Wench: “a young woman who is a servant” (Online dictionary).
Or, as the Urban Dictionary puts it: “a dirty pirate hooker.”
Wench is a word you would think most businesses would try to avoid using. Most, you would hope, would be aware of both its literal (servant) and implied (prostitute) meaning.
But it is exactly this word that the tactfully titled website www.beerbitches.co.uk uses to describe the girls you can “hire” for their Oktoberfest themed parties. “Beer wenches for all occasions” they promise.
Well one such occasion that has deemed it appropriate to hire some “Bavarian wenches” is the London Oktoberfest. The event which advertises itself as an opportunity to “let the entire family experience Bavarian culture” also has working the doors “hot Bavarian wenches”.
Apparently they see no antagonism in ethos there.
Interestingly, in the “family friendly” Oktoberfest they make no mention of the girls official title – beer bitches (definition of bitch given as “a malicious, spiteful, or coarse woman”). I wonder why?
To be abundantly clear, I take no issue with the girls working for beer bitches – if they want to make a bit of money and manage to have some fun at the same time then good on them. What I take issue with are companies like “Beer bitches” and the overt sexism they exude that helps perpetuate sexism both within the beer industry and in society as a whole.
The Every Day Sexism project has chronicled experiences of ordinary men and women who suffer sexist comments or actions through the day. One of these testimonies published in the Daily Telegraph reads:
“I was on the bus telling my friend about the housework I have to do when I get home (I’m a young carer) and the man a couple of seats behind me said: “She’s perfect wench material.”
Another from the Telegraph reads:
“In one day I’ve been called a “frigid bitch” and a “dirty whore”.”
To think that you can run a business called “Beer bitches” that hires “wenches” specifically for men (they state they are for “Gents Events”) and that this might not be reinforcing some deep-rooted sexism within our society is extraordinary. But, that is essentially what Lisa Shepley who tweets from @Beerwenches suggests:
To clarify – feminism is not, and cannot, be understood as not condemning a woman for doing something she enjoys if you think it is negatively impacting on women in general. However, I think there is a reasonable argument to be made that says feminism entails an effort to tackle sexist language and imagery in society even if this is perpetuated by a woman.
I hope Lisa responds to this post. I would of course be more than happy to make space for a right of reply article if she wishes to write one.