It’s four months into the year and I have yet to wax on about women’s issues. For those who have enjoyed the reprieve, you may want to flip the page. For the rest of you, get ready to shake your lucky shamrocks. I’ve sat on my hands long enough and I am ready to roar. While strides have been made over the past few years to push women’s issues and gender equality to the forefront—we aren’t even close to cresting this Kilimanjaro.
At the end of 2018, I received a treatise from Wine Bible scribe, Karen MacNeil, who wrapped up the year with an article entitled: “Being a Woman in the Time of Reckoning.” She opened with a great factoid from Merriam-Webster, which proclaimed the “Word of the Year” for 2017 to be—feminism. The findings that followed were not nearly as delightful. MacNeil wrote at one point, “We live among men, and some of them subconsciously hate us.” Her salacious words about wine have made me cluck at times, especially when she refers to wine as “sexy,” which has stopped me from turning the proverbial page, but not this time. The statistics revealed in MacNeil’s report were anything but sexy. The U.S. wine industry is an $82 million business. The 2018 Wine Intelligence Report detailed that in six key wine markets (Australia, Canada, China, Japan, UK and U.S.), totaling 230 million wine drinkers, the gender split between men and women wine drinkers is 50/50. Despite this fact, only 13 percent of California wineries, with an annual production of 10,000 cases or more, have female chief executive officers, according to a report by the Red Cabinet (an organization of female wine executives), as cited by MacNeil. This percentage rachets up to 25 percent at wineries producing 500,000 to a million cases a year, which is still far from impressive.
The disparities don’t stop there. While women are overrepresented in the areas of human resources and marketing for the wine industry, they are underrepresented when it comes to operations, sales, viticulture, and winemaking. The latter is unsettling given the fact (as stated in MacNeil’s report) that an average of 42 percent of UC Davis and Viticulture and Enology program graduates are women. Imbalances spill into the U.S. Master Sommelier community, where only 29 of its 182 Master Sommeliers, are women. MacNeil was inspired (or was it fueled) to conduct her own survey of 160 women in the wine industry. She poled participants on what they felt was the biggest barrier to women’s advancement in the wine industry. Each respondent was presented with 11 options and permitted to fill in her own response. MacNeil reported the No. 1 barrier to advancement was, “The perception by men that the wine workplace is already equitable when in fact it isn’t.” Barrier 2: “Men intrinsically feel more comfortable interacting with and promoting other men.” The third most cited barrier to entry was, “There remains a deep-seated misogyny in American culture that is difficult to surmount.”
One of my own experiences was equally disturbing. Beyond NorthBay Biz, I write for several other Bay Area publications. One such outlet granted me the opportunity to cover the Napa Valley Film Festival last fall. The excitement factor skyrocketed when I learned my article would land on the front-page. As a writer, I’ve learned to relish such moments, because they don’t happen often. The fact that the thrust of my article was centered around films that pushed women’s rights to the forefront, only heightened my enthusiasm. But like any good “high” the buzz-kill can be a bitch. Mine came when I danced my way to the newsstand to grab a copy of my front-page story and saw a man’s mug staring back at me. At first, I was flummoxed, then floored. Why would someone make the choice to put a male figure, albeit a famous one, on the cover for a story that was all about women. It felt like a slap in the face, not just for me personally, but for every woman in our community, and when I thought about it, the world.
I’ll never know who or what collective body made the ultimate decision to make a man the face of a women’s issues-related article, and it’s probably best I never find out. Instead, I will use my four-color, front-page takeaway (now tacked to my office wall), as a reminder, to never stop fighting for what’s right. Strides have been made. Kings have been dethroned. Major and minor wrongs have been righted, but the battle for equality has only just begun.
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