Mama, Mannenliefde, Polyamorie: many of our beers poke at masculinity, gender, conformism or monogamy in a lighthearted way. We aim to be an open minded, all-inclusive and positive brewery. Our goal has always been to challenge stereotypes. Beer doesn’t have a gender, beer is about flavor. Beer certainly doesn’t care if you are a boy or a girl, or anything in between. But the traditional beer scene has made everyone believe that beer is a product for men, marketed in a masculine way.
All the more we were perplexed when one of our bartenders expressed her dislike of the label of Mata Hari — a saison with gin spices that we made in collaboration with Gigantic Brewing.
“I do not feel comfortable selling this. I think it is sexist”, she said.
We intended the label to be a canvas for artist Iwan Smit, whom we commissioned to come up with an artistic interpretation, as we often do with collaboration brews. Our brief to him was that the label would depict a goddess, worshipped because of her divine being, a superior mother-earth-like figure. She would have to represent independent and headstrong women in order to bring an homage to great women. A free interpretation of Mata Hari — in reference to both the notorious double spy as well as the Hindu sun goddess.
The result was a cartoon-style label with a depiction of a gigantic female figure who is adored by small white characters bowing down for her. “Nothing wrong with that, right?” It slipped our mind that an artistic expression could be sexist.
Soon, reactions on social media followed. The label apparently incited the infamous bier & tieten (‘beer & tits’) motto. It wasn’t the first time an Oedipus beer took a life of its own though, but this was certainly not what we could have imagined.
We decided to hold our horses and take the label under close examination in order for it to be a moment of reflection and discussion. What exactly is problematic about this label?
While we consider a beer label an artistic canvas, a space for free expression, we overlooked that it remains to be a label embedded in a specific context. We’d like to imagine the world differently, and although ideas of gender equality might be slowly changing, the truth of the matter is that the beer world is still largely dominated by men. This label is thus confirming stereotypical notions and may even stimulate sexism, without us wanting to.
Why is this label confirming stereotypical notions?
By visualizing the woman in a sensual pose emphasizing her naked body, the woman becomes objectified, as if the essence of womanhood is in the body. And as if it is the body that needs to be hailed.
The female figure becomes even more objectified when imagining a male consumer drinking from the bottle — her body. Therefore: using the female body on a beer bottle has different connotations from using nudes in the art world. Also, we want to steer clear of a strategy of ‘sex sells’, which is overly used by commercial brands and which is built upon objectification of the (fe)male body.
This process was a real eye opener to us and we are very happy that members in our team are critical thinkers that spoke out. We had interesting discussions that sharpened our ideas and thinking process and hopefully will also bring us closer together as a team.
With some tiny adjustments Mata Hari is out there again. We added a couple of text balloons on the bottle, engaging the figures on the label in the discussion and with a link to this webpage. We’d like to continue this conversation and to keep raising awareness. Talk with a friend or a stranger about it!
And above all: don’t forget that it’s the inside that counts: Mata Hari is a wonderful gin spiced saison (7,5%) to be enjoyed by everyone. Open up!