Last week's Rant created a stir of discussion, in the comments, on Twitter, Facebook and in emails. I questioned the reason why so few women have been named as finalists in the Wine Blog Award (WBA) category of Best Overall Wine Blog. I hoped to start a discussion and it happened, especially sparked by the hot button issue of sexism, despite the fact that was only one element of many in my post. That topic raised emotions as well as defensiveness, and it overwhelmed the rest of the discussion.
In my prior post, my only conclusion was that there was a disparity between the number of female wine bloggers and the number of women, on their own, who were finalists in the Best Overall Wine Blog. With female wine bloggers constituting roughly 38% of all wine bloggers, yet only 1 woman, on their own, being a finalist in that category, that raised a red flag to me.
As an example, let us consider that the widget field has an annual contest for the Best CEO. Women constitute 38% of the CEOs in this field yet in the last seven years, only 1 of those female CEOs has even been a finalist for this award. You can be sure that people are going to questions the reason for the disparity. And that is all I did, question the reasons for the disparity I noticed in the top WBA category.
Women tended to accept that sexism was involved in the disparity, as well as elsewhere in the wine industry. They mentioned some of the contributions of female wine bloggers and also noted that such sexism extends far beyond wine blogging. To them, it was more a given that required no further evidence. Sexism certainly still exists in many aspects of our society so it would not be surprising to find it in the wine industry. For example, I have been following the huge discussion in the science fiction publishing field over sexism. That doesn't necessarily mean sexism exists in the Wine Blog Awards, but it does mean it is a possibility.
That raises another important issue, even if sexism is not involved in this WBA category, or the awards in general, women still perceive sexism there. Perception is an important issue. Why do many women have this perception about the awards? Is it based on valid grounds? How do you change that perception if it is not accurate? Do you need more women involved in the operation and judging of the awards? Trying to combat that perception should be considered by the WBA organizers.
On the other hand, men were more apt to assume sexism was not involved in the disparity. In fact, a number of them got very defensive about the issue. They wanted concrete evidence before they would accept that sexism existed. Some even seemed disturbed that the question was asked without providing definitive proof. The issue of sexism also clouded the other questions and issues I posed. Many men got stuck on the issue of sexism and looked no further. That might have been partially due to the comments by the women that sexism did exist.
To many men, they saw no problems with the Best Overall Wine Blog category, seeing it as a meritocracy, that the best blogs were nominated. However, that raises another important issue, which underlies such assumptions yet which few men wanted to speak aloud. In essence, the assumption is that best male wine blogs generally have been of higher quality than the best female wine blogs. Maybe that is the case, and it is a question I asked in my original post, though no one wanted to directly address that question.
Some men also offered that the disparity was because there are more male bloggers but there still are 38% female bloggers, and only a tiny fraction of that percentage is represented in the finalists. If it was a meritocracy and the quality of the best female wine blogs was high, then they should be represented far more as finalists, even if there are overall less female wine bloggers than men. If people truly believe that the best male wine blogs generally have been of higher quality than the best female wine blogs, then just come forward and admit it.
I was asked to present the names of female bloggers who were "snubbed." I presented four names of female wine bloggers who I felt were deserving of being finalists in the category. I am sure there are others as well, but I only provided four. These were generally women who also had been nominated in other WBA categories, but not for Best Overall Wine Blog. Though some agreed that a couple of my choices were deserving of being a finalist, they still would not accept that those women had been intentionally "snubbed." I never claimed they were intentionally snubbed, merely that they were deserving of being a finalist yet had not garnered that honor. It could be due to more subconscious biases. No one provided a valid reason why these women were omitted.
A few other possibilities were raised. It was alleged that the WBA are merely a popularity contest, and have little to do with who is actually the best. If true, that would tend to show that male blogs are more popular than female blogs. Why is that the case? Is it a matter of quality or sexism/bias? Do the Wine Blog Awards actually present the "best" wine blogs, or is there something else involved?
Paul Mabray, who has been a judge every year of the WBA, stated that only 30% of the judges this year were women, and "which I am sure can be improved." It is interesting though that in 2012, 9 of the judges were women and 8 were men. Even when women were the majority, a female wine blogger was not chosen as a finalist. Definitely a complicated issue.
We all know sexism still exists in our society. We also know that there is a large disparity in the number of women who have been finalists in the Best Overall Wine Blog category. In addition, there are some women worthy of being finalists who have not been awarded that honor. Finally, there are numerous women who believe sexism is involved in these awards. Each of these elements is a building brick in a wall of evidence. Combined, these elements are still insufficient to prove anything, but they provide enough to warrant a further examination.
Such an examination should start with a deeper investigation of the statistics of nominations, finalist selections and voting for the 7 years of the Awards. Though that of course depends on whether such records were kept and still exist by the WBA organizers. If those records do not exist, it will be far harder to examine this situation. However, at the very least, if nothing is done, if no examination is conducted, the perception of sexism will continue to taint the WBA.
It must be remembered too that the examination I think is warranted should not concentrate solely on sexism. The goal should be to determine the reason for the disparity, whatever that reason may be. It is a topic which garnered much passion and discussion, from both men and women. Let us hope that passion and discussion does not die off.