In January 1849, 28-year-old Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to graduate from medical school and, at the time of her death 60 years later, more than 7,000 women had followed her into the medical profession. In 1865, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton started a decade-long push urging Congress to give women the right to vote, a fight that took their successors an additional 40 years to win. And, later this month, women will apparently finally be able to drink Scotch, thanks to Johnnie Walker’s brave decision to put a lady on one of its bottles.
“While his look has had subtle changes over the years, he has always conveyed the brand's unique point of view and symbolised moving forward,” Johnnie Walker said in a statement. “As a brand that has stood for progress for nearly 200 years, Johnnie Walker is proud to take this next step forward by introducing Jane Walker as another symbol of the brand's commitment to progress.”
For the first time in its history, the iconic “Striding Man” who has doffed his top hat toward the Men and Only Men who drink Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch will be replaced by a top hat wearing woman named Jane Walker—but only for a limited time. I’m sure I join other easily frightened ladies when I say, “Finally!.” Because, much like Mike Pence around any ovary-bearer who isn’t Mother, I worry whether I should be alone with Johnnie Walker. I’ll feel much safer drinking by myself when I’m accompanied by a cartoon woman who looks like she left her show horse in the loading zone beside my apartment.
“Scotch as a category is seen as particularly intimidating by women,” Stephanie Jacoby, vice president of Johnnie Walker, told Bloomberg. “It’s a really exciting opportunity to invite women into the brand.”
Thus, women, much like vampires, must be invited to join your Scotch party. Unfortunately, the facts say otherwise. According to statistics from Nielsen, the percentage of US whiskey (and whisky) drinkers who are women was 29 percent in 2016, up from 28.2 percent in 2010.
Until they made a clunky effort to copy and paste a women on its Black Label, both Johnnie Walker and its parent company Diageo, have actually been known for their commitment to gender equality in the workplace; almost half of Johnnie Walker’s expert blenders are women, and it has a better-than-average percentage of women in leadership positions throughout the company. (ScotchWhisky.com says that Diageo is “among the best companies in the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100” for the number of women in executive and leadership roles).
Despite the questionable label swap, both Johnnie and Jane Walker seem to have their hearts in the right place. One dollar of the purchase price from each bottle of Jane Walker—up to $250,000—will be donated to “organisations championing women's causes.” That includes contributions to Monumental Women, a nonprofit that has noticed that Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton should probably be added to the 23 statues scattered throughout Central Park, none of which represent a real woman. (Sorry, Alice in Wonderland). Another portion of the proceeds will go to She Should Run, an organisation that provides support and resources for aspiring female political leaders.
There are better ways that Johnnie Walker could have expressed its support for women, and even acknowledged its own efforts toward workplace equality. But instead, it dressed a woman up in Johnnie’s clothes and called it a day. That doesn’t necessarily make me want to drink Scotch but, good lord, it does make me want to drink something.