Men and women are fed gendered ideas through the media
Every section of the media tells men and women how to behave. Stereotypes are reflected in TV shows, movies, advertisements, and even music. One of the most mundane aspects of society- eating- is controlled by these stereotypes. Women are bound to eating “light” foods in order to maintain a slim, feminine appearance, while men are relatively free to eat whatever they please- as long as it coincides with masculine gender norms- typically “heavy” foods like starchy carbohydrates and meat.
Sometimes we don’t even notice these things, but, sometimes, that’s the point. We’ve been taught that these are just how things are- and we’ve come to accept it. The media continually reinforces gender norms surrounding eating and appearance. They aggressively target one gender when advertising products so that it’s clear who should buy it. Marketing agencies know that it works because that’s how we’ve been operating since the inception of the industrial revolution.
In this Cadbury’s Cocoa advertisement from 1885, the young woman, who presumably spends a lot of time preparing meals in the kitchen, is “absolutely pure” just like the cocoa. The ideal consumer for this product is someone similar in age and gender.
The way the woman’s body is portrayed in the media also ties into how food is gendered in western societies. Women must be thin and almost weightless in order to be beautiful and the only way to achieve that level of beauty is to eat healthy foods, such as salad, lean meats and vegetables. Thus, women often feel obligated or pressured to maintain these diets that only consist of light foods.
Here, a food is marketed directly at women- going as far as to include “girl” in their brand name. Kale is a health food that, generally speaking, women consume, but the name Organic Girl implies that it is strictly for women.
These stereotypes are constantly replayed in the media and rarely challenged, but if they are, it’s done for comedic purposes. The movie White Chicks was released in 2004, which showed Latrell Spencer (Terry Crews) take Marcus Copeland (Marlon Wayans) dressed as a woman on a date. Spencer tells the waiter that the lady will have a salad. Replying “perhaps not”, he proceeds to order steak, ribs, pasta, fries and onion rings. Rather than ordering a salad to oblige Spencer, he orders extra food in order to appear unattractive and, well, because he’s hungry and adults need much more than a salad to satisfy them. This is meant to be comedic for the audience, and it succeeds because it pokes fun at gender norms surrounding eating.
A more recent attempt at subverting these ideas comes from Michelle Wolf’s talk show The Break with Michelle Wolf, in which she satirizes the idea that only women can eat yogurt, since a majority of yogurt advertisements feature and are directed at women.
As the video says, “You know the saying, yogurt is for women and hamburgers are for men.”
Here are some other hilarious attempts at marketing gendered food to the other gender:
Next time you go to grocery store, take a look around and see if you can find any more examples of overtly gendered food and try to be critical: are they selling you food or a gender role?