FEM.ALE Brewster Beer Festival


2 years ago, the first FEM.ALE festival launched in Norwich. This year, they’re back, with not one but TWO festivals – the first in Brighton, and the second in Norwich. It’s a 3-day event that focuses on female brewers and the women who love to drink beer, and will include beer tastings, live music, and female-brewed beer available. We’ve interviewed Erica Horton, the brains behind the event, for the next issue of Parallel – but ahead of their Brighton event, here’s a throwback to editor Sophie’s first interview with her 2 years ago.


The beer industry is quite possibly one of the most male-orientated industries out there, with women mainly making their appearances in the advertisements, on the logos, or behind the bar pulling the pints. And when beer companies do decide to attempt to target women, they do so with fruity flavours or low-calorie drinks, with one company even developing a “less gassy” brand specifically for women. I talked to Erica, who is a member of the Norwich Feminist Network, about why a female-focused beer event is so important, and what her feelings are about the beer industry as a whole.

Sophie Elliott: How did the idea of FEM.ALE come about?

Erica Horton: I’m part of the Norwich feminist network, who have meeting regularly to discuss local and international feminist issues. We wanted to have more of a casual meeting and go for drinks and stuff, and the more we talked about it the more we realised that a lot of the women enjoy drinking beer, so we thought we’d have a beer event but make it a bit more female orientated.

S.E: Why did you want to have an alternative festival to specifically celebrate female brewers?

E.H: The beer industry itself has lots of problems with reaching women, in terms of acknowledging that women are doing some really amazing things with beer. There are women brewing some really interesting things and there are some really great networks set up at the moment for women and female brewers – such as Project Venus, which is a network of women dedicated to educating women about beer, and who brew together every couple of months – so there was a great opportunity to draw attention to that and to celebrate it. Norwich is a city that loves beer and ale and quite a lot of women do like to drink it here, but elsewhere there are lots of problems with how women are represented within the production, distribution and serving, and consuming of beers. I’ve always noticed that quite often the beer taps will have a picture of a woman on it and the beer itself will be named after a woman, and I find that deeply upsetting because it is a form of commodifying women.

S.E: Let’s talk about advertising for beer companies. Do you think the degrading images of women mean it’s difficult for female brewers to be taken seriously? And do you think the male-orientated marketing puts off potential female beer drinkers?

E.H: I think that advertisements like that misrepresent women, and use them as a form of selling beer as opposed to depicting them making or buying it. Someone tweeted me the other day saying that beer is marketed towards men because that’s the bigger market, but by what definition is that a bigger market? There are more women in the world so surely that’s the bigger market? We’d like to change the idea that it is all for men. I’ve had tweets from people asking me if there are going to be women at the event wearing t-shirts soaked in beer, and stuff like that, and it’s horrible. Consistently it’s the bigger breweries that are encouraging this culture, like Fosters, and Stella, who are trying to make their advertisements more sophisticated but are still degrading women, and Budweiser, whose advertisements are absolutely ridiculous. So yes, advertising is definitely a big problem in how women are represented as brewers, beer makers and professionals.

S.E: Why do you think it’s important for women to get into beer brewing? Do you think your event will influence or inspire people to get into it?

E.H: That was one of the things I was interested in, for example getting women into the idea of home brewing. It’s a very different process to industrial or commercial brewing, which I didn’t know until I spoke to Jo C, a Norfolk Brewster who’s going to be doing a beer tasting at the event. She was saying how she can’t really recommend any tips for home brewing because she doesn’t know anything about it, because she makes big industrial tanks of beer. We hope to make women more visible in this industry, and to get more women together to talk about their experience and knowledge as professionals who know what they’re doing. I think it’s important to celebrate women striving in male-orientated industries, and to get all these women together in one place to mobilise their understanding and encourage other people.

S.E: What do you hope to get out of FEM.ALE? What’s the message you want people to take away with them?

E.H: It’s a great opportunity to celebrate women who are in the beer industry, and to create a nice women-friendly space. Obviously it’s inclusive and men should definitely come along as well, but to create one space in this city of ale beer festival where it’s particularly female-orientated would be really nice. It’s something that the feminist network was very interested in. Big groups of women, drinking beer? Brilliant.


The FEM.ALE 3-day event takes place on the 6th-8th of May in Brighton, and the 3rd-5th of June in Norwich. You can catch our updated interview with Erica, about the last 2 years of FEM.ALE, in the next issue of Parallel, due out in May!


