Friday Rant: When is it Appropriate?

I had a completely different post planned for today. I have been ranting a bunch lately and lest you all think I am a bitter curmudgeon, bent on making all of you miserable along with me. Then I decided to post something s bit controversial on Facebook yesterday, and well…

…all heck broke loose.

So being the good blogger that I am, I decided to seize the opportunity and attempt to make a more cogent argument over here.

Here is the background:

I was at a tasting not too long ago headed by a group of winemakers from a particular region. After the very informative tasting, there was a bit of a meet and greet time, which was equally enlightening. At one point, I was talking to one of the winemakers who had spoken about having his daughter eventually take over the winery. Having noticed that the entire panel was both tragically male (as well as white), I asked how a woman winemaker would be received in the region that seemed, at least by appearances, steadfastly male.

The winemaker assured me that there were changes afoot, led by many of the younger generation of winemakers including him.

But he did not stop there.

He went on to indicate that there was an assistant winemaker working for him that, in fact, had a better “nose” and palate then he.

No stopping still….

He added that she was particularly a great taster at certain times of the month, “you know, since she is a woman.”

O. Kaaaaaay.

I looked briefly at another attendee who was talking to the winemaker with me, who happened to be a female. And she cringed. Visibly. And I felt awkward as well.

Woman Nose WineI posted a much briefer version of this whole interaction on Facebook, and within a few minutes there were several different points flying every which way, which I will try to summarize here.

There are three main issues as I see them:

  1. Do women have better olfactory abilities than men?
  2. Do women have heightened sensory abilities during ovulation?
  3. Should this have been brought up at all by my friendly winemaker?

Here are my responses to the above, I would love to hear yours:

  1. Personally, I don’t care. I am not trying to be crass (OK, maybe just a little)–it is not that I don’t care, it’s that it is largely irrelevant for me. All that matters to me is my sensory ability–I think it is likely above average and it helps in my appreciation of wine. The fact that the average woman may or may not have a better nose than the average man has absolutely no bearing on anything that I can control. Gerard_Depardieu_wine_nose_actor_BWSure, it is thought-provoking from an intellectual or trivial aspect, but not much more. Interestingly, almost all the information I found concerning this claim stems from one study done for National Geographic, which was based on a voluntary survey. As a researcher, that is, well, worrisome.
  2. Again, it does not really matter to me, other than from a “well, that is certainly intriguing” point of view. We are done having kids, and we have two boys, so the possibility for any sort of BF Skinner experimentation is extremely remote. From a researcher standpoint, I have yet to see any “hard data” to support this claim. Does it make “sense” that this might be so? Sure—it does not take much of a leap from Darwin’s theory to get to this, but that does not make it true.
  3. Now here is where it gets interesting in my view—the social aspect. One person on Facebook was adamant that there was absolutely nothing wrong with it at all (in part since she accepted the first two points as accepted “science”). She argued (convincingly) that women in general, and their menstrual cycle in particular, have long been demonized by men and that there actually should be nothing wrong with talking about it. Most others (and I am only talking about female respondents) had a different take—expressing their frustration with yet another man making odd claims about a woman’s menstrual cycle. For me? I long ago learned that as a man,  making a statement about a woman’s menstrual cycle and how that relates to the performance of her job is not usually a good idea.

So what are your thoughts? Inappropriate/offensive comment? Blatant sexism? Much ado about nothing?


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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43 Responses to Friday Rant: When is it Appropriate?

  1. We should not make a big deal about it. There are excellent male and female tasters. If we are start putting the feminine sex in a special wine box, we are incurring in a form of positive discrimination.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I followed along with this on Facebook the other day. Honestly, I think it all depends on the context of how the guy said it- and it doesn’t sound like it was malicious. Sure, it’s an odd thing to say to a stranger, but I was fairly apathetic toward the whole thing.


  3. True or not (and I have no clue, and don’t really think it matters), it is completely inappropriate in any case. Especially since there was a woman participating in the conversation. A what in German would be called “Altherrenwitz” (old man joke) does not get less inappropriate if it is just uttered towards exclusively males, but at least you can just ignore it and move on…having attended an all boys school until I reached college, I am all too familiar with jokes and comments made among all males…that doesn’t make them any better.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Let me just first say that I always like a good rant.

