Our Sex, Our Wine, Our Dress, Our Time
There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to the issue of women in the wine industry. The Batonage Forum was formed specifically for that purpose. As it is described, the Batonage Forum strives “to educate wine professionals as well as wine industry supporters on the unique challenges and opportunities that women in the field…have faced both historically and present-day. We simultaneously seek to propose pragmatic solutions for charting a positive, inclusive course forward.” It appears by all accounts to be fulfilling its goal.
I listened to all the sessions from the 2019 event and I urge readers to do the same, particularly the last session. At this second Batonage Forum held recently, the session that ended the day was titled, “Do You Sell Sex?” The meaning of this session was to “explore the ways that women use (intentionally or not) their sexuality to “sell” wines or create their brand, the decisions that are involved in that process, and more.”
A good deal of the session dealt with clothing and personal appearance. Panelists addressed a number of topics, but a certain amount of time was devoted to the complexities women in wine face just putting an outfit together, what message they send with the clothing they wear, the implications of those messages and the consequences that arise when their dress is misinterpreted (usually by men). And finally, a good deal of discussion was devoted to the impact on women when they are judged (by men and women) based on what they wear.
For me one of the most interesting moments of this discussion occurred when industry icon Carole Meredith stood and made the following comment and observation:
“I haven’t really heard what I expected to hear here,” she said, “which is, when I go to wine events, I see women who are overtly selling sex under the pretense of selling wine. I sometimes see women who show up to pour wine wearing very tight clothes, very short skirts, their boobs hanging out. I have to wonder, Do you feel that you have to dress like that because the wine you’re pouring just isn’t very good? Doesn’t that diminish the wine? And if it doesn’t diminish the wine, doesn’t it diminish you?”
I know what Carole is talking about.
I’ve been to countless wine trade tastings and what you see there are the vast majority of people dressed professionally, meaning traditional business or business casual attire. Both men and women. It’s the “uniform” if you will.
However, every now and then you come across a woman whose garb is entirely different. An extraordinarily low cut blouse or dress. a very short skirt barely covering her, more skin than clothes. And she’s working the event. And every time I’ve come across that person I’ve thought the exact same thing: No one representing my brand would ever be dressed like that. She would either agree to dress more professionally or she would not work for me. Moreover, the image I have of the brand, as Carole suggested, goes down in my estimation.
Obviously, my view of this subject isn’t universal. But I’m positive it is the view that is taken by most men and women who employ others to represent them and their brands. And I’m positive there are consequences to ignoring this view.
What was fascinating to me about this session at the Batonage Forum that spurred Carole to make the above comment was that in response to her observations was the predominant view among those that followed her or responded to her that women ought to be able to wear what they choose at such functions; that judging a woman negatively on how she dresses in professional circumstances is a matter of “tearing down” women and it shouldn’t be done—at least by other women; that the continued sartorial professionalism endorsed by the majority of people in the wine industry is a reflection of a “Patriarchy” that harms women (and men); and that there’s a changing of the guard and a newer way of thinking in which people just accept people for who they are no matter how they dress.
There is a great deal of nonsense in these kinds of responses, much of which I think comes from a well of natural naivete that is masked by a time of powerful and empowering cultural change.
Whether those women I would not have representing me or my brand dressed inappropriately by showing more skin than clothes was because it makes them comfortable or happy or because they want to sell wine with sex or because they want to send some other signal is not in any way the most important idea. What’s most important is that I would not have them representing me dressed in such a way.
Now again, my view is not universal. However, it’s the only one that matters when it comes to my brand. Another way of putting it is if you don’t want to wear my uniform and talk the way I want you to talk or if you don’t want to present my brand the way I want you to, but would rather present yourself in a way I don’t prefer but that makes you feel comfortable or happy or empowered or sexy, then that’s fine. But find another job. And don’t be indignant or blame the Patriarchy or feel you are being torn down while you look for your next gig.
This reality of “my brand, my way” is something that both men and women are forced to deal with when it comes to dress as well as many other facets of employment. Importantly it’s a fact that the vast majority of men and women in the wine industry are employed, not business owners who can choose to do as they please without answering to someone else. I didn’t hear nearly enough of this reality expressed at this Batonage Forum session, and that’s too bad because it’s a reality of great importance and one that nearly everyone in the industry must confront.
Finally, Carole’s question of whether or not dressing inappropriately diminishes one’s brand or wine or self is a very good one. It’s a good one because the answer for many people, including (obviously) some women, is that it does. And admitting that it does isn’t an occasion for calling on all of us to “Fuck the Patriarchy”.
The question of how women are treated in the wine industry is an important one. How they are paid, when and how they rise in their profession, how they are treated by both men and other women while on the job, and what can be done or changed to assure their careers and person are not diminished in the process are all important issues that the Batonage Forum has wisely taken on,
I’m not sure, however, that going to the wall for a new acceptability of Beyonce-inspired dress codes in the wine industry rises to the same level of importance as these other issues.
Audio recordings of all the sessions at the 2019 Batonage Forum are on line here.