It takes a certain kind of person to walk up to a bar and order a pint of Old Legover, a bottle of Piddle in the Hole and half an Old Growler.
We all know the sort of person: tweed jacket worn over a Led Zeppelin T-shirt, combat shorts all year round, the sort of beard that’s stiff with flecks of sausage roll and stained at the corners with nicotine. Scratches their belly button while trying to do any sort of mental arithmetic. Reads books about netherworlds and supernatural portals and giant battles. Goes home after one too many Bushy Beaver beers or pints of Leg Warmer and watches The World at War on DVD as they fall asleep on the sofa, farting like the Large Hadron Collider. Or so the stereotype goes.
And yet, it seems that Camra – the Campaign for Real Ale – is trying to pull away from the lazy sexism and jocular misogyny of some of its, ahem, members, by banning all drinks with sexist names or imagery at this year’s Great British beer festival, which is currently running in London. The move follows on from a new code of conduct, created by the Society of Independent Brewers (Siba) last year, proscribing any marketing deemed to be sexist or offensive. As a female ale fan, I welcome the move.
According to Camra, only 17% of women identify as beer drinkers, despite making up over 50% of the potential market. There is no need for a drink – or anything, in fact – to be so delineated by gender. It’s hardly the sharp end of reproductive rights or the dismantling of the patriarchy to replace a tumescent pair of breasts on your beer labels or pick a name that doesn’t sound like a disappointing attempt at cunnilingus.
For the past 10 years, capitalism has been co-opting the language of sexual equality and feminism in order to sell us a new flavour of mass consumerism – keyrings in the shape of Venus symbols, mugs printed with Maya Angelou quotes, T-shirts sewn by women of colour in economically developing countries under slave conditions that say Women are the Future across the tits. Too often our politics has been exploited, sanitised, repackaged and sold back to us by brands eager to profit from our desires, without letting those desires have the merest speck of an effect on their world view or work practices.
Which makes it genuinely heartening to see a market respond to changes in public attitude and social acceptability, even if it is only in order to make its product and its marketing less sexist, less offensive, more inclusive, more attractive to women, men and non-binary people. If the movement for sexual equality means that the breweries making The Village Bike or Bitch Please change those names to something genuinely funny, and if that makes women and non-binary people feel more comfortable in spaces where those products are sold, then that’s all right with me.
I can well remember queuing in the beer tent at a folk festival in Shropshire as a 20-year-old, and the feeling of deflation and resignation as I heard a phlegm-voiced man to my right order a pint of Hairy Beaver and then snort like a pig as though this was the funniest thing he’d heard all year. I’m all for great names – I too have posed in front of the Crotch Crescent street sign and sniggered while walking past Bell End – but there is something slightly seedy about the image of a grown man jangling the coins in his trouser pocket a little too enthusiastically as he stares down at the pump labels covered in thick-breasted women and orders a pint of Love Muscle, Jingle Knockers, Dizzy Blonde, Sneck Lifter, or Rumpy Pumpy. You may accuse me of being as dry and brittle as a Thornbush Porter, but I just find the prospect of a grown adult revelling in the wit of a drink called Shut Thi Gob, Bushy Beaver or Battleaxe a little tiresome and a tiny bit sad.
If loudly announcing to the bar that you want to get your mouth round a Hairy Helmet (from Leatherbritches brewery) is as good as your pub banter gets, then that is your cross to bear. But I think we can do better. We’re funnier, as a nation, than that.
• Nell Frizzell is a columnist and writer