We get it. To be a woman is to be a body, and the worth of that body is contingent upon its conformity to the dominating culture’s standard of feminine beauty. Basically, sucks to be a woman. Except it doesn’t. Even though women are objectified in every industry, sexually assaulted at astounding rates across the globe, spoken over, interrupted, and criticized in ways that are brutally unfair, we are actually quite powerful. Women are responsible for 70-80% of consumer purchasing either through direct buying or our influence over someone else’s decision to buy.
In almost every culture, women are the primary caregivers for the elderly and children, and so our purchases have a multiplier effect. We buy for ourselves, we buy for our households, we buy for our in-laws, church friends, neighbors, cousins, kids’ teachers, the universe. We make up 47% of the work force in the United States. As 75% of the teachers in this country, we are directly responsible for the education of the nation’s future business owners, politicians, lawyers, doctors, teachers, parents, judges... you get the picture. We are 55% of undergraduates enrolled in college, 96% of dental hygienists, 91% of registered nurses, 84% of cashiers, 60% of accountants, and 53% of pharmacists.
While we get some help from our male counterparts, our bodies are 100% responsible for the delivery of 10,829 babies a day in the United States alone. Without women, this world would fall apart. I’m not saying that women are better than men. That’s not productive discourse. I am saying that women are essential. And this is why marketing strategies meant to reduce women to sexual objects is more than insulting; it’s bad business. The cannabis industry is revolutionary in many ways. That it is booming despite a federally illegal status is astounding. Cannabis’ impressive medicinal benefits due to its unique synergy with the human body hasresearchers, medical professionals, and pharmaceutical companies going to great lengths to get their hands on this organic product. But when it comes to gender stratification, the cannabis industry could be doing better. In an op-ed for the Cannabist, Betty Aldworth, the executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and former deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, talked about the sexism she and other women in cannabis are accustomed to enduring at cannabis events including uncomfortably long and sensual embraces, inappropriate comments, and unwanted stares—typical experiences all women are familiar with. As Aldworth so aptly states, “this is not unique to the brand-new cannabis industry, largely made up of recent transplants from other businesses. The undercurrent of bias that makes it more difficult for anyone other than the culturally privileged to be objectively assessed for their performance or potential exists everywhere.”
Sexism, ableism, racism, and all manners of bigotry are going to infiltrate the cannabis industry because those discriminatory paradigms are already a part of the culture at large. But, because the legal cannabis industry is so nascent, it is in the unique position to rebel against those bigoted tropes. A few ways to do that? Stop relying on sexualized images of women to sell cannabis. Stop turning women into “booth babes” at trade shows. Stop assuming that women at cannabis events are part of the entertainment, or that women in the industry know less or have a weaker tolerance than men. Tune in to the incredible ways that women have been the trailblazers in the cannabis industry. Appreciate a woman’s capacity to be sexy…and intelligent and innovative and assertive and influential.
Stop Marketing to Misogynists
Marketing to an audience of misogynists excludes and offends an enormous portion of the market. Remember what I said about women holding 70-80% of purchasing power? That may not be the case in cannabis yet (men still use cannabis about twice as much as women), but as legalization continues and public perception of cannabis improves, it very well may be. In fact, Jane West, the co-founder of Women Grow stated that “in the not-so-distant future, women are going to become the dominant purchasers of cannabis products,” attributing that belief to the idea that women will purchase cannabis to supplement their well-being. Sexual objectification is the most obvious gimmick there is. While it may entice some folks, it appears tasteless and crude to a lot of others.
That’s not going to help the cannabis industry gain the legitimacy and branding it needs to appeal to a world that is still pretty suspicious of its acceptability. I mean think about it. It’s going to be harder to convince a parent interested in the medicinal uses of cannabis to advocate for the plant if images of scantily clad women frequently accompany their online research into the subject. There are other ways to appeal to people than sex. So when it comes to sexism, the cannabis industry could be doing better, but it could also be doing worse.
According to an October 2015 survey conducted by Marijuana Business Daily, women hold 36% of leadership positions in the industry, a much higher number than the 22% average for U.S. businesses overall. In testing labs, women hold almost 50% of essential decision making positions like president, CEO, or owner/founder. These are encouraging numbers and represent the industry’s capacity to embrace social change at a faster pace than the rest of the work force. Here’s the thing. Our world does not do a good job of sharing power. Those who have it hoard it for themselves and then pretend that they are no different from those who have only ever heard the word.
Cannabis can be an industry that operates differently. Just look at the flower itself—the way that it engages with our endocannabinoid systems to produce and maintain homeostasis, balance. The critiques presented here aren’t meant to shame women for their choices to which they are entitled, but to encourage both men and women to widen their vantage points, reach a greater audience, and break down the stigmas that have stripped women and cannabis of the dignity with which they should be viewed.