A letter from Barista Mag contributor and copy editor, Meister, about issues raised in the “Future Is Female” issue
It’s incredibly heartening to see our industry peers and trade publications speaking tackling the tough conversations that exist around gender equality in coffee. The most recent Barista Magazine goes to great lengths to expose some of the issues and raise some of the voices that we’ve been shuffling off for too long. To be honest, I’m actually excited to take umbrage with certain elements that appeared in the issue, because it means we’re finally entering a dialogue about this stuff. It’s long overdue. Heck, I take umbrage with some of the things I myself wrote in this magazine ”which just goes to show how messy it all is.
All due respect granted, however, it’s my personal opinion that there are recurring perspectives offered in the June + July 2016 issue that are undermining to the advancement of women ”in coffee and otherwise ”and I’d like to raise them for conversation here.
First of all, the apologizing. If men want to be women’s allies in this argument, there needs to be an acceptance by both women and our male allies that every conversation will not and should not contain an asterisk with an aside that says, essentially, “Not all men.” This doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate our allies, but to constantly offer apologies to men within a discussion about the oppression of women simply continues the cycle of putting women’s needs second (at best).
If you’re a man and you feel defensive about a woman’s description of her experience of sexism, check yourself: Can you learn something from that feeling of defensiveness? Can you learn something about what your female peers and friends experience on a daily basis? Can you listen without making it about yourself? Good.
Women: Stop apologizing. Our male allies can fend for themselves.
On that same point, men who consider themselves allies need to recognize that while ally behavior is necessary, commendable, and deeply appreciated, it does not deserve thanks: It’s honestly and simply the way men should feel, think, and behave toward women. One should not expect gratitude for doing what is simply right. Don’t expect applause for doing these things any more than you’d expect applause for putting your rubbish in a trash bin instead of throwing it on the ground. It’s not gallantry, it’s responsibility.
Furthermore, being a true ally is an active participation in this dialogue: Unless a man is actively standing up for a woman’s equal rights, he’s not an ally, but a bystander. Simply saying, “I’ve hired women before,” or “Some of my peers and/or supervisors are women” honestly doesn’t cut the mustard. Speak out when a fellow man diminishes a woman’s ability, or when you notice that a job listing appears skewed in a way that would discourage women from applying. Go out of your way to ask a woman’s opinion in a conversation, especially in mixed company, and then actively listen to her when she gives it. Recognize and praise women openly for their positive contributions to a team, and compensate them accordingly.
Lastly (for now, anyway!), descriptions of women displaying misogyny against other women, without engaging in a deeper exploration into what causes that behavior, detracts from the true issues at hand. Women have absorbed the cultural and social messages that have been transmitted to and forced upon them for literally thousands of years: Internalized misogyny is practically a given, under those circumstances. That doesn’t mean it’s not an incredibly complex given, however, and to toss woman-on-woman prejudice around as though it were acceptable or even “normal” ignores the larger point, which is that we need to battle the gender Stockholm Syndrome that encourages women to apologize to, submit before, and emulate men.
I challenge everyone in the coffee industry ”male, female, and everyone along the gender spectrum ”to be more aware of the ways that language creates imbalance and inequity among us. I challenge us all to be active in our work together, and active in our conversations with each other. I appreciate the care and concern being given to these issues ”among many others ”in this and other platforms, in public and in private. Keep up the good fight.
Thank you, coffee people. You really are the best.