Picture this: you walk into the city’s coolest new bar and snag a seat before ordering your favorite drink. As you wait for your date to arrive, the bartender skillfully prepares the cocktail with finesse and flair. More often than not, the person you’ve imagined as the one behind the bar is male, perhaps sporting an ironically hip mustache, swept-back hair, or a sleeve of edgy tattoos. He’s confident, he’s got charm, and he’s the one in charge.
This smooth, flirtatious and distinctively male image of a bartender is one that has dominated our cultural consciousness, aided in part by spy movies and media attention. Argentina is no exception to this standard. In fact, according to recent reports in 2016, only 10 percent of bar staff working in Buenos Aires were women. This is alarming due to the sheer amount of women who work in the service industry in general, as wait staff or hosts, for example.
Yet women simply have not had the same opportunities to work at higher managerial roles like mixologists, sommeliers, or brewing specialists. The gender gap doesn’t just stop with alcoholic beverages: there is similarly a huge disparity between men and women working in cafés too. It’s more often than not that your barista serving your daily cortado complete with latte art will be a man, regardless of how many women there are working around him in less visible positions.
Mapa de Barmaids is an organization founded by Laura Marajofsky and is hoping to help combat the inequality of women working in the drinks industry. The mapa is much more than just a geographic map of barmaids across Argentina, contrary to what the title suggests. This project is a visual network and platform for women in all aspects of the industry to all be under one roof, and to be recognized and visible in Argentine society. It is a very graphic way of pointing out that they are here, they are working, and they can do just as well a job as any male bartender or barista.
“The format of using a ‘map’,” Laura tells me, “became the most logical route, as it seems to be the visual and practical way to demonstrate what these women are doing all around the country.” The map is also interactive, which means you can actively engage with where and what these women do, and any personal projects that they may have coming up.
The format also reminds us of how important it is to move away from the Capital-centrism that we sometimes suffer from in Buenos Aires. The capital is not the only city in the country, and there are important women working in the gastronomy industry from provincia to Córdoba to Mendoza. This national gastro-cultural project will create links between different bars and coffeeshops all over the country, making it easier for women to find work and be recognized outside their own city, and in others too.
For someone that does not work in the sector herself, I wondered why Laura was passionate about helping these women. “Half of my friends work in the food and drinks world, either as food critics, or managers, or barmaids, and it became obvious that something should be done in unifying these women,” she tells me.
Besides, as a journalist, gender in Argentina has been a key interest in her writing, as she has written about everything from body image, to the #MeToo campaign. Laura’s experience with her blog DrinkMe meant she has established various links in the drinks industry; it was just a matter of time before she brought together a team of influential women.
Sabrina Traverso is a household name in Buenos Aires, as she was the bartender at the famously chic watering hole Presidente and is now working at newly minted downtown bar Lignée; most significantly, however, is that she was a semifinalist for the 2017 edition of the global World Class Club ultimate bartending competition, which compares the best bartending talent from over 60 different countries.
Despite her prestigious title as a semifinalist, and her renowned experience as a drink connoisseur, Sabrina’s story is a common one when it comes to barmaids in the capital: it was extremely tough to get to her managerial position, and it continues to be a challenge every day. “Just ask yourself: how many women do you actually see working as a boss in a bar?”, she asked me. It is getting easier, she tells me, as movements like the #NiUnaMenos start to pinpoint the fact that prejudices and inequality do not only manifest themselves through physical abuse but also through everyday sexist comments at work.
Equally, barista Agustina Román has been important in the world of everything coffee. Román works at Ninina Bakery , where she has spent the past 18 months specializing in producing the coffee. Like Traverso, Román has also far exceeded herself in rankings by being in the finals of the Concurso Nacional de Baristas, and to top it off, she was the only woman in the group of finalists. The lack of women in the industry is not only obvious at national competitions, but there is a disproportion in her café too. “In the seven years that I have been working in the field, there have been very few female baristas. There have been like three or four baristas at work: there’s always a lot more men than women.”
Córdoba-native Pipi Yalour also plays a crucial part in this project, and she’s also a pioneer of sorts: she was named the first female ambassador for Campari earlier this year. This significance is two-fold: this is the first time a woman has reached this position as a representative of the brand both here and abroad, second, she is from the interior (not Buenos Aires).
Despite being head mixologist at one of the hottest cocktail bars – Francis Güemes in Córdoba – being from the provincia certainly put a spanner in the works to becoming nationally recognized in the drinks industry. It is significantly harder to move up the ranks and have the same amount of attention than one who works in Buenos Aires, and Yalour experienced it firsthand. The mapa acts against this trend of blanking out people working in other parts of the country and makes these women visible by clearly marking them out: “By mapping us out in this project, it unifies us, and that’s really valuable.”
The tedious process of working her way up the ladder to be recognized was not only hindered by her location. After a few years in working in the industry, Yalour started to notice that when looking to promote staff, bosses prioritized gender over the skills that the employee offered. “At the end of the day, there are a lot of men who are given the benefit of the doubt; it is just assumed that the men can do complicated tasks, whereas women have to work a lot harder to demonstrate their ability to do the job well.” As she is now in the position of hiring staff herself, she tries to prioritize women as long they have the same capabilities as a man, as a way of balancing out the inequalities.
As Yalour points out, it’s not only the lack of women working in bars that plagues the drinks industry. Machismo is really at play in the bar environment as well, as banter and inappropriate physical contact by both the clientele and the staff are everyday challenges many barmaids face. This seemingly innocent ‘banter’ can become a huge problem for women working behind the bar.
But with the rise of feminist movements in Argentina, it has spurred the ability to start to denaturalize machista attitudes in the gastronomy industry, as it’s starting to be recognized as a form of abuse. By pointing out toxic behavior and defining it as wrong, there can be progression within the industry and make the working environment less challenging for women.
This project could not come at a better time. The signs for a new era in the drinks industry, lead by people like these three women, has already begun to spark off. The project is reaching at this new trend and will be incredibly important in counteracting the lack of visibility that these women tackle, defined by their gender, location, and even ethnicity. By marking them on the map with their names, faces, and personal projects, it is recognizing that all these women are hugely significant.
Yet it doesn’t just stop at the map; Laura wants to create an interactive platform that will produce content and events, and then organize a National Meeting connecting the different geographical parts of the industry nationwide. Other companies are getting a look into this project as well, as they have gotten some big-time sponsors involved including Campari and Bodegas de Callia. Keep your eyes peeled for new information about its release date.