; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Goodfellas ;

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Tea might be the ultimate boys club.

This isn't a conclusion I arrive at lightly, nor without some consideration. No, I have to examine the boys clubs I've survived so far, mostly through luck and amazing circumstances. Apologies in advance if this gets long.

As a girl, I ran in a neighborhood consisting entirely of boys. We had our  friend Jeff, a quiet and kind little boy who still lives today in his parents' house. He wasn't a problem. We also had Mike, a sadist who considered torturing frogs and kittens great fun. We all saw him sneaking to his school psychologist sessions every week. He kicked my 7 year old legs to and from the bus stop before and after school, every day for months. Then one evening when our families had dinner at their house, a group wrestling session led to a split second when I accidentally socked him in the eye, and he ended up crying on his mother's lap. I got to watch that lucky humiliation from the doorway. He ignored me from then on, all the way and out the door of high school.
Cassie Punches Kon, Teen Titans 1960s, credit
We also had a large neighbor boy, Danny. He had an intellectual disability but he was huge. He solo'ed an entire team himself in our neighborhood American-style football games. Took all of us little kids, Mike included, to tackle Danny down. Mostly Danny was cheerful and benign, but one day he decided to take me and Missy, Mike's younger sister, and wrap up our arms and legs with duct tape and sat us up on the wood stove in Danny's garage. When he went into the house to look for matches, Missy and I jumped down and hopped away. Got lucky that day for sure. And it got better when my dad bought out Danny's dad. Danny moved to Alaska, and we moved into the house. All the fist fighting ended for me when I hit adolescence, and the boys started looking at me funny. And they developed a serious interest in Playboy. I was furious. Couldn't fist fight my way out of that one and knew when to Walk Away, but it wasn't without some chagrin.

Next we have the Catholic Church, probably one of the most closed of boys clubs. But even here the glass ceiling can be shattered with a little bit of luck. Well, maybe more than luck. I took a job as a young nun at a parish directing the religious education program. But I guess a young nun was a little too scary for the local priest. At the end of the first month, I arrived at my office to find the keys to the rectory, the sacristy and the safe along with a letter saying he was moving to another parish with his live-in housekeeper and their two basset hounds. Yes. The diocese didn't have anybody else to assign, and I was told the parish would be closed within a year or two. Had to run that place and an attached mission church by myself to train the people there to do everything themselves to avoid closure. I was 23 years old. One of the most amazing moments of that time occurred one evening when I had to attend a deanery meeting, which is the club of diocesan priests, who had gathered to receive a series of parish policy updates. The Green Bay diocese was run at that time by Bishop Adam Maida, one of the most conservative of John Paul II's appointees, and a real political climber, so I'd heard. You can bet he was in the club of men wanting to see nuns like myself clad up in habits and locked away behind cloisters. But that evening he gave me the policy books, and said: "I hear you're doing a really good job out there. Keep it up." He gave me a heart-warming smile and a special blessing and I heard the glass splintering over my head.
"Radical" Nuns, lafinjack
So you'd think a Tier 1 university PhD program wouldn't be any problem after all that. But if you plan to choose a math-related field, think again. Getting downgraded when you read primary sources, and the male professor doesn't but thinks he's doing me a favor by donating to pro-choice, all that was the least of the problems I had. Add in competition for assistantships, coming in second for job postings among the guys happened every day. The ultimate insult occurred when my dissertation committee couldn't read the math in my third chapter and didn't even bother to admit it until the defense. They passed me with honors but what kind of honor is it when nobody reads your paper? I'll never be 100% sure of my paper without a fair critique. Boys. Wouldn't of survived it myself except as a teenager I secretly read Marilyn French's banned book "The Women's Room," her story of surviving a PhD program at Harvard in the early 1970s. Her image of woman in male-dominated academia is unforgettable, wearing a skirt and suit coat with bouffant curled hair she felt like she dropped menstrual blood on the floor as she walked down Harvard's hallowed halls, "splat, splat." This is the heart of the matter. Thinking to myself "splat splat" saved my sanity more than once.
Not me, but damn close.
Oddly, the 2011 article behind this photo is called "Women on the Shelf," and refers to the book as a story about women's "domesticity" in the 1970s, did the author read the book?? Even today, people still can't handle it, they neglect her story of Harvard, and rewrite the book's entire meaning. At age 13, I had to hide my copy from my step-mother, back then I thought she's my only real problem.

