Want some sexism with your glass of wine?

This is a real wine label. For a “sweet white wine,” mind you.

If you’re familiar with Maryland wine and have attended the Maryland Wine Festival last month in Westminster, you might have seen this wine at Knob Hall winery’s booth. I happened to see this label on Facebook recently and stopped myself from angrily/sarcastically commenting on the photo.

Why, you might ask? The answer is tricky and a full disclosure is necessary: I work part-time in the Maryland wine industry, and have worked in it for the past three years. I really enjoy my part-time job. I know and like Knob Hall’s winery owners and I always stop by their booth to say hello at wine festivals when I’m also working. I also visited their winery in Clear Spring, Md., in January, tasted their wines, bought and enjoyed them. Maryland wine is a small, interconnected community of wine makers who have a passion and dedication to their craft. It’s a long, hard process to make a bottle of wine (and cider) and their work should be properly appreciated and enjoyed.

I’m not writing this post to shame Knob Hall or to create a petition to get the wine maker to change or remove the label, or call for a boycott of the winery. (I’ve already made Knob Hall aware of my position that I find this label offensive. If you also find this offensive, let them know.)

For me, this label is a perfect example of how we don’t have to look very far to find sexist images of women that are used to sell alcoholic beverages. This gold digger trope is widely accepted and visible in our pop culture with reality TV shows (ahem, The Bachelorette). She’s often portrayed as a superficial, beautiful and not very intelligent woman who values money over love. The gold digger doesn’t want to independently make her own money. Her manipulative, scheming goal is to marry a rich man for his money. (Get that, men? Don’t trust women. They’re only after your money, which, by the way, determines your manliness and self worth, because you’re not a man if you’re not providing financial security for her. After all, you’re supposed to be the breadwinner.) The gold digger stereotype and the gendered, sexist roles for men and women that it generates is disconnected from our reality today, since women make up 50% of the workforce and earn more bachelor’s and master’s degrees than men. The majority of American families would not survive on a male breadwinner model alone. Women’s professional and economic contributions are absolutely essential and often determine a family’s survival.

But as a woman in American culture, I’m bombarded with ads and commercials for alcohol that perpetuate harmful gendered norms of women and men. It’s not only big, corporate beer and liquor companies that do this. Corporations sell nearly everything using some sort of female image, likeness and/or body. If you’re a feminist or if these images simply bother you, you let these companies know you’re not buying it. These types of sexist media are more like small gnats flying around my face, annoying me. I swat them away then mostly forget about it until a big event like the Super Bowl comes around again, chock full of expensive, sexist TV commercials that make my jaw drop.

But if it’s a small business in an industry in which I work that’s creating the sexist media of women in order to sell their product, then it becomes personal and impossible for me to ignore. Because I know they can do better. Most Maryland wineries don’t rely on insulting, offensive stereotypes based on gender, race, class and sexuality to sell their product. It’s entirely possible to be successful and consciously avoid pissing off a big chunk of your customer base, which happens to be women. According to a recent Gallup poll this year, among adult drinkers, 52% of women prefer wine compared to 20% of men. Women also account for nearly 58% of wine buyers in 2011, according to The Beverage Information Group. Wine makers are sitting up and taking notice of this trend and marketing their wines to women, although many stupidly pander to women’s roles as mother/wife with wine names such as “MommyJuice” and “Mad Housewife.”

It’s also hard for me to ignore the Gold Digger label because I know the people who are ultimately responsible for making these business decisions. If they’re creating sexist images of women, then it’s visual proof that sexism is more deeply embedded in the local communities we inhabit and personally invest ourselves in everyday, even if they appear to be woman-friendly and innocuous. Being aware of the Gold Digger wine connects my own little fun Maryland wine world with the bigger picture. It makes real the problem of sexism in advertisements and media. It is these realizations that moved me to write an email to Knob Hall and to publicly blog about it.

The Gold Digger label and my experience in the Maryland wine industry reminds me of many feminist “aha!” moments that women have over and over again when they connect the dots between their personal experiences, sexism and gender politics. The funny thing is, these “aha” moments haven’t stopped for me, 10 years after I first started calling myself a feminist. I don’t expect every woman who sees the Gold Digger wine to experience the same outrage as I did. A cursory glance at the photo’s Facebook comments of customers gushing about the wine tells me otherwise. But we need to sober up and start thinking critically about the media images of women we consume on a daily basis! Especially those that are right in front of us in our own communities. Let them know we’re not buying it.

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