I am writing this post although I realize this is a tricky topic and I only mean well, especially in such a passionate field for me such as cigars. I am genuinely posting this article to support many fellow True Sisters Of The Leaf
Women´s Roles - Who is Who?
In the Premium Cigar industry, there are numerous roles that women play, most of the time they choose their role yet sometimes it just happens.
As one SOTL told me "I know that over the past 15 years or so, my role has changed and grown" and as for me personally, I don´t think my role has changed ever since I was a kid in High School, grown yes absolutely, but changed no. No matter through what path, we all find our roles, and that goes for both men and women.
There are many, and I would say an increasing amount of Genuine Sisters of the Leaf who deeply enjoy cigars, and furthermore, more and more of them are growing in knowledge in this beautiful product.
Nevertheless, we all know that there are some who are just using this industry for the fun of posing and the thrill of response. I have nothing against that, all women like to be noticed for one thing or another - some for the outer beauty, others for the inner beauty, and some on an intellectual level and so on...
In this specific industry however, these other or extra purposes and roles of some women often mask the true SOTLs and put many of them in an undeserved shadow.
Out of a tremendous amount of women with a strong and honest role as premium cigar smokers, I only chose a few of them to get ideas for this article. I could have included countless more ladies but while brainstorming I like to keep the number down to seven of them, plus of course, myself. These were, in no particular order: Darcie Rowan, Sonja Smith, Irma Osborne (New York), Lyril Hanneman (Pennsylvania), Kimberly Reeger (Florida), Jessica Hutson (Missouri) and Franca Comparetto (Italian living in California). Some of these women are more out there on Social Media and a couple of others are knowledgeable SOTLs hidden in a shadow.
In addition to these latter women, I have also been talking and chatting with a plentiful amount of cigar-smoking ladies over the past months, I would say years, and Internationally so. I included additional opinions and experience from them as well.
Nonetheless, each and every one of these ladies mentioned above are a great example for all women in this industry and for ladies enjoying cigars!!!
Quotes from knowledgeable women in cigars
This is a paragraph worthy of a very large article of its own! We get many different types of response from both men and women, and sometimes from family and friends! I will do my best to cover many angles and I deeply hope to make women in cigars feel comfortable and confident, to sense the sisterhood and understanding between us genuine SOTLs.
A few quotes I have gotten from women both for this article and generally through socializing over the years: song to take lightly and with fun ;)
Some quotes from Genuine SOTLs:
"What I have noticed when women throw events, they are treated differently than men. Example: a low turn out of guests, and IF they turn out, they then have to almost sell themselves to get men to buy their products. The host does prepare for the events with promotion, food etc... but still."
"Either I get grilled by a few guys as to what my knowledge is. Or the salesperson looks past me to my husband for discussing cigars."
"There is surprise expressed when I smoke a Maduro. But most of the time, it's a good experience and everyone wants to talk with me."
Note from myself: The "surprise of the maduro-smoking-lady" shows a slight ignorance from our opposite gender that we love so much! A Maduro is not stronger than others. different flavors? Yes. Sometimes sweeter? Yes.)
"I have been in lounges where guys will just watch me, then one person will get the courage to talk to me. The next thing I know is I am holding court as they realize I am a serious cigar smoker and know my stuff."
"Seeing what I smoke and its diversity, men are happy to see a woman who knows about cigars. In the coming weeks, I've been asked to do my #Sundaycigarherf at 2 different cigar lounges and teach their customers how to ´taste flavors.´ It's always interesting to me when men say things like, ´wow you really know cigars!´ I used to take offense, but now I use it as a way to educate people that YES some women like to smoke cigars and YES we want to learn about what we buy. My panel of international experts is all made by men who embrace my methodology and we have a great working relationship.”
"When I first started smoking cigars years ago, I didn´t want to feel left out so I didn´t want to smoke "girly cigars" - At that time I tought "girly cigars" were the thinner ring gauges, so I smoked the larger ones without actually prefering them. With time and education I understood that thin ring gauges are definitely NOT "girly!" The thinner RGs have such a punch to them, strong profiles! I now smoke anything from a Lancero to a 52 RG or so..." INTERESTING! And True!
The same woman as the latter one: "The same happened to many female customers over my five years running a store."
"Many women in my store don´t feel comfortable sticking around and smoking in our lounge because of the sexualization of women in this industry, and they are afraid to be portrayed as what they are not."