My professional life clearly didn't give me enough trouble because I seem to pick hobbies that are dominated by male voices. My first video game was Pong in 1975 and I've played ever since. Keeps my brain sharp. But if I found bishops or professors a challenge, they are nothing compared to the boys who play games. Lately this boys' club even made the BBC with the death threats against Anita Sarkeesian, a "feminist video gamer" intending to speak on images of women in video games at a conference. She not only withdrew from the speaking engagement, but had to go into hiding. Having translated games from the Japanese, written game guides and moderated gaming forums, I've had enough shit slung at me from the boys to see Anita's problem immediately. Her gamer creds consisted of Wii and IPad gaming and she hadn't even mastered the games. It's not Anita's fault she's a girl, and she shouldn't have to put up with death threats. And she knows when to Walk Away. But take it from another girl who wanders through the hallowed halls of boy-dom, don't even bother to comment unless you master your game. Even on the relatively polite Japan servers, my Chinese guild mates used to tell me "we don't think girls should really game after 20 years old." Why not? "Because you should be focused on being mothers." I had a son already at university; my age in life and well, my mastery gear too, earned me a pass.
The Paragon Choice, Mass Effect poll
Age and good gear get you further in the boys club of tea too. Experience and treachery will always win out over youth and vigor. That aphorism actually applies to the tea, not just to tea drinkers. The older the tea is, and the more made-up the origins behind the tea cake, the higher the price. And whomever owns that treacherously old tea, why that wallet of yours alone will get you places. If you drive a BMW too, then you're untouchable. (Just for the record, I drive an old Toyota. Like Marilyn French. Splat, splat.)

Here we are yet again when the BEST sheng puerh forum on the internet, in English, bar none, is badgerandblade.com "Sheng of the Day." Yes, people we have a website dedicated to men's shaving which also hosts the Best of the Best in Puerh Commentary (or Dysentery, depending upon the teas, and where "dissent and commentary have mixed," old Annie Hall joke). We can actually read about how Hobbes got started drinking fresh, raw Xiaguan almost 10 years ago, and how all the boys followed suit. I read all 340+ pages of the forum.

After someone sent me a link to this incredible topic of thousands of posts covering years of puerh drinking, I wrote a few well-known teaboys who post on there. The responses I got were unanimous.

"It's a shaving forum? It is? I never noticed that."

Look at the forum home page. You'd think you walked into a male locker room. Oh, and don't drop the shaving soap, there's guys like Greek Guy in there. A whole site full of Goodfellas, err, maybe the English public school version with aristocratic nicknaming conventions intact and in play.

"Well, why don't you become a member and join in the discussion?"

Don Cherry on female reporters in men's locker rooms.
workopolis.com 1 May 2013 Editorial
Uh huh. Let's see, we have a few token females on this site. They've got their own dedicated forum of Wet Leg Shavers, or something like that. Do I really want to comment that I pluck my beard and moustache hairs, rather than shave? Will that get me extra Bravery Points? (for the record the word "moustache" is red lined as a spelling error in TextEdit, is that male encoding or female??) No, I pluck...not because I'm trying to be oh-so-female, but I've had my own prior examples. I used to watch the little old nunnies walk down the hall with their long beard hairs, wigs and nylon stockings scrunched up at the swollen ankles, farting as they walked, and I told myself I will never, ever,  become THAT. I will do anything it takes not to become that. One factoid of nuns you might not know, years of wearing a veil leaves a nun completely bald on the top of her head, and does not discriminate the full-headed from the sparse, all are bald and not from shearing. Genetics notwithstanding, women in veils are bald too.

