly feminine, but if you’re feminine, you have more and more call to defend your interest. And the women I know who are most feminine are also the most capable women of doing so. Only they, of the feminine-presenting women, get to be “Real Fans” of beer.

I shudder to consider what this means for feminine-presenting men. Or anyone who is gender-queer. Especially since there’s intoxicants involved, and everyone knows it’s not the attacker’s fault if the victim is drunk/has been drinking.

All of that said, there’s some positive notes that I see. I see a number of feminine-presenting women at beer events that are exclusive to women. So, clearly, it’s not just that feminine women aren’t into beer, don’t want to learn more. And more and more groups are forming, which leads to more openings.

And the brash feminine women I mention above? They may not intend it, but they lead, and they lead well. They show that it’s not just a masculine game, and while they’re throwing (usually metaphorical) elbows, they’re making a little more space for everyone else.

So I end with thanks. Thanks to those women, in particular, who make the beer community better for everyone, even if they aren’t even trying.

1 Indeed, Bill and I have found a couple of places that seem to strongly lean to treating us poorly because of my clothing. I’ll be the most casual woman in there, and we’ll have trouble getting service or anything similar. Bill will be dressed the same (t-shirt, jeans, sneakers) and men alone or in groups dressed the same or more casually (muscle shirts, for example) will not be struggling at all to be served. But if a woman’s with them, she’s always dressed more nicely than I am.

10 thoughts on “She wears short skirts. I wear t-shirts.

  1. Thanks for writing this there’s a lot to digest and think about, but I would like to offer a slight re-framing or counterpoint. To me, a lot of the struggle of what/how to present my gender at beer events boils down to a problem with women’s clothing – and the inability for feminine-presenting attire to meet any of even the most basic requirements for functionality.

    Every time I go to a beer fest, I consider the event:
    Is it outside? My favorite heeled shoes are out.
    Is it inside? My cute trench coat has to stay home.
    Is there the chance beer might be spilled on me? [The answer to that is always yes] – There go the softer and more delicate fabrics I might have chosen to wear.
    Might I be sitting on picnic tables, or leaning on barrels for seating? Short skirts are out.
    Will there be a lack of anywhere to check personal belongings? Time to leave the purse and bring the messenger bag.

    Which would all be fine… except that the alternatives that are left (jeans, work shirts, t-shirts, sneakers, hiking shoes) are pretty much either gender neutral or not feminine in the least (some girl-cut brewery tees are an exception, but most are just slightly more flattering than their unisex alternatives). Guys are lucky to have casual clothes that are just as “masculine” as their formal clothes.

    What this boils down to is that I’d love for more companies to design both practical AND feminine clothing.
    Where are the fitted blouses that are scotch guarded against stains?
    Where are the cute shoes that won’t sink in grass or hurt after 30 minutes at a fest?
    Where are the skirts with pockets, and maybe even shorts underneath?
    I mean, screw it, when’s the last time you found even dress pants with REAL pockets? (I mean those that aren’t fake, and can hold more than $0.78 in change.)

    I’ve worked to find a few pieces that allow me to do this – I have a women’s L.L. Bean shirt that has great pockets and is vented in the back (great for indoor, sweaty events), I’ve found a few full-length skirts made of jersey, I found a thin, short-sleeved hoodie that’s both flattering and practical. But until the world of the practical lines up a little bit more with the world of the feminine, this continues to be an uphill battle.

    When that happens, I’ll be happy to wear more feminine clothing to beer events. Until then, though, I’d rather look a little like one of the guys than not have as much fun as I’d like to.

    Cheers and thanks for making me think.

    • That’s a really good point, Carla, and I appreciate you bringing it up. Because I practically have nothing but jeans and t-shirts in my closet, and my “cute” shoes only come out for weddings and funerals, that delicacy never occurred to me.

      The pockets thing did though, because fuck women’s clothing. Except for one brand of jeans, I have never met a pair of women’s-cut jeans that have pockets worth, as you say, more than $0.78. I’ve read a few things that discuss how women’s pockets are INTENTIONALLY useless. You know, to make it more feminine!

      I shall scream.

  2. Maybe part of the solution is similar to that of increasing gender equality in the workplace: more women in charge. More women choosing seating and setting that appeal more to those who want to wear their party clothes. Although, to be clear, I am 100% behind the rallying cries for real pockets and comfortable dress shoes.

    Off the top of my head, other things that women-in-charge might think of: event staff who mingle and monitor for safety, promotion of inclusive vendors and women in beer, activities and spaces that give a bit more structure to the interactions between attendees.

    • You know, I have no idea what the demographics are of those who organize beer events. I’m going to see if I can figure that out.

  3. As a loud, outgoing, outrageous, and feminine woman in the craft beer world I will say this: I pride myself on being all of those things. I always liked that my girly girl self, heels, dresses, and all set me apart. But, at the same time, you still with the assumption that you don’t know shit because you ‘don’t dress the part’. I don’t like wearing pants, I don’t like wearing tshirts, I like being my idea of cute, and that’s just who I am! You get these looks like ‘there’s no way SHE’S here to drink beer’ and it just doesn’t make sense. Like I have to try harder to be credible just because I choose to wear pineapple dresses over work shirts. Yep, I’m really going to get into this on my blog I think, because Stouts and Stilettos was started to be exactly that: a very feminine and ‘girl power’ site for craft beer. BOOM! Thank you for this post!

    • Tierney, thanks for your thoughts. I am really looking forward to reading what you dig into over on Stouts and Stilettos. You undoubtedly have rather different experiences than I do, and so knowing more would be interesting.

    • I was thinking about this topic a bit more this weekend, came back to comment, and your comment caught my eye. You’ve captured part of why I’ve had to talk myself into feeling comfortable at beer events–I feel like I’m standing out. I feel loud, and a bit frivolous. Like, geez, we’re all here to talk about the technical aspects of beer and here is a woman who has perhaps spent a bit more time in her life so far shopping for outfits than for beers (though, it’s close to even, now, I think). What does SHE have to add to this event?

      For the record, no one has ever said anything like that to me. I’m not saying I’m wrong in sensing a bit of that reaction from people, just that perhaps some tweaks to how events are run could go a long way. You don’t have to have a full-on class with a lecture to build a little bit more education into an event. Tierney, I suspect if you have a beer blog, you’re no noob. Me, however, I’m somewhere between noob and intermediate, and I’m a woman who is going to dress up and socialize and ask noob questions at the beer event. And that needs to be OK.

  4. I’ve thought about this topic for a long time and like you have left several drafts in progress. Maybe it’s time to revisit. Thanks for writing this “hard stuff” and making room for others to do the same.

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