Misogyny in the vineyard

Over the past couple of decades, I have spent many a happy day meandering along Prince Edward County’s Taste Trail sampling local produce, cheeses, lavender and wines. Nothing makes me happier than creating a delicious meal from local ingredients and serving it with wines produced in my neck of the woods.

One of my favourite stops — until last week — was the Norman Hardie Winery. Just last year, at a fundraising event for a violence against women organization in Toronto, I successfully bid on a package to take eight people to the winery for lunch, wine and a tour. My partner, six friends and I had a wonderful (and tasty) few hours at the winery, followed by some further wanderings around the County before we headed home.

The Globe and Mail published an investigative article about Norman Hardie’s sexual misconduct toward employees last week. My reaction was one of exhaustion and despair: not because I was shocked; not because I have any personal connection to Norman Hardie or any of the employees he has sexually harassed or intimidated; not because eliminating his wine from my wine rack will unduly affect my life, but because, disturbingly, I was not shocked and because I am just so sick and tired of men not knowing how to behave.

Poor excuse

For Hardie to say that he viewed his language and behaviour at the time as “harmless or good-natured,” is disturbing. We are not talking about the 1930s here. We are not even talking about the 1980s or 1990s. The situations investigated by the Globe and Mail took place as recently as 2015 and 2016. Any right-minded person who was paying attention knew well before 2015 that the kinds of behaviour Hardie was engaging in were neither harmless nor good-natured.

Reaction to the Hardie story — despite his attempt at a sort-of apology mixed with a denial — has been swift and strong. By week’s end, both Quebec’s and Ontario’s provincial liquor sales operators had announced they would not be restocking Norman Hardie wines. A number of restauranteurs said his wines would no longer appear on their wine lists.

Misogynist industry

Hardie is not the first food and wine industry leader to attract public attention for his sexual misconduct, but he may be the most prominent member of that very male elite in Canada. As Jen Agg, the outspoken Toronto restauranteur, who has called out the misogyny of the restaurant industry for years, wrote, this behaviour continues in part because of a complicity of silence:

“I wonder how we are supposed to reconcile our complicity and silence in our past relationships with him [Hardie], as well as the continuing behaviour of men like him which is a huge part of the restaurant industry, still, despite the protestations of some. . . . The restaurant industry is slow as molasses to change, and just as sticky with secrets and lies. . . . few men are facing any real consequences for their actions.”

The ripple effect

One of the challenges in thinking about how we should respond to stories about misogynist men like Hardie, who abuse their positions of power and authority, is the impact on others. Of course, the first victims of Hardie’s behaviour are the women he harmed, and it is too early to know what the impact of going public will be for them.

But what of his many employees, who may now be out of jobs? And what of other Prince Edward County wineries, restaurants, hotels and the like? Hardie has long been credited with putting the County on the map. Will the (potential) loss of his winery mean fewer people come to this beautiful part of the province, where so many people work very hard to grow and produce healthy and delicious food, wines and other goods?

How do we hold those who behave badly to account while minimizing the negative impact on those around them?

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