    This is a very interesting post posing a lot of interesting questions. First of all, regardless whether women have better “noses” than men in average should not be a matter of discussion, since the whole thing is so subjective. If a woman with a good nose has been f.ex. smoking for years, she will be probably outperformed by a fellow male taster, who is not a smoker. Hormones do play an important role in the enhancement of olfactory ability but there’s no need to generalise this or portraying it as the sole reason for a woman to be a better taster than a man. This particular female assistant winemaker might be a better taster because she is focusing more, tries to establish her aroma memory and is working hard to develop her palate. I would also cringe. We need to start appreciating people for their work.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Katie says:

    A complete aside in the interest of science and nature. Did he really mean while she was ovulating or while she was menstruating? They are two completely different times. You mentioned the former, and I’m wondering if you meant the latter. But either way, discussing it shouldn’t be an uncomfortable topic…regardless of how off-the-wall the statement may be. And there have actually been tons of studies done on a woman’s sense of smell being more sensitive than a man’s, in general…not that I’m arguing the case. It is heightened during pregnancy because of the hormone estrogen, so it may not be such a far stretch to imagine that it may also be the case during certain parts of her cycle. Interesting banter, but in the end, who gives a shit?


    • Do you have any links to the “tons of studies” that you mention? I have looked and looked, but have really only found one that is often cited (a 1986 study based on survey data for the National Geographic). All he ever really mentioned was “during certain times of the month, because she is a woman” (or something to that effect).


  6. sallybr says:

    I am with you in the sense that I find it crass, but don’t care and would not make a big deal about it. One thing I should add, though – there are LOTS of cultural differences in accepted behavior or comments or remarks. When I first moved to the US at age 26, I remember asking a simple question to a technician in our lab and she was offended by it. I was acting according to Brazilian standards, in which the personal boundary is not the same as here. I learned a huge lesson. Maybe the crass remark you witnessed had a bit to do with cultural differences?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Beth says:

    I think it’s possible that females in general may have a better sense of smell and taste, but it doesn’t apply to everyone and it’s not relevant. We are all unique in our abilities and the use of our senses, regardless of gender. I think labeling characteristics of any sort as male or female (gender based) is unwarranted and unnecessary. Furthermore, I really don’t want to bring up the menstrual cycle unless it’s with my doctor or my significant other. Call me crazy.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I agree. Being somewhat familiar with statistics, I can safely say that everyone is on a “tasting continuum” in a way. There are women who can’t taste at all and men who are incredible tasters. Gender alone (or the fact that one may be ovulating) does not, in and of itself, make one a better taster….

      Liked by 2 people

      • robinskone says:

        Taking this in a slightly different direction … there is such a thing as a “super palate” (what — 10% of people?) and that may have been the case. I believe my friend Melenda is in this category . She’s way beyond the raspberries and smoke. She can detect the most incredible things in a glass of wine, and here’s the kicker — she doesn’t even like wine! How unfair is that?? But, she is an incredible cook. So, thinking this isn’t so much gender as being born with a great palate and then working at it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The whole super taster thing is a conundrum for me. If they can detect many more aromas/tastes but the average taster can not–is it truly of any benefit?


  8. ahughes553 says:

    SHUT UP, all of you for FIVE to SEVEN DAYS!!!:)


  9. Very interesting. I love the way you bring up the question and your thoughtful answers to them. I think the jury is out.


  10. robinskone says:

    Okay, I’m not a wine expert — more’s the pity. I took up wine tasting in my late 50s. I think the question is not so much male v. female, but more of young v. old. Let’s face it, as we get older, our bodies lose acuity: “Honey, have you seen my reading glasses?” “I’m sorry, sweetheart, what did you say? You need to speak up.” Unfortunately, this includes the palate. So a young person, male or female, is going to have a better chance of a discerning palate than us older folk. As for whether it was inappropriate (and to my mind crude) to bring up the “ahhh,,. you know… certain times of the month,” Yes; it’s crude, sexist and certainly out-of-place in this setting.

    I am sad to see what used to be considered “unmentionable” now flaunted with great glee (and heaven forbid you should be such an old fogey as to object!) like “The Vagina Monologues,” “Menopause the Musical” and just recently here in Las Vegas, billboards advertising a show: “Puppetry of the Penis.”

