Human beings are norm-creating experts. We create the norms, live by the norms, and aren’t supposed to question the norms. The norms are the norms. The majority of norms are not even written down but are taught through reinforcement, sometimes unintentionally. These norms become our social compass and direct our actions, thoughts, and choices. We are creatures who find comfort in grasping onto something, anything, if it provides the comfort of example to follow without sticking out or making us look foolish.
In today’s consumer culture, about $68 billion is spent on television advertising. Advertising helps to create and reinforce cultural/social norms. With respect to beer, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors together spent more than $1 billion on brand advertising last year. In the advertisements, the focus seems to be that men play the role of wanting sexy women, women play the role of being sexy, and light, fizzy beer plays the starring role in ensuring that sex happens.
Whether intentional or not, the money spent reinforces for women that their individual sex appeal leads to happiness. This sex appeal is defined by the choices women make at a bar, which include drink selection, attire choice, and behavior. Attire: something skimpy and sexy. Show the boobs. Behavior: flirty, willing, and cool. A chatty personality is not necessary or desired. Drink selection: something bubbly, fruity, and flavor-lacking. Brand name: something normal.
The beer commercials never tell us how to behave, but they show us. Over and over again, they cut and paste images in our head. And yet, the impact is rarely talked about. People protest laws all day because they are public and written down, but it is the unspoken norms that we need to talk about. We need to challenge them even though we often feel we lack control of them because they do not have a public face.
I can’t help but laugh when I read the norms above out loud, but I stop when I recall the memories of dressing scantily at the bars in college, not standing up for myself because I wanted people to like me, or questioning everything I said or did when a guy showed me attention. This was a stupid trap that I fell into many times. I know you have these memories too.
Now, however, as a young woman, I know that I have choice. I get to choose the messages I tell myself and one day, tell my daughter. Forming and delivering these messages is difficult, especially when our consumer culture makes it too easy to underestimate our abilities as women. It is time, however, for more women to jump off the norm merry-go-round and make a conscious effort to define what their happiness images look like and the behavior associated with them.
I love the beer industry, and when I got out of college and had the choice between Short’s Brewing Company and MillerCoors, I chose craft, regardless of the salary I missed out on. I wanted to be proud of the brand I promoted, and I never wanted to be ashamed of selling their message. And, I believe I made the right choice. There is no doubt that this is a male-dominated industry, but I spend my days surrounded by men who respect me as a creative individual, who expect me to be fully-clothed at beer festivals because anything less and I might be a little chilly, and who never once question my female palate when ordering a Double IPA at the bar. I chose wisely. This proves to me that there is more for me to choose from than scantily dressed sales positions if I intend to work in beer.
We need to start talking about unwritten norms so we become more comfortable with it. You are not alone; we all experience them. But if we choose to stay silent, if we choose to play by the consumerism rules, then nothing will change. Sex will always sell, and your daughters and granddaughters will continue to second-guess their behaviors and actions as they explore the path to womanhood and happiness.
This path is a personal one that media images will never do justice. It is not cut and dry, rather it is messy and takes time. Only you know when you are happy. So take note of the moments you feel most confident, sexy, and satisfied. I am willing to bet these moments don’t involve you standing at a bar with a mini skirt, stiletto heels, and a Bud Lite.
I feel satisfied and confident when I surround myself with people who respect my personal norms and who contribute to my intellectual growth. And in my prince charming search, my choice is a man who thoroughly finds my ambition sexy, who enjoys taking part in discussion, who appreciates my small boobs, and who never makes me second guess my behaviors that make me, me. This is my happiness.
By: Pauline Knighton