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Fri, Aug. 18, 2006 | Beer is for women; Man Laws, too

THANKS TO a roundtable of women, I think I finally understand what's behind the Men of the Square Table.

You've seen these ironfisted men featured in a series of Miller Lite ads, solemnly considering the proper comportment of the Y-chromosome set. Together, the likes of Burt Reynolds, Jerome Bettis and Aron Ralston (that rock-climbing dude who cut off his arm to escape from beneath a boulder) issue chiseled-in-granite Man Laws:

• It is only OK to use another man's remote with express verbal permission.

• A man shall never apologize or explain why he didn't call another man back.

Miller says the commercials and an accompanying witty Web site are part of its new, enlightened-guy strategy that bypasses bosoms (e.g., the classic and condemned "Catfight" series) and focuses instead on the actual taste of its beer.

At first glance, though, the ads seem like more of the age-old affirmation that, when it comes to beer, No Girls Allowed!

Which is surprising, because beer marketers are increasingly coming to grips with a stunning fact about their customers: Though 75 percent of their product is consumed by men, the vast majority is bought by women. Studies show as much as two-thirds of beer is purchased by women, mainly on their weekly trips for groceries.

I wondered what women thought about the Man Laws, so I sat down with the ladies of IPA (In Pursuit of Ale). It's a new organization of female Philadelphia beer freaks that meets regularly to drink and chat about, well, beer. These women aren't just picking it up for their men. They actually drink it themselves!

(For the sake of journalistic accuracy, I should acknowledge that, as the first guy to be invited to one of their meetings, I did not do well for my gender. We sucked down draft Bell's Oberon Ale and bottles of Delirium Nocturnum at For Pete's Sake in South Philly, and the ladies drank me under the table.)

Normally, the talk at IPA meetings is about the beer itself - new craft brews, the differences in various styles, homebrewing, trivia. Listening in, it was about the same as the usual conversation among guys, only with fewer crotch jokes.

But I was more interested in the big picture: the battle of the sexes as played out in beer ads. After years of watching women being objectified or ignored in TV ads, what did the ladies of IPA think of the Man Laws?

• Salmon is a food, not a color.

• If a man has a car that can lay rubber, he is obligated to do that from time to time.

"I still think they're missing the women's market," said Amy Nichols, of Center City. "But it totally beats women wrestling."

Brook Midgley, of Queen Village, was glad Miller isn't trying to sell her beer - and not just because she doesn't like its taste. "I almost don't want them to market to me," Midgley said. "I'd rather not be recognized as a market."

"They don't want to market to women," Ginny Brown of the Graduate Hospital neighborhood noted, "because they're afraid Miller Lite will be called a 'girl's beer.' "

Ohhh, good one. It's a marvel of 20th-century advertising, isn't it, that so many allegedly manly men willingly drink something as wussy as diet beer.

The women spent another 10 minutes bashing Miller - until a subtle realization crossed their minds.

"Look, we're talking about the Man Laws," said Kate Vail, of Bella Vista. "Maybe that's the idea."

"It's true," said Suzanne Woods, the founder of the group. "We women are all a little curious about how men think."

• It is perfectly normal for two men to watch an entire sporting event and never say a word to each other.

• It is always acceptable for a man to cannonball into a pool.

Men never actually sit around and talk about this stuff; it's just part of our DNA. (What was the first law of the Fight Club? Don't talk about the Fight Club.)

Women, on the other hand, observe man's behavior and marvel like puzzled anthropologists.

You see what I'm getting at here?

These so-called Man Laws aren't for guys. The Man Laws are for ladies. Miller Lite's ads are, in truth, a subversive ploy to sell beer to women by revealing the primitive nature of their mates.

Drink up fellas, but don't kid yourselves. The women, as always, are calling the shots around this joint. *

-0-

IPA (In Pursuit of Ale) is open to women beer lovers in the Philadelphia area. For info, visit www.myspace.com/ipabeerclub.

Men (and women) can visit Miller Lite's www.ManLaws.com.

© Copyright 2006 Joe Sixpack