Irene Guede is a storyteller and content creator based in Pamplona, Spain. She often looks for images and other types of content on stock image websites and social media, and what she sees, she’s not happy with.
“You do the same search for ‘wine man’ or ‘winemaker’ and see more normal things, more mature men, more intellectual images of wine, and you think, what is happening. These are paid images from large stock companies.
And sometimes if you search for ‘woman wine’ in some image banks, you get covered images that tell you that it is pornographic content. It’s very heavy. That pisses me off.”
Before the holidays, I had the chance to chat with Irene about sexism and gender inequality in the wine world. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I’ve addressed this topic before. When I wrote that post, I used personal examples because I felt frustrated and quite alone in my experiences so when I came across Irene’s Instagram account a few months ago it made me feel a little less lonely and totally inspired*.
A filmmaker and journalist, Irene is the woman behind La Chica de la Garnacha, a digital content company that among its many services, produces beautiful short films and other visual content. She creates content for wineries, wine associations, public organizations, European viticultural projects and is co-host of the podcast La Filoxera. Having entered the wine industry as a second career, after initially studying agronomy and then switching to film, her diverse background has given her a sharp-eyed perspective on some of the industry ills and as a result, has taken to social media to draw attention to these issues using the hashtag wineshit.
It’s quite unusual to hear (let alone see written posts) about sexism in the Spanish wine world. In a traditional, elitist and male-dominated industry, airing out the dirty laundry is a no-no as it could have professional and social repercussions, something that Irene knows but overlooks. “The truth is that in that sense I am a bit naive or I have not thought about it much. I mean, I’ve felt more anger than impotence, or thinking, if I say this, something will happen to me” she explains. As Irene sees it, posting about this and many other issues is an opportunity to have a genuine discussion on ways to make the wine industry more inclusive and less 1990s (scratch that, 1980s).
Anyone following Irene on Instagram or Twitter will know that she is not one to shy away from saying the unsayable, particularly when it comes to calling out dated stereotypes, sexist ads, and the underrepresentation of women in the industry, most recently the lack of female wine judges at the Duero Wine Fest.
A friend once told me bringing up anything about sexism in wine was like a minefield; you don’t want to go there, he cautioned. Clearly difficult terrain to navigate, one that is often shut down by those (usually the old guard) who feel it too uncomfortable to talk about or get defensive with even the slightest criticism, which can make it feel like you’re in this alone. “Those of us who have different, diverse opinions, that are critical, that take the time to reflect and express our opinions, sometimes it is difficult to see that in other people,” she says. While she’s had her fair share of backlash, there’s also lots of support and encouragement, something that gives her hope that things are changing.
The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length, and questions relating to marketing, communication and digital content have been selected.
BB: In your posts on Instagram you are quite vocal about machismo, sexism and the gender inequality that exists in the wine world. Have you received any kind of backlash for your posts?
Yes, it happens. Once I criticized a winery or wine distributor that posted a super sexist image and I commented on it. What makes me feel very lonely is when I see these images and say, surely in a comment someone has said something like, what is this? And I’m looking and looking and don’t see anything. Suddenly I saw that there was a man—because I have met a lot of men who detest those things and say so, more than I expect—and a man who said, “what is this? It’s not justified.” It was an image of a girl in a vineyard showing her legs or something like that, and I commented to this man, [writing] I think the same as you. Well, there was one guy who told me that I was bitter. I mean, he didn’t say anything to that guy, but to me, that I was an unhappy feminist, and that I didn’t have a man in my life and things like that. And on Twitter the same. More has happened to me on Twitter.
BB: In your posts, have you ever had someone tell you, why are you not happier? Because when I wrote my post, there was a woman who told me, why can’t you be happy and see the beautiful side of things? As if I couldn’t be happy because I criticized the trade.
IG: There are two things related to this issue. First of all, women in general—because all this that we are talking about is something structural but let’s focus on our industry—but in general women, and even more so women who communicate about wines, are expected to always have a smile, be kind, be nice. Female communication always has to be positive. And you say, no. Why do we have to? There’s a guy – this came about through things I’ve posted, who said, “I don’t see that in the wine world there is this horrible sexism. Here you have some women who work in my winery and they are always smiling and so on.” That thing about smiling.
Then there are those who talk about wine influencers, that they are always smiling and happy, as if we can’t be critical, as if we can’t communicate in a rigorous way to certain content, and we always have to be happy when men are not required to, right? How many times has someone said, come on girl, don’t be so serious, smile, you’re more beautiful?
BB: What is your opinion of wine influencers, who are usually women and tend to take advantage of that more sexual side.
IG: Here it’s necessary to distinguish between the industry and the freedom of expression of each person. A person who on her profile, for example Paquita Perez, decides to communicate in this way, that we already know uses her body a lot and that is not only talking about wines, in a sensual context, I don’t go there. Let each person do what they want.
