The Role of Women

The Role of Women

Fred is the author of a new book on Whiskey Women

Thoughts from... | 06 Sep 2013 | Issue 114 | By Fred Minnick

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When I tell people I wrote Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch & Irish Whiskey I typically get two initial responses: 1) "But, you're a man?" Yes, last time I checked. 2) "Wow, women really drink whiskey?" Ugh, this one irks me to no end, and we can largely blame 1800s era prostitutes, Carrie Nation's hatchet wielding Prohibitionists and post-Prohibition whiskey distillers for ignoring women's drinking habits.

The United States dismissing female whiskey drinkers begins with 1800s era brothels, where prostitutes earned significant commission for selling whiskey. One earned $50,000 in the mid 1800s, while 1857 New York prostitutes sold $2.08 million in wine and liquor. When I came across these prostitute liquor surveys, I realised sex rivaled the fur trade as the most important whiskey distributor in the 1800s. Sex also set in motion key factors for Prohibition and future marketing tactics.

Instead of taking responsibility for their sexed-up actions, men blamed whiskey. At first, to keep men from violating marriage vows, temperance women prayed outside of these saloons, but the men kept piling in, drinking and paying for sex. Since civil protest didn't work, Woman's Christian Temperance Union's Carrie Nation took axes, hatchets, stones and anything else to break windows and crack whiskey barrels to saloons and bars. In her memoir, Nation said she was God's messenger to combat the prevailing evils of her generation.

Men squandered their wages on whiskey outside of brothels, too, but WCTU and other temperance leagues effectively connected whiskey to prostitution. Prohibition-era flappers only exacerbated this stereotype, setting up speakeasies, while women bootleggers became sharp thorns in the sides of Revenue Agents.

So, upon Prohibition's repeal, the stereotype was so strong that cities and states outlawed women working behind the bar. This law would be upheld in the US Supreme Court in 1948, while Kentucky even outlawed serving females alcohol without food.

Temperance groups still had political power, too. Instead of seeking outright federal alcohol bans again, temperance leaders pursued state, county and city dry efforts as well as federal bans on alcohol advertising.

In the 1940s and 1950s, 11 Congressional alcohol-advertising bans were introduced. All failed, but the industry protected itself by not marketing to children and women.

The industry was not exactly in a position of power and needed to limit its liability or public mocking. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States mandated that members would not include women in advertisements holding drinks. This ruling changed in November 1987, but the whiskey business mostly stayed true to old school marketing practices.

More than 20 years after DISCUS ruled it was okay for women to hold a glass in liquor marketing, I hope my book will shed light on the delicate issues distillers faced with marketing to women. They did not necessarily ignore ladies; they just couldn't do it.

Meanwhile, women from all over the world are warming up to whiskey and feel ignored. Let me just set the record straight: Women have been making and drinking whiskey for a very long time.

First, without Sumerian women inventing beer and Mesopotamian women inventing early distillation techniques, we may not have whiskey!

Queen Elizabeth I drank Irish whiskey. U. S. First Lady Letitia Tyler served corn whiskey with hog meat in Washington D. C. In 1800s Scotland, Elizabeth Grant wrote in her memoir: "Decent gentlewomen began the day with a dram." By acting surprised every time a woman orders Scotch neat or Bourbon on the rocks, you're carrying on 200- year-old stereotypes that give credence to the initial temperance women arguments. Furthermore, women built the foundations of Bushmills, Johnnie Walker, Laphroaig and Maker's Mark.

Female whiskey importance transcends drinking the occasionally dram. Women deserve credit for helping build this industry.
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