I wonder if Steepster gets such a bad rap among the Boys not just because of the rating system, but because the site has so many women? Splat, spat. Is this such a controversial thing to say? Are there any examples of Puerh Tea Moguls out there who are women? Does anyone know of any? I mean, serious women buyers and sellers walking to Taiwan in high heels, splat splat, buying the best tea at auction up from underneath the boys. Do we know of them or do we only know how many sons they've got? Or are all the girls wearing the sun hats and doing the picking of tea buds out amongst the bushes?

"Now the moon is a sliver in our eyes, we stumble bleeding on this broken glass. There was too much repetition, over and over and over again. You know we're past the point of sane, over and over and over again. And all this broken glass we've left behind won't let us make a clean, clean. I said, Walk Away."
Indigo Girls, reimagined by munecas
I've got a sneaking feeling, a nagging sensation, that yep the girls are still the ones picking the buds, running the parishes, having the babies, doing the math, preparing and drinking the tea.
2014 Guinness Book of World Records. Yep.
But somebody else of the male persuasion is running the puerh tea racket, doing the buying, the talking, the scheming, telling the stories of origins and getting the credit behind the scenes. Splat, splat.

Gonna raise my cup now to all the gals, the ones trying to break into the tea business. The ones with the cash keeping all those boys afloat and doing the housework while they are all online. The girls doing the pouring and the talking where it counts, cuz she's a good old boy. It's up to all of you younger ones, this old biddie is tired and I'm-a drinka a cuppa for you. Splat, splat. Cheers!


  1. Great post. I'll say right off that I'm also a dude (who shaves). Though maybe unlike many tea nerds I also geek out about a lot of other beverages, I'm drinking some awesome coffee right now actually :) Related to this post, I've noted a suspicious lack of female voices/industry presence/active connoisseurship(?) in pretty much all of these worlds, be it tea, craft beer, wine, "third-wave" coffee, craft cocktails etc, to say nothing of the strange lack of famous female chefs. Obviously this is not because women are inferior tasters or that they somehow lack connoisseurship abilities, in fact the opposite is the probably more accurate; men are stereotypically more egotistical and narrow-minded, and to me, nothing gets more in the way of honest tasting/assessment/appreciation. I'm guessing it's probably mostly an extension of male dominance/sexism and exclusion in the business realm that's mostly to blame. Also maybe a societal thing wherein there's an expectation that women ought to be more passive and less outspoken about their preferences, differing instead to (male) experts. Whatever the reasons, the situation must be changed!

    1. Regardless of the area of tea industry, I think it is hard for women to break in, whether it is the academy, or buying and selling aside from the traditional shopgirl and service roles. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Replies
    1. Not sure what there would be to fight about, we seem to pick a number of the same teas. It is more of an issue for me to make sure I don't overlap reviews with other bloggers if I can help it, for the sake of tea readers to have some variety in their reading.

    2. Hobbes likes to project a bit o' that brit country boy masculinity...

  3. Ah, forgot, there are most definitely female tea moguls around. They just go about doing their thing and not particularly brag about too much. You can spot one or two, but they comment quite irregularly.

    We have had vague discussions about representative numbers of women in tea before. Nothing too serious, though...

    For me, I do not pay much attention to Steepster aside from the puerh of the day thread because most of the commentators aren't that interested in the teas I'm interested in. Also, I don't really trust opinions by people who haven't been drinking for awhile. It takes a really long time, to me, before you get much of a bearing on understanding what's a good puerh. I did not notice that participation had more women, though. I certainly didn't recognize about just how male the Badger and Blade was, even in the puerh topics, until this post pointed that out.

    1. Well maybe you can show me references to some lady tea moguls?

      As for Steepster, the real discussions go on behind the public forums on logs. You have to friend the people to get their log updates. There are long time puerh drinkers who mainly post in their logs or those of others.

