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Brewing up a storm: what’s in a beer name?

The award-winning real ale ‘Top Totty’ brewed by Slaters has been removed from sale in the Parliamentary bars after some MPs and feminist commentators complained the name, along with the beer’s ‘bikini bunny girl’ label image, demeaned women.

I am a real ale drinker, and I want prize-winning real beers to promoted and enjoyed as part of traditional British culture. I am also a feminist and I understand the complaint.

The problem isn’t so much with the unfortunate branding. The problem is with the concept of ‘totty’ and the bikini bunny girl image in the first place. ‘Totty’ is defined as ‘people, esp women, collectively considered as sexual objects’ and the bikini bunny girl image plays on this, suggesting women collectively are nothing more than sexual objects (that’s demeaning folks), who look nice but are a bit air-headed and couldn’t hold a conversation beyond nodding and saying yes (that’s infantilizing). None of this treats women with anything like the same respect afforded to men, who are agents capable of independent choices (such as which beer to choose) and opinions (whether the beer is any good).

There is a venerable tradition of giving beers daft, tongue-in-cheek and play-on-words type names. The vast majority of these are both fun and not demeaning to anyone (Theakston’s Old Peculiar, Badger’s Fursty Ferret and of course, Spectrum’s Old Stoat Wobbler to name a few). This goes to show it doesn’t have to be like this. Instead of choosing a branding which is fun but a bit demeaning, the brewers could have used a bit more imagination to find something that was fun and clever.

It’s unfair to single the brewers out for blame, for using sex to sell their beer in a way which is insulting to women, when sex is used in this way to sell so much in Western society. It’s not the only real beer I’ve seen with mildly offensive branding. The problem is the wholesale use of concepts and imagery demeaning to women across the marketing industry. I expect this name was intended as another ‘harmles joke’. It’s not even that offensive by itself, but it is demeaning and it is a problem. Here’s why: when every third advert you see is mildly insulting – not horrendously offensive in itself, just mildly insulting – the cumulative effect is much more damaging, and this name doesn’t help. When sexist ideas are everywhere, it reinforces the stereotype that this is what women are really like. I assure you, this isn’t the case: I can choose my own beer and tell you whether it’s any good just as well as the next person.

I don’t think I’ve tried ‘Top Totty’. I would be put off by the name and image, and I expect I’m not the only one. But the beer’s description has me interested:

A stunning blonde beer full bodied with a voluptuous hop aroma. At 4 per cent it has a ripe and generous fruitiness, with deep and complex hop notes and rich malt. The beer is also available in bottles.
“Roger Protz – Beer Pages”

I am saddened that the beer has been withdrawn, but I absolutely understand why. Rather than apportioning blame, there is a more constructive way forwards we can all help with: rebrand it. I’d be really interested to know why this name was chosen in the first place. The brewers are missing a trick by mildly insulting and consequently alienating half their potential consumer base from the off, but importantly this name doesn’t reflect the description. The beer doesn’t sound like an air-headed object with nothing to say for itself. It sounds like a beer with Hidden Depths, given its ‘deep and complex hop notes’. ’Voluptuous’ makes it sound at least like a human being of normal build, not the stick thin label illustration.

I have no power to change anything here, but just for fun, post your re-naming suggestions below. My starter for ten is Monroe’s Revenge. What’s yours?

One Comment

  1. Kris C says:

    How about, “political problem” or “What’s in a name” ;)

    Or a more traditional naming “Golden Storm” perhaps…

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