Fluff and Nonsense.

I see the arguments on gender in wine, and feel like I have fallen down the rabbit hole.

Wine is made by people. Not genders. It is marketed by people. Not genders. End of story.

Only it isn’t, is it? We periodically have the argument about the role of women in wine, how there is a gender imbalance and how to reach the female buyer.

And now we have, amongst others, the Fabulous Ladies’ Wine Society. Holding a women only wine and shoes event. And a carefully timed article bemoaning perceived gender imbalance whilst actually acknowledging that sexism is minimal and the percentage of women working in wine is at an all-time high.

I get it. I do understand the reasoning behind the event. Women have been marginalised when it comes to wine training, wine knowledge, hell, even ordering wine in licensed venues. But, correct me if I am wrong, but it is 2013, right? Very few, if any, wine events are exclusively targeted at men. Hundreds, if not thousands are held each year and are open to the public. People try wine. They like it, or they don’t. They argue about it. They learn. Irrespective of gender.

Ok. There clearly are some women who are resounding to the Women Only approach to these events. Maybe this approach works for them. There is room for this, and I rejoice to see people wanting to learn more.  I think, however, limiting it to female winemakers only just serves to deepen the perceived gender imbalance. This is a line, drawn in the sand. We are on this side, as women. You are on the other side.

And just to emphasise the point, the event is a wine and shoes event. Just to enhance the girly credentials, and make sure men know that they need not apply.

One of the attending winemakers makes the point that more and more women are selecting wine. Good. Very happy to hear it. But, does this not negate the point of the event and accompanying media fluff? Women are more and more responsible for wine selections. And no-one is cheering. You know why? Because it is not newsworthy. It is just life. No gender imbalance. Just people. People choosing what they wish to drink.

Ok, yes. There are still twerps out there being misogynistic twerps. But, to their credit, they are rarely misogynistic purely within the wine aspect of their lives. Case in point, the punter at a wine show who asked me to go and get the real winemaker also spied later at a pub making crass, demeaning remarks about all the women in said pub.  For these kinds of people, an event such as this just reinforces the thinking that women might not be smart enough to understand things in a co-ed environment. This is perceived as a vote for patting the ladies in their pretty shoes on their collective heads, and thinking something along the lines of “That’s nice, dear”.

And part of the larger problem here is how other people will see this event, and the negative stereotype it reinforces. Reclaim women in wine, but have the whole event perceived as girly fashion nonsense? Because no-one thinks to present the positive aspects of education and wine literacy? Instead talk about girls being girly, and how shoes are important and how we can experience wine in a way which is ‘light on your purse’? Hmmm.

No-one ever rectified gender imbalance by creating gender-specific events.

Education is always the key. Educate servers to see women as equally capable of selecting wines. Educate the public that the woman behind the stand equally has the potential to be a winemaker. As does the bloke. Or the young person standing next to the older person. Or the… this could go on forever. And you know what? I think that that has, on the whole, been accomplished.

Yes. Some people will assume the guy is the winemaker, the woman the marketer. This is not an insult. This is merely a societal memory of how things have overwhelmingly presented in the past. It takes time for the collective – and individual – consciousness to come around to the present state of affairs. Give it time. Choose to not be insulted, but to educate.

Overall, the Australian wine industry has little to no problem with sexism. At the end of the day, the farmer or winemaker next to you is just another farmer or winemaker. We are all trying to excel at what we do, and communicate that joy and delight to the consumer in the hope that they try and buy our wines. That the industry seems to see this overwhelmingly girly event as the only way to reach the ‘average’ (not my word) female consumer, and that Wine Australia is backing it? This, to me, is more of a problem. There has to be a better, less demeaning way to approach the wine-buying female.

What next? Should we tie a pink ribbon around bottles in a shop which we think women might prefer? Because this type of event is not far way from that. Wine for blokes. Wine for girls. Does no-one else see the problem here?

Tasting notes by women for women? Why? Are we too silly and uneducated as a gender to comprehend tasting notes potentially written by men? Please. Wine and shoe matching? Shoot me now.

And I say this as someone with a slightly oversized shoe collection. Most of them ridiculously high heels. And as someone who created a one-off label for a fruity moscato-style wine with a stiletto heel on it – literally a stiletto (dagger) for one of my rogues and bastards labels. That is marketing a product, not an industry.

I have always worked in selling and marketing – and now making – wine along a very simple premise: treat people with intelligence and respect and you will (generally) be rewarded with the same in return. Dumbing wine down to be matched with fashion does not fall under this purview. And yet the very fact that this has provoked discussion can only be a good thing. The juvenile, poorly worded and bad-tempered responses from many women to the challenges voiced by many of those in and around the industry (of both genders), however, do no-one any favours.

And do not get me started on the percentage representation of women on the judging circuit. This is another argument altogether. Judges are – presumably – not selected on the basis of gender, but of skill, aptitude, and, on occasion, specialist knowledge befitting that kind of show. We have all turned down judging spots for whatever reason: family, other commitments, preference. Yes, women who have children often have other committments. That is a choice, not a bias on behalf of the shows. Bring me evidence of gender bias in recent shows. Go on.

Women want to know more about wine? Great. Women only events? If the shoe fits, and there is a call for it, go nuts. Reinforcing the gender divide, where I struggle to find one in recent years? No thanks.

As a friend put it: I want to be recognised for being a person doing my thing well, not a special sunflower who is recognised for doing it in spite of my ovaries.

I am so glad that there are women being awesome winemakers out there: Ginny, Corrina, Bec, Jen, Gwyn, Sam, Anna etc al. But mostly, I am just glad that there are awesome winemakers out there. Because frankly? I don’t care what bits the person who made my wine has. I just want to drink good wine.

Have a care people. This event has some application. But it draws that line in the sand. And it doesn’t just make wine accessible, it makes it slightly silly. And tied to fashion. Which in and of itself is problematic, because fashions fade. It could be brilliant, but I think it has tipped over into being an event creating an issue in order to create attention.

Even if the issue itself has failed to appear.

Amended. I erred in linking the FLWS event with the Wine Australia/Dan Murphy’s funded event. Apologies to all parties.

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