    Oh dear, I seem to have worked myself into such a lather that I need to retire to my fainting couch with my smelling salts — and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc — to restore myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Very interesting discussion! I don’t think it was appropriate for him to bring it up at an event with strangers…and the way he said comes off as sexist. It’s good that people are discussing it though!!


  12. paigesato says:

    Lots of stuff gets attributed to women being different from men (mostly because of their menstrual cycle). When I lived in Japan and asked about the scarcity of women sushi chefs, I was told it was because their hands’ temperatures fluctuated accordingly and were too warm to handle the fish. Just something else to file under “things that make you go hmmmm”

    Liked by 1 person

  13. barnraised says:

    I’d go with your social graces. Whether or not it was a big deal, better just left unsaid. Like religion and politics!


  14. I realize this is so offensive to so many people. Was it inappropriate, perhaps, but I am just not offended. What more can I say?

    Liked by 1 person

  15. dwdirwin says:

    I think it’s kind of funny but then, I am not easily offended or outraged.


  16. I agree with Effi. The issue isn’t whether the science behind the comment is true, the issue is that (as a society) we turn women into sexual bodies rather than hard working and talented individuals.

    A woman can work hard at being the best wine assistant she can, and still there’s a man behind her saying, “oh, you’re only better than me because you menstruate” as a way of placating his deficiency. It isn’t his fault she is better than him if he doesn’t have ovaries, so therefore, that must be the reason. Rather than seeing her for her hard work, she is appreciated more for her sexual functions in society. It is definitely cringe worthy and I, unfortunately, am not surprised that this happened. 😦


  17. Scientifically it has been researched that women do have a better olfactory response than men. But as with everything, it is a generalization. Men are stronger than women, Women have a better sense of balance than men. There are women who are stronger than men and men who have better balance than women. I think people get offended when they are uncomfortable with situations. This person, may have made observations about “that time of month” and it may be absolutely true for who he was speaking about. But it again is a generalization. I learned a long time ago, that not everyone thinks the way I think, and I can’t expect them to be held to my standards. That’s what makes the world go round.


  18. NK says:

    So, disclosure: I’m a feminist.

    His inclusion of the fact that she had a better nose at certain times is sexist. Period. Sexist doesn’t mean hatred or that he should burn in hell. It’s a spectrum. And here is the issue and why it is sexist: She has a better palette than him. That’s it. By saying, “that time of the month” he is JUSTIFYING the time she is better by something that is caused, inherently, by her being a woman. Essentially: I am better than her EXCEPT when she is ovulating/menstruating. Or: She is only better than me because she is a woman and that gives her an advantage at other times.

    The wine world is run by white males. Don’t believe me? Look at most wine associations, the makeup of sommeliers, etc. I do not believe that women should be handed anything nor should we suddenly revere them as having the best noses simply because they get their period. But I do believe that it is perfectly fine to engage in conversations about gender, race, religion, and all the other factors we love to use to set people apart, for better or for worse. Someone has to have the conversation.

    Here, of course, it was impossible to have that conversation. But maybe someone close to him will call him out the next time.

    Also, for what it’s worth: I have often heard from girlfriends who’ve been pregnant that their sense of smell is better during pregnancy. Something to do with hormones. I always have a keen sense of smell although I notice it is better at certain times… I never thought to track it with my cycle. I probably won’t start, either, because that’s far too much work.


  19. Ellen Hawley says:

    I don’t have a problem with talking about the fact that women have periods. If you care to be embarrassed, I’ll talk about it more than you want. I do, however, have a problem with men who think they know what that’s like, and who attribute all sorts of silliness to it. I’m not a wine taster–or a wine drinker–but I’m a food eater and an air sniffer, and I’ve never noticed the least bit of change in my sense of taste or smell over the course of a month. But I’m just sure there’s a man out there somewhere who’d be happy to convince me that he knows more about it than I do.

    And in case someone feels attacked, no that’s not all men, just some. You’ve met them. You know you have.


    • Yeah, I just did not understand why on earth he went there. Perhaps a poor analogy, but I am rather tall, and I get a little perturbed when shorter people try to tell me how great it has to be being tall. I never say it, but I am thinking “You’re short. You have no idea what you are talking about. Just be quiet now.”

      Poor analogy, I know….


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