Talking Sexism & Teamwork at "The History of Women & The Cocktail"

  Photo by  Christa Norman

Back in March, I was asked to be the keynote speaker (!) at "The History of Women & The Cocktail" event sponsored by Pomp + Whimsy Gin. Dr. Nicola Nice, the founder of Pomp + Whimsy asked for me to talk about sexism in the industry, which I was more than happy to since I deal with it all the damn time. Not to say I wasn't nervous-- it was my first time giving a speech and not just cracking jokes and wow, I've got to say it's way harder talking in front of people when they're not laughing at everything you say. 

But after the speech, I had a number of attendees ask for me to post the speech online, so I hope you enjoy it. I would also like to thank Dr. Nicola and her team at Pomp + Whimsy for inviting me to be a part of such an inspiring evening full of two of my favorite things-- women and beverages! 

There is a lot in this world I don’t know. But if there are two things I know for certain, it is that men love basketball shorts, and they love telling me everything about, well, me! It’s crazy! I can’t believe no one mentioned to me while I was growing up that one day I’d become a woman, and here would be all these kind-hearted, well-researched men with full Ph D’s on Marissa Ross telling me how to live my life and do my job. And they’re everywhere!
I suppose I first noticed in in 2008, when my dad said if I dropped out of college I’d 100% become a derelict. Then in 2011 there was that old white guy in Napa who told me I had to stop drinking straight from the bottle because it was disrespectful, and no one would ever take me seriously. Then there were those winemakers in Spain who found out I was twenty-nine, and advised me to “Say nineteen. We prefer sixteen but you can pass for nineteen.” The middle-aged man from Michigan I met while backpacking in Yosemite was very helpful when he told me “I’d never know anything about wine” if I didn’t know the Bordeaux producers he had in his cellar. Really loved the guy in Oakland who told me I shouldn’t be talking about skin-contact wine publicly because I was “a woman who didn’t know anything.” The next day, two natural wine producers at a dinner in Los Angeles with seventeen other men called me a liar and said that the wine I brought to the dinner was trash, and full of sulfur that I just couldn’t taste. They dumped the bottle and then offered to teach me how to taste if I’d take off my shirt, and all of them laughed. Last summer a man wrote that my wine writing should be used to recruit for ISIS. There was also a Reddit feed about how I was “a lush with no job.” A little over a month ago, I received an award and a man attributed it to “all those bikini photos.” Three weeks ago, a famous actor laughed in my face when he asked me to teach him about “orange varieties” and I told him any white wine could be “orange.” Two weeks ago a man on Instagram told me I needed to “remember my responsibilities” as a natural wine “influencer” and I should eat a banana and some nuts instead of a cheeseburger. And nearly every day, a man reminds me how “cute” it is that I wrote a book about wine.
All very helpful tips and comments.
That I ignored.
I stand before you today, a thirty-two year old college dropout who drinks straight from the bottle with some of the best winemakers in the world, who still doesn’t give a fuck about Bordeaux, that just published a very public article about skin-contact wines, that knows damn well she can taste with her shirt on or off if she god damn pleases, whose writing encourages readers to be confident wine drinkers at every level, signed her third full-time contract with the nation’s number one food magazine, eats what she damn well wants, and knows it’s not fucking “cute” that I wrote a three hundred page book on wine, it was a lot of hard fucking work.
While we are all in different aspects of the beverage industry, all of us women have experienced this kind of “help” from men. The worst part is, I know I’ve had it easy. I’m a hermit white woman who primarily works from home alone. There are people in this room of all races, religions, and sexual orientations that have faced-- and continue to face-- vast, varied and regular degradation, disrespect, discouragement, and abuse.
It would be remiss, and disingenuous, of me not to mention that the effects of patriarchy and sexism are not only limited to men. I know I’ve faced equal amounts of those things from fellow women, as I’m sure you have too. And on the one hand, I get it. We still live in a world where women do not receive equal pay or opportunities, and we are conditioned to be in constant competition with one another. On the other hand, what the fuck?! I’ve had women tell me I’m ruining the wine industry for women, body shame me, talk shit about how I dress in the same breath they’re saying I don’t know shit about Chardonnay. About as “helpful” as men telling me I can't taste unless I take my clothes off.
This is why nights like tonight are more important than ever. Because it’s easy for me to be up here saying to ignore the hateful words, to fight back against sexism, to report abuse. But we all know it is not that simple. It is terribly hard, and it is even harder to do alone. I would not be on this stage right now if it wasn’t for the incredible women I have met, that have taken chances on me, that have supported me and my work.
I started writing about wine in 2011 on my blog, Wine. All The Time. I got like fourteen hits a month and I swear that was mostly just me neurotically rereading and editing myself. No one read it, until Sierra Tishgart of New York Magazine did a profile on me and my wine videos and writing in 2015. Suddenly, everyone had read it including my now literary agent, Rachel Vogel.  The first time Rachel and I spoke, I was on the phone in my car in Mindy Kaling’s driveway while the Direc-TV guy knocked on the window and I begged him to please wait because this was the biggest call of my life. She heard the entire conversation, and still took me seriously. Rachel worked her ass off for me—helping me craft my book proposal, and getting me a deal with my dream editor, Kate Napolitano. Kate never once tried to change my vision or voice, instead she sculpted my book with insight, guidance, and endless patience. I eventually met Amy Atwood, one of the best distributors of natural wine in California, who immediately shared her wines and knowledge with me, introducing me to some of the most incredible women in wine. Amy took me on trips with her and Jenny Lefcourt, of Jenny & Francois Selections, one of the first importers of natural wine in the states. She introduced me to Isabelle Legeron who founded the Raw Wine Festivals, Alice Feiring who paved the way for female wine writers, and a whole slew of female winemakers and industry professionals I love. All of whom are not only a part of my community in wine, but I would not have a career without.
They are on my team. I’m on their team. We’re on OUR team.
Look around this room tonight. This is your team, this is OUR team. We can actually help one another. No one needs to hear from the rich guy who retired, bought a fleece vest one day and decided his new hobby would be making the same bullshit Napa Cabernet he’s been drinking since the first Bush administration. We know that guy, we know what he thinks, we know his story. We know by it by heart. And it’s really fucking boring.
But us, our team, we all have different and unique skillsets that intertwine and complement one another, perspectives that can open minds, interesting opinions and ideas and stories that deserve to be heard. Together we can thrive by listening to one another, supporting one another, and unifying under two middle fingers up to the bullshit sexism we all have to deal with. Together we can do a lot more than we can alone, and a lot more than we can with the “help” of those who actively try to bring us down. Together, we can make incredible impacts in our careers, in the beverage community, and in the world’s culture as a whole.
Thank you.
  Me on the outside, photo by  Christa Norman

Me on the outside, photo by Christa Norman

  Me on the inside, photo by Christa Norman

Me on the inside, photo by Christa Norman

  Wasn't just talking to myself, I swear, photo by  Christa Norman

Wasn't just talking to myself, I swear, photo by Christa Norman

  My fellow panelists: Liz Williams, President of the National Food & Beverage Foundation, Dr. Nicola Nice of Pomp + Whimsy, Mia Mastroianni. Photo by  Christa Norman

My fellow panelists: Liz Williams, President of the National Food & Beverage Foundation, Dr. Nicola Nice of Pomp + Whimsy, Mia Mastroianni. Photo by Christa Norman