    2. Reread that part-

      While there are lady collectors with all of the rare stuff, like the woman MarshalN befriended in the early days of his blog, and there are some serious women players in making tea/history (tea business much friendlier to women than other occupations in China...), and there are certainly rich women, like the ones you see on Tony Chen's Facebook page, who'll buy hyper-expensive tea without blinking an eye, I don't think you see very many women who are "in your face/in the public eye" buyers and sellers of tea, and with regard to that, I think issues of women in media is probably a bigger problem than women in tea/tea business.

    3. Based on the teas I've photographed for my blog, I could easily fit the criteria of buying super expensive cakes without blinking an eye. I recall one of your entry posts on badgerandblade said something about the good teas being expensive and the buyer has to "suck it up," which is a phrase I've used and borrowed directly from your post. Perhaps you meant something different in 2012 than today in 2014 but I borrowed it in my discussion of Tea for Old People in reference to Bucket List teas. However, my usage of it refers more to buying tea later in life specifically, when a tea drinker might be looking for unique experiences or to avoid gut bombs.

      But back to your point, MarshalN's tea buying friend is fictionalized with a female pseudonym, obviously to hide the person's identity. Wouldn't surprise me if the gender is changed also to protect the person's identity, especially if the person might be someone like Cloud, a well-known person or someone with a lot of money. We can't really verify this example.

      A better one might be the women behind Tealet, who are US based and tea wholesalers. So many of the examples written about in Maliandao, for example, appear to be shop managers or store front owners. Women fronting tea businesses are still somewhat within traditional roles of serving tea. I am sure there are tea buyers in China and agree we are not likely to hear about them, and the reasons have somewhat to do with social role expectations.

    4. You wouldn't be the first, at least in the price range of the teas we're talking about. The Listening To Leaves woman also bought $xxx.00 cakes and talked about it too. Even stuff like the Zhenchunyahao, which would have been in the $xxxx.00 range. Also, given what I know, I'm pretty sure MarshalN is representing the gender and other traits accurately, and I certainly personally know other women like MarshalN's friend. And they aren't really ones for being "out" in any flashy way, even though they participate in media and public forums just like any other tea lovers (you can find the faces of such women online, but significance won't be pointed out to you). Lastly, when I was thinking tea mogul female buyers, I was really thinking of those women who will pick up a tong of tea for $10k, or buying some 70's tea for as much. However, I think it's to be understood that good examples of teas older than 1980 are not really sold anymore. What's moving are mostly the stuff people could part with, which are mediocre at best.

      As far as to how actually important women are--Guo Yan and Ruan Dian Rong are two of the more prominent women in the industry, and they aren't particularly fronts. And there are other, more minor figures, who have carved out a niche in tea brands. And in other ways, women quietly have influence, as per, say, Puerhshop Jim, when he talks about having to negotiate the woman who controls the bulk of Mahei production. Perhaps Jim is exaggerating, or things have changed, but there are lots of hints on how women participate in shaping the puerh industry. They may not have remotely any of the sort of equality to men as producers, traders, and consumers, but they do do *much* better than women in many other industries/hobbies.

    5. Ah, you hit upon the key word "quietly." Quietly is the number one clue that tells us when we are dealing with a boys club.

      The glass ceiling in business often has less to do with the actual industry but rather the type of social activities involved in business deals, social activities that women cannot participate in, making footholds difficult to gain and doors to open. Places like the Men's Locker room, male clubs, gentlemen's clubs where the females invited are strippers, not businesswomen. An incredible amount of business deals are made in these settings. Forums like badgerandblade are accessible examples for me to discuss, and interesting that several tea heads I talked to didn't even realize the website is devoted to men's shaving when it is glaringly obvious even on poster avatars.

    6. I do think, especially past 2008, that women have been progressively shoved away from the limelight as the money rolled in and all the tuhaos grin for the cameras behind tea ceremony setups.