I am not against people showing their bodies but I am against brands using women’s bodies to sell. Because it’s not legal to begin with.
Do I empathize with that content? Not at all. I don’t empathize with that and I don’t like anything about it. Moreover, I would not create that type of content because it does not communicate anything, it is not transformative, it does not make the industry as an industry improve or advance.
Yesterday I saw a girl, winespicegirl, I don’t know if you saw it, in her last photo she was opening her jacket like this so that her breasts can be insinuated—and she gets paid. She collaborates with wineries, with Coravin. What is wrong with that? The brands that pay for that type of content, the moment that it is paid content. What it does is show a product that has nothing to do with wine, that is totally unrelated, that shows a woman’s body—you are not selling a bra, come on. You are selling wine.
BB: In an article that appeared in The Guardian a couple of months ago, about female winemakers in Spain, it mentioned that women are good winemakers because they have maternal instincts, more patience, they are intuitive… Why does this type of narrative persist?
IG: Well, it’s the usual. On the one hand, they associate us with those attitudes that correspond to a role that associates us with motherhood, care, patience. In the end what you are doing is making real female talent invisible. If a winemaker is good it is because she has technical control, because she knows the process—and that thing of intuition, that is as if we have magic in our hands or something like that. Come on.
If you make good wine it is because you are a good winemaker, therefore you have scientific and technical knowledge, and you have the experience, and that’s it. You are good at your job. For me, all it does is make the other, the real, invisible, which is not the same for men. It seems that this [professional] attitude is only given to guys. And then those headlines seem horrible to me and they are super common. Even on women’s day, jeez. You see some articles and you say, seriously? Female winemakers and their sensitivity. It is always that, the sensitive side. And that invalidates their work, the person with the mindset, the person that is serious, the person that isn’t smiling all day.
BB: How can we change this narrative?
IG: It’s necessary for those whose job it is to communicate [about wine] to do so with gender perspective. You have to deconstruct yourself. It is our obligation. Because what you are talking about now—I am in the association of (female) journalists of Navarra and we discuss many other issues. How to communicate, for example, about the elderly, how to communicate about gender-based violence, how to communicate about many things. In other words, it is that [in the wine industry] they haven’t applied a filter of inclusive language and non-sexist language, much less gender perspective. How do we solve this? With training and awareness, and by starting to put this issue at the centre of industry concerns. And above all, by those who are dedicated to writing and disseminating information.
I think that if you dedicate yourself to communicating, be an example. That within the communication that you do, on social media or if you have a platform to denounce them, do so. And then in your day to day too–that this is not inclusive, that there is no female presence here, and to empower the women around us because there are times when I do interviews and women don’t want to speak. It happens a lot. A father and a daughter, and the daughter [says] ‘no, no, let him speak’ and the daughter in the end is the one doing all the work. It is there where you should try. Many times we don’t give them a voice. And you have to motivate them and say, come on, come on, there are only four questions. And dignify the work that this woman does. It is very important to support each other.
BB: In a post you wrote that institutions have responsibility and a lot to do, and I think that is also the case in the academic. I feel very disappointed with the fact that they give us training in viticulture, oenology, wine culture–I studied wine tourism–and all these other courses but there are no courses on professional practice, working with alcohol, gender studies. There is a lot of information but it is not given to people entering this field, particularly that there are more women entering these fields, and they do not give us this type of training. I totally agree that institutions have an important role.
IG: Yes. Also there is the equality law that exists in Spain and in Navarra–well, in every [autonomous] community. The mandate is there. Regulatory councils are public law entities. They have a social responsibility and they do nothing. Furthermore, of the 74 Spanish regulatory councils for denominations of origin, only four are headed by women. That gives you an idea of what’s going on. How can that be, in an industry where most of the women who work in the industry live in rural areas, therefore the discrimination is greater and double? How can it be that there is no concern? How can it be that there are no gender studies in the industry? That there is not even segregation of not only those who work in the industry but that of consumers as well. Because when people do their marketing plan and such, the gender perspective isn’t there. I mean, the potential wine consumer is a 50-year-old White man who drinks Rioja because if not, then I don’t understand most of the campaigns out there. And you think, come on, women drink wine. Besides, we are also in the process of reclaiming our social lives, our leisure spaces, why can’t wine accompany us in that? Why not empathize with that? I am very surprised that there isn’t greater discussion about this topic because first of all, there is a mandate from the public administrations to do so and they are not doing it. And secondly, if we want people to drink wine, half of those people are women.
*After my conversation with Irene I was totally inspired. I knew that it was time to continue this conversation with her and other people, other women who are doing amazing work in wine and in making the wine world less dated, more progressive and generally more badass. This interview sets off a series of monthly interviews that for now I’m calling, Badass People Doing Badass Things in Wine (and Other Beverages). Stay tuned for more!