"The serious SOTLs are willing to learn more but they feel afraid of asking questions, yet with time they started to ask more and more but mostly to me, not to my husband or male manager of our store."
A touchy one:
"I am a serious consumer so fed up at not being taken seriously for my knowledge and passion regarding cigars. I have little tolerance for the women who use cigar smoking as an opportunity to take what they consider "hot" selfies. Stooping to those levels is demeaning and detrimental to those who are genuine SOTLs."
Note from myself: this latter quote might sound harsh but I didn´t want to leave this out, because this is probably how many serious cigar-smoking women feel! That being said, I repeat what I mentioned above: I respect and understand women´s and also men´s need, Human need, for recognition in one way or another. So this is a situation that happens easily in a male-dominated industry like this one.
"Before selfies, Facebook and so on, women were not taken seriously in many ways, not just in the cigar world. I go to an Autozone, Home depot or the like, and guys don't expect me to know cars, tools nor in this case cigars. It's up to us to show we can hang." ... Makes you think...
"When I first started smoking I was looking for an all female group that would get together to do just that."
Note from myself: These female groups do exist - Mary Lynn Kane from Wisconsin is a great example, she is extremely active with "Cigar Babes." Furthermore, she also does research about women smoking. She posts a lot about this topic on Social Media, notably so on Facebook.
Also, Lyril Haneman has started a women´s cigar-group, and there is of course The International Women´s Cigar Society and more...
What is holding Women back in Premium Cigars?
I have noticed that in the United States, women are mostly holding genuinly knowledgeable cigar-loving women back, keeping them backstage, not so much men!
On the contrary, from my experience in Eastern Europe as Marketing Manager in Premium Cigars, it was merely men holding us back. I believe Western Europe to be in the same basket as their Eastern neighbors in this specific cigar-mentality, although this gender-cigar-gap is getting smaller by the minute.
What did I do?
I travelled in over 10 countries every month, including 11 cities all over Russia, throughout 6 years, and in the beginning, my legs were shaking... I had enough knowledge for the Seminars I was performing, but the look on the faces of the men in my crowds had me nervous - how many times was I nervous? ONCE, and that was my very first Seminar back in 2005! That was in Bulgaria. Following that, I have performed near 100 Seminars around in those 10+ countries (and innumerable times in Bulgaria again), and ever since my Second time (for a Russian conference) I was fully confident! I knew I had the answers, and if I had to spend hours on end involved in more and more challenging interrogation-like discussions, which often became further silly as men didn´t want to quit testing me but simply ran out of questions, I still stood my ground with my back straight and a smile on my lips.
What was the worse that could happen? "I´m sorry, I am not sure, let me check with the factory and get back to you." - Honesty and confidence.
Finally, my last few years working for Swedish Match/General Cigars, I gained considerable respect from my International customers, and the hours and years spent on achieving it was a thrill and holds a warm spot in my heart.
Female Cigar Groups - Yay or Nay?
Yay: As we have seen and heard from many ladies over time, many American women like the idea of women´s cigar-groups. These groups are indeed growing, as seen in the examples above-mentioned.
There are also some women who start cigar-smoking groups and herfs such as Darcie Rowan does, not only for ladies, but for men too, often with more men actively assisting than women, and Darcie gets respect, super well deserved!
Nay: I know of at least one SOTL who is against women´s only cigar-groups and I have to admit I am also not active in them much, though I am all for the ladies-clubs for those who want them and appreciate them.
In my International life, I have never liked women´s clubs in general... I went to one "International Women´s Association" meeting once, found one of my best friends there at first sight, and after the second meeting, we both exited that group and stuck to each other, and we still do.
Yet still, I do acknowledge that if a women´s group is 100% about premium cigars I imagine it could be just as much fun as interesting! I love talking to SOTLs about cigars! Moreover, these clubs build a strength.
Finally, in his matter there is no answer. This is very subjective, but in the US the yay is stronger, and in Europe... I would say the nay might be stronger... Still though, I would say that this is not something to discuss over, either one likes it or doesn´t - Just like with cigar-profiles!
The Business and Marketing aspects
Let's not forget the Marketing aspect of this subject. Just like with many other industries, some companies use women as a form of advertizing and modelling for their product (in this case cigars). That is absolutely fine and positive, it works and it is fully natural. What makes the difference is the tastefulness of this exposure.