Why ‘women in whisky’ has to be a thing!

Thankfully the whisky community, for the most part, is one that embraces healthy debate. In itself, it reflects the opinions of what makes a good whisky; entirely subjective but with a willingness to respect another’s point of view.

It’s with this in mind that I feel obliged to write a response to The Whisky Lady’s recent opinion piece entitled “Women in whisky shouldn’t be a thing!” As a woman, who has been appreciating whisky for many years, I maintain unequivocally that ‘women in whisky’ has to be a thing.

Nowadays, with the sheer amount of content that bombards us on social media, we sometimes run the risk of being misinterpreted as we try to condense posts into a manageable size. To avoid this, and to avoid taking points out of context, I would encourage you to read Anne-Sophie’s full article first before reading my response:

https://thewhiskylady.net/2017/03/08/women-whisky-shouldnt-thing/

In the many years that I have been visiting distilleries, attending tastings, participating in events, organising and hosting tastings and events of my own and negotiating with suppliers, there have only been two occasions when I have been on the receiving end of sexist comments  from those employed in the whisky industry. Just to reiterate: in just under 15 years, I can only count two incidents. This, to me, either reflects the good gender balance that the whisky industry has achieved or its positive attitude to gender equality. Sadly, on the whisky scene, this is not always the case as Anne-Sophie clearly points out.

I have met some amazing people and made some great friends, of all genders, as a result of my interest in whisky. These are people who know that gender (as well as other characteristics such as race, religion, and sexual orientation) are irrelevant to one’s ability to appreciate whisky and are, therefore, the people I choose to spend time with (either virtually or in real life). However, like Anne-Sophie, I have also lost count of the number of sexist comments that have been fired my way, as the only woman amongst twenty or so men, at a whisky tasting. Despite the year now being 2017, on occasions I still find myself on the receiving end of, at best, condescending and patronising remarks and, at worst, blatantly sexist comments. So, what should I do? Avoid whisky tastings? Just keep quiet? Or say something? If I say something back, will I be perceived as acting all “badass”?* As far as I’m concerned, the only option for me is the latter; if it proves to that other person that I am his equal, or even if it simply makes me feel better for doing it, then I will act all badass. Moreover, as a woman, I will champion any other woman who does the same.

Since starting out on my whisky journey almost fifteen years ago, I have noticed that, although I am sometimes the only woman at a whisky tasting, I am not always the only woman there. Sometimes there are two or three of us! However, it’s safe to say that women are still very much underrepresented on the whisky scene; another reason why I believe ‘women in whisky’ should be a thing. Anne-Sophie maintains that by continuing to adopt the ‘women in whisky’ approach, women stigmatise themselves.

Let’s think about the following well known individuals in the world of whisky and their monikers:

Johanne McInnes – Whisky Lassie

Rachel Barrie – The Lady Blender

Amy Seton – The Whisky Miss

Alwynne Gwilt – Miss Whisky

Amanda Humphrey – Whisky Sister and, ironically,

Anne-Sophie Bigot – The Whisky Lady

All of their chosen monikers highlight their gender. Are any of them stigmatising themselves?  Are they pitching themselves against men? No, they’re championing themselves for their achievements and successes in what has been, and in certain areas continues to be, a male dominated environment. This is for no other reason than to place themselves on an equal level. Highlighting their gender doesn’t ‘put them in a box’; it breaks down barriers.

It not only breaks down barriers for themselves as individuals; it breaks them down for other women too. As I mentioned before, from the time when I first started heading to whisky tastings, where I would be the only woman there, to now, progress has clearly been made. However, the small amount of progress made is entirely disproportionate to the number of years that have elapsed. Women are still underrepresented at whisky tastings; fact. When I first started organising them myself, I didn’t come from a background in the whisky industry. I was a novice and, in order to improve, I asked everyone at the end if they’d give me feedback. I always advertise my tastings across a number of platforms but one such is a women’s only social group. One of the most consistent comments that has been made to me, by women, is that they would not have come to the tasting if they hadn’t known it was being hosted by a woman; they knew that they would not be the only one there. In addition, at the recent Whisky and Women tasting as part of the Audacious Women Festival, along with the four female guest speakers, there were 24 guests: 20 women and 4 men and a waiting list of four women and one man. This was never advertised as a women only event; in fact I made it clear that all genders would be welcome. The thing is, when women highlight their gender in an area where they are underrepresented, they break down barriers. Prominent women, who highlight their gender, act as role models and it’s these ‘women in whisky’ role models (of which Anne-Sophie is one) who are much needed on the whisky scene. I can’t help but wonder how many of the 35% of female visitors to The Whisky Lady blog head there because of her chosen moniker.

The mistake that is sometimes made is that this is seen as some kind of “Women vs Men” strategy; it isn’t. It’s simply about removing the barriers that preclude women from heading to whisky tastings so that they have the confidence to head to any tasting of their choosing in the future. It’s about tackling inequality, not creating a whole new imbalance. The hard work of these women in the whisky community has clearly opened doors for other women and, if this is going to continue, so must the ‘women in whisky’ cause.

The Whisky Lady ends her piece with “We should be grateful “women in whisky” isn’t a thing.” Women in whisky is a thing and I, for one, am eternally grateful for it. One day, it won’t need to exist; but until that day arrives, women in whisky has to be a thing.

*At the tender age of 45 years old, I will openly admit that, just to be sure, I googled the term ‘badass’.


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