Session #81: Scary Beer Feminists

Floor mosaic advertising a pub lounge bar, by Duncan C, via Flickr.
Source: Duncan C, Flickr Creative Commons.

The beer blogging Session is hosted this month by Nitch who has asked us to consider women and beer.

Having written a long piece about women in British brewing and beer campaigning in September, and about the sexualisation of female bar staff here, we decided to focus this time on women as pubgoers.

Women drinking beer and visiting pubs is by no means a new thing.

Thanks to the splendid Mass Observation study The People and the Pub, we have a very good idea of how many women were regularly using pubs in Bolton, Lancashire, in the nineteen-thirties, for example.

(January)

Town centre pubs

Main road pubs outside town centre

Weekdays

Weekends

Weekdays

Weekends

Males

667

532

418

513

Females

140

184

39

94

% females

17.4

25.7

8.5

15.5

We also know what they were drinking: relatively expensive bottled beer, and especially Guinness, with a further surcharge applied because they drank it in the ‘lounges’ and ‘parlours’ with their pot plants and soft furnishings, rather than the bare-bones ‘vault’ (public bar).

Though they were usually escorted to the pub by their husbands, the men usually drank standing in the vault where the beer was cheaper. On the rare occasions men did sit in the lounge, they were expected to wear Sunday best and wash behind their ears.

In the lounge, among themselves, women were free to get drunk, swear, tell dirty stories and otherwise misbehave without the threat of violence or the risk of unwelcome sexual attention from men.

These days, lounges have all but disappeared from pubs, in part because they came to be seen as a sign of snobbery and social segregation; and women entering pubs alone are no longer assumed to be prostitutes or ‘asking for it’.

Nonetheless,  pubs still too often feel like male spaces where lone women are, if not made to feel unwelcome, then at least the subject of stares and comments.

The idea of the lounge — a safe space in the pub ‘owned’ by women — should not sound as appealing as it does in 2013.

5 thoughts on “Session #81: Scary Beer Feminists”

  1. Having a lounge is still very much part of pub culture here, and in many suburban Dublin pubs the bar is where all-male regulars spend the day watching the racing in an almost club-like atmosphere where strangers aren’t welcome. The lounge is for everyone else, and often the beer is more expensive there.

  2. In many cases what has effectively happened, of course, is not so much getting rid of the lounge but getting rid of the public bar. And, as mentioned in this blogpost, often what we see now is the vault and lounge trade split between different pubs.

  3. From what Sydney Nevile says, it sounds as if women only started frequenting pubs in the North during WW I. While in London it had always been the case.

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