On 17th August, Danish craft beer brand and Bitchslap Magazine off-shoot Girls Are Awesome (GAA) released a small-batch beer collaboration called “Female.” The release comes in two flavors: “brunette” brown ale and “blonde” wit ale. The label is rendered in blue and pink, with an open hand (made to look intentionally “womanly,” with noticeable long nails) and the word “female” centred, flanked by the Mikkeller and Girls Are Awesome brand logos. The collaboration’s press release notes that “this a lighthearted project highlighting the simple fact that women enjoy a damn good beer as much as men.”
The backlash to the collaboration was immediate, with dozens of women expressing their dismay in the launch’s Facebook event. After over 24 hours of consistent commentary, both GAA and Mikkeller began responding with what appeared to be cut-and-paste, yet measured responses. The Mikkeller responses point out that the beer was made to “celebrate female representation,” although they do not go on to explain how “Female” does this.
As of the time of publication, no general response has been released by either Mikkeller or Girls Are Awesome to address the criticism.
Editor’s Note: We spoke to several women in the beer industry in Denmark. While all expressed negative feelings towards this collaboration, none agreed to go on the record for fear of hurting their careers. As a result, we have opted to give this space to a Copenhagen-based journalist, Lena Rutkowski, who has been engaging with this story as it unfolds. This letter has been edited for clarity.
An Open Letter to Mikkeller Beer
I’m writing on behalf of a group of people, primarily women, calling you to pull your new “Female” beer in “Blonde” and “Brunette” flavours and enter into dialogue with us about the problems with the product created in collaboration with “Girls Are Awesome,” which we consider a demeaning platform to women.
Mikkeller, in your press release you claim that with the female beer, you are “seeking to erase the conception that beer is just for men,” and that the “female” label is a fun play on the words five (fem in Danish) and ale. You claim it’s ironic play on gendered beer. You claim you’re into “empowering women.”
In other words, you’re trying to empower women – who throughout history, have been reduced to mere female objects – by creating an actual object. Called Female. Blonde or Brunette.
But here’s the thing about irony: it’s fantastic when it’s used to critique existing power dynamics and structures.
For example, a “male” beer shaped like a penis would have been a great satire on the objectification typically experienced by women, helping men understand what it’s like for us.
But a beer called “Female” that reduces women to a hair colour? That isn’t effective irony, because irony is about saying the opposite of what is real. It isn’t irony if it’s a replication of the same old, garden-variety sexism we already see every single day.
So Mikkeller, we’re afraid it’s you who doesn’t get the joke. Because when you perpetuate the idea that a woman is an object, you are part of the same culture in which #MeToo incidents continue to happen. The same culture where sexual violence happens. The same culture that says women are rankable, categorizable, objects for men. Dehumanized. Less than male. Fe-male.
There’s so much more we could say about the history of the objectification and dehumanization of women, latent and invisible forms of sexism, and women’s experiences of sexism going unheard, the problematic and reductive nature of the world “female” especially for the trans and non gender-identifying communities. The problem is, that takes time – and we’re doing all this explaining and target audience consultancy work for free, on our own time. If you’re so interested in women’s empowerment and to quote you, “inclusivity,” and determined to incorporate it into your brand, you might want to google these core concepts as a start.
But theory aside, our basic problem is this: you are using a women’s empowerment narrative in your marketing to sell a beer that enforces a culture that harms women.
We have also spoken to women and non-binary brewers who say that a product like this harms their efforts to be taken seriously in an industry dominated by men. Worse yet, this sexist product is telling young people everywhere that this is what women’s empowerment looks like, instead of what it shouldn’t look like. You are actively undermining a cause for which we work very hard.
And for people who already believe that women don’t drink beer unless they get a special, woman-friendly beer – well, you’re enforcing that too. How were you planning to ensure that future consumers of the beer will get your ironic joke? Attach a fact sheet?
Finally, when we communicated these concerns to you, you simply quoted the press release back at us, or repeated that the beer is ironic, when we’ve already explained that it’s not. That makes us feel like you’re not genuinely interested in our concerns or listening to us.
Girls Are Awesome’s utter lack of a grasp on what is supposed to be its business mandate has badly impacted your brand, because I imagine that you relied on GAA’s women’s empowerment “expertise” to guide you about how to combine beer and promoting women. Instead, your two brands produced a product that does the opposite. Next time, we encourage you to engage people who actually identify as feminists for input and not a man-founded organisation posing as empowering but with poor understanding of what empowerment actually means.
If you really mean that you are concerned about promoting women in the beer space, then come dialogue with us about our concerns. You created a beer to empower us. We tell you it doesn’t. 100 people liked my original post calling this product out as sexist. We have explained to you what is wrong.
What will it take for you to listen and give us a stronger answer than a press release citation?
The petition has now closed.
Full disclosure: the Editor was included in a Facebook group that originally outlined these points.
We invite Mikkeller and Girls are Awesome to respond to this open letter if they so choose. We will publish their responses, at our discretion.