some more thoughts on coffee and gender
Since writing my very first post, and then that other one after it, I’ve been involved in an awful lot of discussion about women, and women who make coffee, and men who work with women who make coffee, and every other variation of the combination of coffee and gender. Some of it has been fascinating, and some of it has been frustrating, and a whole lot of it has been from women wanting to thank me for what I had written, and to let me know that my experience was not unique, and that they appreciated someone finally talking about it.
Jimseven has just posted another blog about Coffee and Gender, and it seems like this topic is going to be an ongoing ‘thing’ for a while now. On the whole, I think I said what I wanted to say, and it sparked a lot of interesting discussion, which is what I wanted it to do. There are a few things that keep coming up, though, which make me feel like I need to write some more.
Coffee isn’t sexist, people are.
I’ve been reading/hearing a lot of discussions in which women say they don’t like a particularly sexist aspect of the coffee industry, and for one reason or another their statements are dismissed. It seems to me that a lot of the time it’s because a lot of the issues being spoken about are just issues with sexism in general. I think it’s a little naive, considering the overwhelming amount of sexism and prejudice within human history, to assume that a lack of women participating or excelling in a particular field has nothing to do with sexism. I don’t think there are very many people in the world, for example, who would argue that sexism is not the primary reason there has never been a female POTUS.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I certainly don’t expect the coffee industry to smash the patriarchy. I do, however, expect those with privilege to own up to the fact that they have it, and do their best not to trample on those who don’t. Tackling sexism within the coffee industry is just the same as tackling sexism within any other industry, which is just like tackling prejudice within any facet of our society * - if you only treat the symptoms, you’ll never cure the disease.
If you’ve never been divided, you don’t get to decide what’s divisive.
I hear a lot of people saying things like, “I don’t pay attention to gender, race or sexuality. I just think of people as people.” and that I shouldn’t talk about gender or prejudice because it calls attention to things which are ‘awkward’ or uncomfortable. I don’t want to be rude, but 9 times out of 10 these statements come from white, middle class, able-bodied, intelligent, educated, straight cis men. I have yet to meet a woman who ‘doesn’t see gender’ or a Person of Color who claims to be ‘colorblind’.
These kinds of statements are incredibly dismissive, hurtful, and they absolutely reek of privilege. It is usually those who have never been seen as ‘other’ who have the privilege of ignoring gender, ethnicity, ability and sexuality. Until society is able to treat me as an equal, I am at least partly defined by my womanhood, and the marginalization it has resulted in. Until I can live a day in which I am not reminded of my status in society, I will not be told by others that I shouldn’t speak about it for fear of being ‘divisive’. It is prejudice which divides, not the discussion of it.
Hopefully this doesn’t come off as me saying, “shut up forever if you aren’t a girl.” I understand the sentiment, but I feel like in reality statements like these do more harm than good. They perpetuate an environment in which the realities of privilege and prejudice don’t ever have to be acknowledged, and the real experiences of those affected by these things can be ignored under the guise of ‘equality’. They stifle conversations which must be had if true equality can ever happen.
There is a very big difference between Affirmative Action and special treatment.
A lot of people have accused me of wanting the WCE or SCAA to extend some special olive branch to women, which would let every girl in the world know that she was extra-super-welcome at the barista competition. This seems like something of a straw-man argument, and it’s one I don’t particularly care to address.
I do want to talk about having been told I shouldn’t enter the NZBC for the reasons I entered. My primary reason for getting interested in competing was because there weren’t many women in my country doing so. As a female barista, I felt like I could do something about that. Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of other reasons for entering, too. I enjoyed competing, and I learned an awful lot while training for it. I feel like I came out of it a better barista, more connected with the New Zealand coffee scene, and I feel really good about competing next year, for reasons which have nothing to do with gender. However, that doesn’t change the fact that it was gender which got me motivated in the first place.
I have, and will continue to encourage other women to compete, volunteer and judge. If I am ever skilled and lucky enough to place well, I hope to be a role model for other women who want to compete. I don’t expect to be given special treatment, and I don’t expect more or less praise because of my gender. What I want is to encourage a group of people who have, historically speaking, been given very little encouragement.
I think that’s all for now.
*Just to be clear, I’m fully aware that in the grand scheme of prejudices, I have it pretty damn good. Please don’t confuse that statement with me saying sexism within the coffee industry is exactly the same, or even comparable with other forms of marginalization. My only point is that it’s naive and dismissive to treat something as systemic as sexism within a particular industry as an individual problem.