María Florencia Freijo: “It’s encouraging to see more and more women in the world of wine”

International Women’s Day

Women are increasingly breaking down barriers and becoming more visible in the world of wine: they own wineries, work as oenologists, agricultural engineers and in the vineyards and direct commercial operations, scientific research projects and several wine institutions, among many other roles. However, there’s a long way to go before true equality and inclusiveness is achieved.   

Wines of Argentina reaffirms its commitment to achieving these goals and through Women of Argentina and by signing up to the Women Empowerment Principles – an initiative introduced by UN Women and the United Nations Global Pact to Promote Gender Equality – we are focusing our efforts on developing strategies to empower the role of women in the industry.  

However, the difficulties faced by women are present in every sphere and the wine scene is no exception. For March 8, we invited María Florencia Freijo, a political scientist specializing in gender issues and the author of the books Solas, aun acompañadas (Alone, Even in Company, 2019) and (Mal) Educadas ((Mis) Educated, 2020) (Planeta de Libros), to share her thoughts in honor of International Women’s Day.  

International Women’s Day
María Florencia Freijo, political scientist specializing in gender issues.

International Women’s Day: new perspectives

What happens when women are in charge? Are they bossy, hysterical, crazy, conceited or shrill? 

A universal measurement of success is the concentration of wealth, influence and leadership. This is also true of relations between men and women. Right now, if we analyze representation of those in power in both the private and public sectors, we see that women make up less than 20% of leaders and high-ranking public officials. That’s why we say that success wears a suit and tie, it’s a reflection of stereotypical masculinity. 

Those in power establish the cultural dynamics that suit them. When women reach these positions, they have two options: add to their mental burden the need to break down these dynamics, which often brings them opprobrium in their professional career, or accept them and become a part of them.  

But if we also take a look at the level of discrimination and prejudice suffered by women in these spaces, it’s hardly surprising that there is friction. Of course, some people are simply bad leaders who treat those under them with disdain. But we also need to take into account the fact that many women who get to the top must impose themselves fiercely in order to be accepted as an authority figure.  

What is the mental burden that comes with management positions, what is it that women have to face? 

They feel obliged to demonstrate that they are credible. That they’re capable. It’s tough when put like that, but it’s true. We’re asked to justify why we’re there much more. How did we get there? Do we deserve it? If we raise our voices people will wonder who we think we are. If we reject the obligation to become mothers or try to do both – which is a farce because the two roles aren’t compatible, it amounts to a self-destructive workload – we’ll be called either bad mothers or unprofessional. The barriers we face on the job market are endless and go much further than decision-making roles and management positions.   

International Women’s Day

Are we always required to do more? What do organizations need to do to to ensure women get recognition in every sphere?

Yes. And that’s much more than just a personal opinion. There are a vast number of studies that show the cognitive bias against women in the workplace. The bias is a preconception that manifests as a learned truth, and so it seems objective. The bias was created by years of conditioning and a literature that claimed, until quite recently, that women were inferior or more emotional due to the size of our brains. This has been refuted comprehensively by scientific research of the past 30 years. But there are still people around conditioned with these beliefs and, what is much worse, don’t know it.  

Everyone – me included – suffers from these biases which make us uncomfortable with a woman in charge. We analyze everything about them: their tone of voice, how she dresses, etc. But even so we tell ourselves: “I’m not being sexist, it’s just true” and that’s where what is known as “confirmation bias” comes in, rearranging reality to fit our pre-established beliefs.  

We rearrange it to confirm to ourselves that what we’re saying about the women in question is true. It’s something very difficult to change but we should be worried about the barriers that still exist to women occupying such visible spaces. And it’s a barrier that exists even in spaces with high levels of female representation. Unions with a 70% female membership whose leaders are mostly men. Doesn’t anyone find that strange? How many different excuses are we going to find to justify it? 

You say that the word “empowerment” puts women in a position of having “superpowers” but that power is internal and lies in confidence and knowing that you belong. Could you expand a little more on these concepts?  

There’s a couple of traps lurking in the word empowerment. First, it has already been coopted by marketing, we have a very vivid image of the idea that a woman can be all things to all people: leaders, mothers, walk around in high heels all day. The second is that it doesn’t mention men. The world isn’t going to change if men don’t learn to reflect on their behavior and attitudes.  

We continue to “empower” women but they still can’t walk the streets safely without a partner, friends or work colleagues. It’s crazy for people to keep asking us to “feel powerful” in a society that tells us we’re vulnerable. 

To what degree is the education women receive important? 

It’s fundamental. Family is our first introduction to society, but education isn’t just about school. Education is far more relevant when it’s lacking. We forget that the cultural industry educates us, the signs we see on the street, news reports of perpetrators of violence against women going free.  

Education influences both men and women. There are a lot of studies of the differences between girls and boys, especially what some can do and what some can’t. When we see all this in films it can be quite devastating. That’s why my second book – (Mis)Educated – offers an analysis going back to when societies first began to organize politically.  

Some question the rise of feminism because they believe that it might become excessively severe in its own right. What is your opinion of such criticisms?    

The first formally organized feminist groups appeared in the 18th century but there is evidence of women writing about the problems they face dating back to classical times. The first time a woman dared to raise her voice to defend herself she was immediately challenged: Who does she think she is, acting like a man?  

There’s plenty in the bibliography about men talking about “their spaces” and even women in politics – like Eva Perón – who have said that feminists want to take men’s places. The problem is that feminism questions who has the right to be a voice of authority, and so tries to expand power and make it more equitable, not just for other women but also marginalized social groups, because its vision transcends binary norms of sex and gender.  

That’s always going to bother people. Feminism opens your eyes to an undeniable but very uncomfortable reality and also seeks to redistribute decision-making roles. Who isn’t going to be bothered by that? 

The relationship between women and alcohol is still rife with prejudice: a woman who enjoys wine or other drinks is seen as being in danger of “losing control”, “letting herself go”, considered “easy” or “indecent”, etc. How can all this be deconstructed so that women can just enjoy a drink?  

On the post-industrial wine scene, the participation of women has increased greatly in the past 15 years. Hiring women oenologists for the production process or as front manager for brands, etc. is an encouraging trend. I think, fortunately, that it’s an environment where we are taking control of our enjoyment, there’s no doubt about it.  

I also think that we need to think about doing things our way, “not how men do it”, because that sets us up for false comparisons. 

Even the consumption of different varieties has grown more equitable. Before women chose much more gentle wines. Smoothness, simplicity, and lightness are concepts that are immediately associated with the feminine world. 

Fortunately, we’re discovering that there are no gendered “worlds”; they were invented by culture and marketing and that today we can enjoy a good Cabernet Franc, my personal favorite, perfectly happily.  

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