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Victimized or Empowered: the controversy and social undertones of one Alaskan brewery's beer title

March 22, 2017

Local Alaskan craft beer brewery, The Midnight Sun Brewing Company, has recently been under fire with accusations of promoting rape culture and the sexual victimization of women for their Belgian-style tripel beer named Panty Peeler and the associated label artwork on the beer can. Members of the Alaskan community have stated that this beer is offensive and dangerous to women, especially coming from a state with the nation’s highest rate of sexual assault. While these accusations are founded in constructive social ideals, they are a misguided solution to an underlying problem of victimizing women rather than empowering them. 

 

Rape and sexual assault is a serious problem within our communities that all too often goes unreported and unjustified. One sexual assault is one too many. It is unfortunate that our social structure and justice system have not always provided the safe and supportive environment needed for women to stand up against their offenders. 

 

There are also alcohol and substance abuse problems within our state as well. Oftentimes alcohol and substance abuse go hand in hand with sexual assault. Within our country as a whole, this is a problem—take for instance the highly publicized case of college student and rapist Brock Turner and his short six‐month sentence for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman during a college party. The woman he assaulted was incoherent. He dismissed any responsibility for his actions. Prosecutors fought for a six year sentence in prison, but the judge sentenced him six months in jail; he was released after three. Because Turner was a young, bright, Stanford college student and because he was under the influence of alcohol, the judge granted him leniency, allowing him to be released early. Isn’t drunken sexual assault still sexual assault? And shouldn’t the law be upheld for everyone—regardless of class or race? By granting leniency, the judge dismissed the crimes committed against the young woman who fought for her own justice for a full year. 

 

Additionally, our society oftentimes places the blame on victims of sexual assault for allegedly getting themselves into risky situations. In no way does a woman solicit sexual assault by wearing a sexy or skimpy outfit, and in no way does this relinquish any man from his own self-control—drunk or sober. Women are not objects of sexual desire. All women should be respected for their mind, body, and spirit, however they are dressed. And we should all, men and women, be held accountable for our actions.

 

Alaska has recently received a federal grant to reopen over one thousand unfinished cases of rape and sexual assault. No one seems to know why so many rape kits over several decades had gone unprocessed, but this is a great opportunity for some victims of sexual abuse to potentially receive lawful justice. 

 

Taking strides against sexual assault continues to be a long and tumultuous battle in our communities on the local and national level. The gravity of rape carries over to the gravity of the accusations of promoting rape. This brings me back to The Midnight Sun Brewing Company. Upon a glance I can see where people make the connections from a beer named Panty Peeler, to the naked woman on the label artwork, to the image being perceived as sexual in nature, and then to alcohol related sexual assault. But even breaking down this connection step by step, I have some difficulty. 

 

The beer name is Panty Peeler. Without context, I can see that this name might seem a little unorthodox to some, but the name is open to interpretation. This beer is made from coriander and orange peel. Panty Peeler may be just be a play on words with orange peel and undergarments. To make the leap from a beer named Panty Peeler, to sexual assault is a stretch. There are many reasons to remove one’s undergarments, but rape is the last reason I think of. 

 

Second the picture on the beer can doesn’t appear to be sexual in nature at all. There is a cartoon woman who is riding a caribou across the sky, naked, throwing her bra and panties to the wind. Sure the woman is nude, but being nude doesn’t always imply or solicit sexual advances. The woman appears to be a happy, strong, and free person, who is naked by her own accord. Midnight Sun Brewing Company also carries another beer called Pleasure Town IPA with a naked man riding a caribou through the sky as well. We are not up in arms over this beer, but why? Because a naked man doesn’t warrant sexual solicitation, but a woman does? If so, I am not only concerned that people in my community jump from a mild image of a naked woman to rape, I am disgusted. As a woman, my body—naked or clothed—will never be subjected to over‐sexualization or victimization by anyone. Men and women are not just their bodies, and Midnight Sun Brewing Company's cartoon images do not support any notion of victimization. 

 

I understand that concerned people seek to be sensitive to social and health issues within our state, but sometimes when one becomes overly sensitive to issues, it can perpetuate problems rather than alleviate them. Take for instance the issues of racial inequality. As an Alaskan Native Inupiaq woman, I believe it is important to be proud of my culture and proud of my fellow native people, but at the same token I don’t separate myself from my nonnative peers. I don’t wish to be treated any differently in opportunity or accolades amongst any group of people. When we start using gender or racial identifiers in everything that we do, we are perpetuating a separateness between people rather than working together. If we’re sensitive enough to know and understand there are differences among us, but create a world catering to those differences we’re perpetuating a problem of inequality. If we become overly sensitive about this cartoon image of a woman’s body and even insofar suggest that it promotes rape culture, we are supporting an idea that women’s bodies are reduced to objects of prey. And this is not true. Women are not prey; they own their bodies, just like men do. 

 

I advocate the empowerment of women, but by attacking a local brewery owned and operated by women, will that fix anything? Is it the best route to combat a statewide sexual assault epidemic? There are bigger and better avenues to combat sexual assault like raising awareness and educating people at a young age. We should be teaching children and adults about boundaries. Everyone should recognize that these people are your friends, your family members, and your neighbors. We should be persecuting sexual offenders, rather than giving them a slap on the wrist. Instead of blaming a beer can, we should be holding offenders accountable, the justice system should follow through and carry out proper sentencing, and we should empower women, not victimize them. Changing one beer name isn’t the solution to the greater problem. 

 

The discussion is ongoing and the exposure to social issues are being recognized. It’s both a shame and blessing that it had to happen at the expense of a local, cooperative, and forthcoming organization The Midnight Sun Brewing Company. 

 

I understand that most people have good intentions behind these accusations. I understand that they feel they are doing their part in combatting serious social and health problems. It can be difficult to draw a line between what is creative and what is appropriate, and sometimes when one has to question or defend the motives so much, then there probably are inherent flaws in it to begin with. I agree. I see this, but I also feel I have some responsibility to question the basis of these allegations and to question these perceptions of women as a whole. Our perceptions of each other drive our social interaction. It is important to be progressive and empowering towards women rather than belittling or victimizing, especially in a state with the highest rate of sexual assault. Is the problem the beer can, or is the problem a dated perception of women? Because a naked woman on a beer can doesn’t offend me, but the fact that you correlate women’s bodies with rape culture offends me, and concerns me as well. 

 

Victimized or empowered? I choose empowered.

 

 

 

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