A new age is dawning on the whiskey industry - revolutionizing the marketing, changing the face of the spirit, and the customer base. A new ingredient has found its way into the luscious recipe of barley, wheat and water. And it's women.
The whiskey industry is as old and as rich in history as the world itself and indeed, was as slow to embrace the female into its ranks as was any other business of note, ever.
Hard alcohol as a singular entity has never been very fond of the woman, whether as producer, seller or consumer, and certainly not as connoisseur. Not until now, in this modern age, have we recognized that women can drink whiskey; do drink whiskey; and will continue to do so, regardless of precious states or fuzzy heads. While it’s never been considered a lady's drink, and while the clearer spirits have always been much more geared to the world’s female population (can we say vodka, seltzer, lime?); the women of today’s world are finding themselves no longer receptive to the stereotypes bequeathed them over the last how many centuries.
During World War II when the majority of male bartenders were away at war, women were finally allowed behind the hallowed enclave for the first time to pour pints and mix cocktails. To the utter amazement of the American population - they were able to do it, and many even liked it! Initially instructed that they would have to leave their posts once the "real" bartenders returned, many of these ladies devoted themselves to retaining their gigs once the men returned, spurning a large debate countrywide as to why they shouldn’t remain back there, having done so well while the men were away.
Between religious blows, world wars and government decrees - whiskey has had a spotted love/hate relationship with the modern world and has only in the last 100 years stabilized into a very wealthy and extremely lucrative industry. It was however, and still perhaps is, a man’s business.
A quick Google search will tell you all you need to know about sexism in the whiskey industry. One of the first websites that comes up, realmendrinkwhiskey.com, is labeled as the third most authority on whiskey in the Google directory. But what does that say about the whiskey consumership in a broad sense today? As it turns out, nothing.
In the 70 years that have elapsed since then, women, in defiance of gender roles, stereotype and misogyny have remained firmly behind the bar and have come a long way from their previously tentative and frugal relationship with alcohol.
I’ve spoken to two singular authorities on the state of whiskey in the U.S who estimate that a percentage as high as 40% of their consumers are women, and that number is only due to rise. Females are denying the bespoke image of the suited male connected to the golden liquid - the bearded man bun with his neat rye; the wealthy grandfather in his study holding his peaty scotch. Gone are the days where white men are targeted solely as drinkers of the liquor. In fact, Glenfiddich’s most recent ad depicts an African-American daughter recommending the single-malt to her father, in an appeal to those minorities left behind for years as a target audience. Modern whiskey does not discriminate, it is unanimous, all-encompassing - leaves no man or woman behind.
Enter Jen Wren, West Coast Brand Ambassador for Glenfiddich, and Jane Maher, U.S Brand Ambassador for Tullamore Dew, two women changing the culture of the industry from within.
Jen, who came from an acting background right here in NYC, says there was never a moment she felt as a woman that she couldn’t crack the whiskey business. To fight the stereotypes, she took to task those who still remained backward thinking when it came to women in the industry. While she is still shocked and surprised by things said to her as a woman at industry events she is adamant that gradually things are getting better, because misogyny on any level is no longer tolerated by the women who are populating the whiskey world, in the U.S at least.
Jane, coming from an Ireland still on the back foot in this regard; where in many pubs and bars throughout the isle you’ll find men devoutly placed behind the sacred counter, and women serving the beverages in the lounge area, tells SWAAY the U.S is the leading authority on women in the business, and the rest of the world is slowly following suit. She considers the organic shift that is happening in female consumers from other spirits or alcohols in general, to whiskey, has something to do with its refined taste, and in Irish whiskey especially, its smooth, triple distilled finish. Whiskey in reality is a lot easier to drink and more approachable than previous generations have depicted.
"Whiskey is changing, modernizing, and looking to direct their innovation at this emerging group."
In addition to Mila Kunis being the new face of Jim Beam, brands like Jack Daniels and Jameson are marketing directly to women, with new campaigns for the Jack Daniels Honey and Jameson Ginger Lime geared towards those sweeter toothed female drinkers.
Jameson's Chief Executive Officer, who is said to have the finest single malt scotch in her desk drawer, is surrounded by other incoming women liquor execs, like Jane and Jen - all of whom are paving the way for more inclusion and diversity in what has been inherently structured and marketed a man’s business for not only centuries, but millennia.
Clearly, there is no longer room for the forgotten female in the industry nor in the whiskey sector. These ladies are in it for the long haul, and so are our newly refined palettes.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.