“Although we cannot control the trolls and bullies outside the industry, those who we do not know, we should speak out when this type of behavior comes from someone in the trade”.A small excerpt from a post I wrote last week that was on my site for less than 24 hours.
At about this time last week I was still scrambling to eliminate anything that could lead to Part Two of Women in Wine, the Uncomfortable Conversation We Need to Have. In that second post, I wrote about bullying and the difficulty of speaking out only then to face a cease and desist letter which instructed me to delete the post, my tweet, and any other material that related to a specific matter I had described in that post. It ended by stating that if I did not comply, it could result in litigation and that I should seek legal counsel.
As I write this, I still get a few knots in my stomach. Last Tuesday when I published that second post, I had a feeling of uneasiness and nervousness. I knew I was taking a big risk and taking on a big subject but I also felt that it was the right thing to do. Why? Because respect, decency and integrity matter. It was incomprehensible to me that an individual who had mocked his colleagues, particularly young women, could carry on as if nothing serious had happened and that his actions were not addressed despite the pain they had caused. To be honest, it was none of my business. I wasn’t involved in any way and so I could have easily forgotten about it, left that problem to those it had affected personally, and focused the second part of my essay on microaggressions and the lack of representation of women in wine. But I felt compelled to do something, perhaps rather naively.
If you’ve read the first part of the essay, you’ll know that I began writing because of a hashtag that went viral, #womensupportingwomen, which made me reflect on my behavior and how I have repeatedly ignored sexist comments and remarks, turned a blind eye to actions that were unacceptable, and even laughed uncomfortably at rude jokes at my expense and those of other women. But the catalyst to writing it was, once again, another silly little joke, done by a friend; a joke that impacted me and angered me so much that it caused me to reflect further, reexamine my experiences and get the courage to write down some of these experiences in the hopes of opening up a discussion about sexism in wine. The first part of this essay was an attempt to put in to words all those small and seeingly insignificant experiences that add up over time.
The second part of the essay was another dimension of that conversation, and then some. It started with another little joke. Someone who believed that the joke wouldn’t have an impact. Someone who could justify their actions based on “privacy” to avoid taking responsiblity. Someone with enough power, money and influence who could afford to have a laugh and could afford to shut others up. The post was valid and outlined exactly what had happened and by whom. But I wasn’t strong enough to see it through to the end. The day I received that letter was a day of heightened stress and anxiety. The stats on my blog were skyrocketing, the most action my little blog has ever seen, and I could see that the post was being read in so many countries and being shared on multiple platforms. Throughout the day people were messaging me, sending emails, trying to contact me. Various phone calls were coming through from individuals affected and I tried to remain calm. In fact, I turned off notifications and tried to focus on my work but it was nearly impossible. At one point I was on a phone call when I felt my phone buzz. An email. An email addressed to Ms. Danitza. My stomach dropped as I read it. A cease and desist letter. I panicked. I’ve never been in that situation and had absolutely no idea what to do. I am not wealthy, I’m not powerful, I’m not influential and I definitely don’t have a lawyer, so I took everything down.
Definition of intimidate
: to make timid or fearful : FRIGHTEN
especially : to compel or deter by or as if by threatshttps://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/intimidate
A few crazy days followed with emotions that went from high to low. Pride came first as I felt that I had helped disclose behaviours that were not acceptable. But then I felt a growing sense of embarrassment and humiliation. Why wasn’t I stronger? Why did I take it down? I should’ve given myself time and space to reflect, I should’ve been calmer, I should’ve reached out to someone with more experience, but fear and uncertainty consumed me and so I gave up. I gave in. Now, I am angry. Angry at this individual for intimidating me but most of all, angry at myself for not being stronger.
It’s been a week since taking down the post and it feels like I’m waking up. The emotions I felt are not as raw but still present. Life continues, wines have been drunk, conversations have been had. There have been positive outcomes from both posts and I know that many people and organizations are doing the right thing. I have received heaps of support, encouragement and love from people in all areas of the trade. Despite the emotional bruising myself and other individuals involved experienced, I believe that this incident has brought this conversation to the forefront – or at least I hope. First, there is no room in our industry for bullies. Hell no! And second, the post and the events that followed have demonstrated exactly why we need to have this uncomfortable conversation in our industry. It is not just about women, but power and privilege. It is about those at the top who refuse to acknowledge those at the bottom, those at the top who are not held accountable for their actions, the boy’s club that protects itself above all.
How can we create a respectful and safe industry if there are individuals who wish to silence others or those who do not take the feelings and experiences of others seriously?
How can we create a diverse and inclusive industry if we do not let more women, minorities and a younger generation of wine professionals in, particularly in leadership positions?
How can we create a dynamic industry if we do not value the work of professionals who use new communication tools and offer a fresh perspective to wine?
There is a younger generation of women and men entering the wine world. They are individuals, from all cultures and backgrounds, that are not part of an elite, do not have powerful family connections in wine and have not attended the best schools. They are individuals who are curious about wine, who may be entering it as a second career and are building their careers in a non-linear way. They are driven by passion – yes, passion – and are willing to do the hard work for it. They go back to university, they invest in wine certifications, they travel to various parts of the wine world just to get practical experience in wine, working a harvest here and there, working merely for wine, food, and accommodation. They are also individuals who may be coming from the grueling world of service and hospitality, one where working 12 hours on their feet is normal. This younger generation of wine professionals refuses to accept the status quo and wants to see real changes – not to have token individuals that will paint a picture of inclusivity and diversity. If the trends in wine show us anything, it is that there is a desire to move away from classics – classic styles, classic regions, classic wine communication and to CREATE something new. There is a new generation of male and female winemakers, marketing directors, sommeliers, wine buyers, writers, social media influencers who want to explore further, going beyond the stuffy, old school way of doing things. I also believe this new generation is much more community-minded and environmentally conscious. It is a generation of women who support women and thus, have created their groups and businesses; men who also support women and speak out so as to create a more respectful industry.
I wanted to write more but I’m still processing everything. This experience, writing these posts and all that followed, has been painful and trying for me. I sometimes think maybe I should just shut up and leave this uncomfortable conversation where I found it, in the dark. But considering the response I’ve received from the two posts, the support, the messages, the kind words, I know there are so many people in the trade that feel the same. And there are many people who are ready to make real changes and have begun to do so. Changes will not happen overnight, they will take time and it must be collective. However, I believe that we can begin to tackle some of these issues through dialogue and conversation, by speaking up and speaking out, but most importantly, by treating each other with respect.
I will eventually repost the second part of my essay (albeit with one section removed) because I believe the conversation must go on. It’s a difficult conversation to have but enough is enough.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for the support.