Dear Bros: Misogyny in Bay Area Natural Wine

Dear Bros:

How would you feel if your mother’s employer promised her hours that were then given to a younger, less qualified person? Would you be happy if someone tried to tarnish your sister’s reputation with lies? What would you do if your wife’s boss told her that the dress she wore made her ass look fat?

Last week I had the dubious honor of representing the wine industry on a panel on sexism in the workplace. This is a drum I’ve been beating for quite some time because in my 27 years in the business I have never seen as much misogyny as I have witnessed among your brethren in the Bay Area natural wine world. Not least, I experienced it personally earlier this year when I was terminated for insubordination by someone I shall refer to as “Bro X.”

I discussed what happened with very few people; I kept hearing Michelle Obama, saying, “When they go low, we go high.” However, I have come to realize that I’m hardly debasing myself by sharing what happened to me with others. On the contrary, the highest road I can take especially since I have been encouraging others to speak out and act up when they encounter discrimination is to go public. So sorry, bros, I’m not letting you off the hook.

Your misogyny sets a terrible example for younger men and intimidates women who want to work with natural wine. It also puts off existing and potential customers.

In brief, about seven months ago, almost exactly one year after I wrote a piece on sexism in the wine industry in general, Bro X gave shifts that were explicitly promised to me to a much younger, less knowledgeable male, “Brah Y.” It was not the first time something like this happened. I resigned in April 2016 when he gave a shift he had taken away from me a few months earlier – without warning – to a much younger, much less qualified yet very attractive woman. I’m a New Yorker, don’t fuck with me. Incidentally, I was told he “felt insulted” when I quit because I said to him, “I don’t want to work for you anymore.” I suspect there was some revenge at play.

Anyway, I went back because another employee told me, “He was trying to become a better person” and I liked a lot of the customers. He apologized profusely and seemed remorseful so I said I would return under the condition I would be offered hours before anyone else and he agreed. Well, he went back on this more than once and finally, after what happened with Brah Y, I had enough. I complained and that’s when he accused me of insubordination and showed me the door. Shortly afterward he called me a “martyr.” Oh, snap! Martyr is the new “nasty.”

Since then, Bro X has tried to cover up his wrongdoing by fabricating conversations that never happened, changed his reason for my termination and has told numerous other lies, even though I have a paper trail proving he is living in a world of alternative facts. He concocted a story that I “demanded” he fire Brah Y and also said I was “jealous” of the woman he hired in 2016. Bros, do you realize that statement itself is incredibly sexist?

The discrimination/misogyny didn’t stop there. Several of his natty wine bros have un-friended me in one way or another. One, who I did quite a bit to support as he himself noted in the past, sent me an email saying, “I like you, my house is your house. I just don’t want to be affiliated with you on a professional level. I just want to stay neutral and in good terms with all fellows in the industry in the Bay.” Did you get that, “Fellows?” 

Bros/brahs/fellows, do you really think you can bully me? And yes, slandering people in an attempt to sway others’ opinions is bullying. Those who blindly swallow and repeat these lies are just as guilty. But bros will be bros. In today’s NY Times,  Bret Stephens wrote, “Trump’s notion of truth is whatever he can get away with, at any given moment, for any given purpose.” I see a lot of parallels between the President’s behavior and that of other bros. It makes me wonder if his ascendancy to the highest office in the land has given license, subconsciously, for men to lie, discriminate and bully.

This said Bro X had a pattern of discriminatory behavior that goes back at least several years. When I first started working at his shop another female employee complained that he treated her worse than a bro who used to work there. I asked her why she put up with it and she said, “You see how he is always shit talking people, I don’t want him saying things about me.” Fear alone of being professionally bullied is enough to silence a lot of women. Additionally, I heard and heard about him saying inappropriate and abusive things to women who worked for him and be rude to female sales reps and even customers. Unfortunately, this is not a unique situation.

Bros, you may think you are hip to women’s rights because you went to the Women’s March or support Planned Parenthood but your mansplaining and dismissiveness speaks volumes and don’t think posting your mug with famous female winemakers on Instagram is going to change that. I’ve seen the way you denigrate women wine writers, interrupt or ignore your female colleagues and don’t hire women to work at your businesses. I’ve also heard plenty of you make derogatory comments about the way women in the business dress, the size of their asses and how they deliberately expose their breasts to get your attention. 

Double Bind Round Table Discussion on sexism at the workplace. From left: Li Westerlund, Edward James Valeau, Dina Yuen, Pamela Busch

I have no doubt that in the way Anita Hill and thousands of other women suffered “bro backlash” when they blew the whistle, there will be those who will say things about me for writing this but it needs to be said. Your misogyny sets a terrible example for younger men and intimidates women who want to work with natural wine. It also puts off existing and potential customers. Several in your ranks are notorious for trashing people on social media and I bet that some of you are reading this and saying, “Pamela’s such a bitch.” Or, you might be thinking, “What can I say to discredit this cunt on Facebook?”

I’ll be the first to admit that I am imperfect and have made plenty of mistakes. But, I’d rather be called a bitch than a liar and I’ll take cunt over coward any day. I’m not a man-hating lesbian either so don’t go there. Throughout my career, I’ve met hundreds if not thousands of considerate men who value women, starting with my mentor, Kevin McKenna, who has done more for natural wine than any bro I know. Not least, I have an amazing role model in my father, who has not only empowered me since I was a little kid but also taught me to stand up for what’s right and treat people equally. I should also mention that my mother taught me and my sisters to always stand up for ourselves and I am very thankful to her for that. 

To the women who are reading this, it’s all well and good for you to post about gender equality and attend marches but do you believe that putting up with sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination or standing by and silently watching it happen to someone else is helping? I understand the financial, professional and social repercussions but do you think previous generations of women in the workplace had it easy? Still, many of them stood up to men who called them “dear,” asked them to fetch their morning coffee or for sexual favors. They were accused of insubordination, fired and blacklisted in their industries yet in the words of that great orator, Mitch McConnell, “persisted.”

As for my recent situation, I’m putting my energies into taking this toxic experience and turning it into something positive. I started a project, “Natty & Nasty,” to promote the voices and expertise of women who work with natural wine. I realize I’m only one person but as that nasty martyr Mother Teresa said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

To this end, I will do my utmost to support women who work with natural wine. I will also continue to befriend bros as most of you are not malicious just misguided. If you can check your egos, please join me in this discussion because we have a responsibility to this planet, other species and those who will inhabit it after us, and everyone has a contribution to make. We are better off working together and moving forward with mutual respect.

While my experience may have soured me on certain people, I feel even more empowered and inspired, and care about wine and the industry itself as deeply as ever. I have a great deal of admiration for what so many are doing in natural wine and will do what I can to prevent it from being tainted by the misogyny of the bro culture that lies within. Call me any name you want, I’m not giving up. I am not going away.

I will persist.

PSB

If you would like to listen to the full audio of the discussion of sexism at the workplace panel at The Laundry, go to https://soundcloud.com/user-726110001/laundry-round-table-discussion-about-sexism-at-the-workplace/

One Struggle, One Fight

 

 

 

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