Women of the World 2016 (Pt. I): Conversations About Alcohol & Matromania

If you have anything that resembles an interest in feminism, and can make it down to London’s Southbank for its annual Women of the World Festival, I highly recommend you do so. There truly is something for everyone there, something I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t expect from such a large, relatively commercialised event before my first attendance in 2015. In addition to the comfortable spaces created by the general talks, reminiscent of secondary school Fem Soc sessions in the relaxed atmosphere so conducive to open discourse, WOW offers a range of hands-on workshops as well as musical, theatrical, and interactive performances. I confess I have never been brave enough to frequent the latter and, at least for now, the talks have been enough to sate my feminist appetite.


“The paradigm of patriarchy is one there to serve the male line.”

One of the first things that keynote speaker Jody Day demonstrated was the timidity surrounding being both uninvolved romantically and pet-owning, present even in a strongly feminist audience. Despite there being 1.5 million single women without children in the UK alone, the demographic is repeatedly shamed for being a social drain. Day discussed the concept of ‘social infertility’, childlessness caused by factors that prevent motherhood, and how this affected women in the 1920s, dubbed ‘surplus women’ after war killed off most of their potential mates and the Great Depression making marriage a luxury. Day wishes to dispel the idea that single women have their own ‘poor decisions’ to blame for their social situation, promoting the idea rather that this is entirely based on luck: it is difficult, as she correctly pointed out, to fit in all the living you’d like to do  before one’s fertility ‘runs out’.


Globally, an exponential number of women are living alone despite the media’s obsession with heteronormative ‘matromania’ (the idea of happiness that is solely derived from a traditional married life) and single-living portrayed ad the ‘booby prize for life’. Day looks at the data behind this supposition, finding that while married women with children are having more sex than single women, they are also doing more housework and spending less time with their friends. The conclusion she comes to is that one lifestyle is not superior to the other, they are simply different, however it is naïve to ignore that one of them is socially rewarded.

Why unmarried women without children are so reviled by society is a question easily answered: within the patriarchal system, these women have little to no value to the male line. Day highlights that they are no one’s mother or wife, that they are liberated, educated, and financially independent. She poses women’s fertility as property, stating: “Before property, we did not have patriarchy.” The panel also underlined the disparity in being a bachelor rather than a spinster, the former label nicely implying that your relationship status has not yet reached its plateau. I think it would have also been of worth to discuss the fallacy of motherhood’s social reward: women with children are lauded for the sacrifices they make, for martyring themselves. Shonda Rhimes eloquently summarised the concept in her new book ‘Year of Yes’:

“The message is: mothers, you are such wonderful and good people because you make yourselves smaller, because you deny your own needs, because you toil tirelessly in the shadows.”        



“If you’ve got a moment spare, fill it with some booze.”

You probably already knew that men drink more than women in the UK, and are less likely to seek help for addiction for the same sorts of reasons they tend to shy away from counselling: social teachings that emotional help is for the weak and, by extension, the feminine. You may not have known that while alcohol-related harm for men has plateaued, women are much more susceptible, as well as more likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver. Seeking help is certainly made easier by society’s emotional expectations of women, but for mothers, the weight of the worry about social services intervening with their children can prevent them from receiving treatment. Even then, support for alcoholic women is underfunded: speaker Deborah Coughlin recalls she was once handed a piggy bank as a (completely ineffective) means of self-control regarding her spending on alcohol. Lucy Rocca, founder of the support website soberistas.com, dissected the cultural forces that drove her to drink, pointing specifically at the ‘ladette culture’ of the 1990s. Cultural figures such as Bridget Jones were implicated for introducing to women the concept of self-medicating their troubles with wine, and even the Sex & The City girls for glamorising over-drinking, never suffering from any of the real-life consequences. The use of humour to trivialise over-drinking was also underscored, not only in alcohol-fuelled comedies such as The Hangover, but by drinkers to laugh off their growing addictions.

Although studies show that Millennials are drinking less frequently than Gen Xers, they are prone to sporadic binges in liquor. More people drink in the EU than anywhere else in the world. In the UK, 1/4 children have at least one alcoholic parent. It’s no secret that drinking is a well-worn crutch for social anxiety, and especially in cities like London, nightlife is becoming increasingly alcohol-soaked. British society is going a similar way, with people facing increasing social resistance to tee-totalling. The panel also discussed how the way alcohol is being marketed is transforming: there’s an alcoholic drink for every time of day, every sort of weather, every different mood. Products like travel wine now line the shelves of the ‘meal deal’ fridges, making drinking on-the-go a more socially acceptable plausibility. Booze is now also 50% cheaper than it was in 1980. Women in particular are targets of what Rocca referred to as the ‘pinking of the industry’. An example of this is Stella’s Cidre, a product released specifically to rectify the unpopularity the company’s cider had with women, packaged in 50ml, coloured bottles.

Words by Jenna Mahale

Image source(s): FBM Photography