Holly Bradford takes a look at the gender stereotypes running rampant in the world of food…
As a working woman, currently enjoying a low fat Greek yoghurt and can of Diet Coke at my desk in a rather leisurely fashion, I just cannot wait to get home tonight, slip on my fuzzy slippers, and sit down to a nice fresh salad with a cheeky glass of white wine, perhaps followed by a few forbidden squares of Galaxy afterwards if I’m feeling extra naughty (cue girly giggle)! Or at least that’s what the adverts would have you believe.
C’mon. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose reality is worlds away from this delightfully feminine image created by the media. You’re far more likely to find me in the local bakery on my lunch break, or consuming my body weight in pizza and beer or other similarly delicious and unhealthy culinary delights of an evening. Uh oh, I just lost some serious woman points for admitting that.
Never fear, though! This dietary discrimination affects the men-folk too. I know I personally can’t respect a man unless he comes home from a busy day of lumberjacking or shark-wrestling and sits down to an enormous T-bone steak (rare of course), followed by a few glasses of scotch on the rocks (because after all, dessert is for women). Nothing says masculinity quite like whiskey breath and meat sweats.
Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means a devout feminist or advocate for political correctness. If anything I view these stereotypes with a sense of mild amusement rather than outrage. But no one can deny that there has always been a distinct gender divide when it comes to the world of food. Fortunately, long gone are the 50s ads featuring immaculate frilly-aproned wives readying a hearty dinner for the moment their hard-working hubbies walk through the door. Today’s media are a much more positive brand of sexist, with girl power and man pride very much the order of the day.
Recent manly food campaigns include the Pot Noodle Doner Kebab, ‘the ultimate man-food snack’, McCoy’s ‘man crisps’ and Snickers (‘get some nuts!’) – admittedly not explicitly aimed at men, but I do feel that the action-packed TV spots filled with explosions, helicopters and Mr. T may be ever so slightly skewed towards a particular audience. I do also have a soft spot for the workplace frolics and general bad behaviour of the skiving blokes in the Pepsi Max ads. It’s worth noting, however, that beverages such as Pepsi Max and Coke Zero were created specifically for the male market as a means of escaping the feminine reputation of their ‘diet’ equivalents.
I will admit, and I’m sure I’m not alone on this, that I can’t help but enjoy the tiny frisson of excitement I experience from the deeply rebellious act of eating a Yorkie bar (they’re ‘not for girls’, you know!). This is of course an integral part of the advertisers’ devious plan; not only do they attract their target audience, but they also draw the attention of the outraged jilted party. Those marketing bigwigs definitely know what they’re doing.
At the other end of the spectrum is the world of ‘female’ food. Some ads, such as the one for Oykos yoghurt, featuring Amanda Holden, objectify men by showing them as our personal slaves – one even acts as her footstool. Commercials for Diet Coke show carefree supermodel office ladies swanning around looking divine (and rarely doing any actual work). And of course, who hasn’t seen a chocolate advert featuring a serene woman lounging on a giant plush sofa in a silk robe, moaning in pleasure in a slightly over the top and disturbing manner? Chocolate! What a treat! Unlike the humorous, male-focused ads, food seems to communicate a luxurious, hedonistic lifestyle to women. “Drink Diet Coke and a tanned, six-packed Adonis will turn up to clean your windows!” Well, you never know.
All jokes aside, perhaps there could be a potentially slightly darker side to these otherwise fairly light-hearted food stereotypes. For women, those diet-related products serve as a constant reminder to eat healthily and lose weight – and we all know of the health issues that can arise from feeling constant media pressure. Meanwhile, perhaps some men feel unable to eat ‘healthily’ for fear of being judged by their peers, so it is little wonder really that the Great British beer belly abounds. Many people still express great surprise when a man tells them he is vegetarian – what a crazy confession.
Personally, though, I find myself completely unaffected by the gender stereotypes in food. If anything, the products targeted at males generally appeal to me more! Perhaps I’m just more susceptible to reverse psychology than most? Whatever your feelings on this, we’d love to hear from you. Now if you’ll excuse me, for some reason I really fancy a Yorkie bar. And I’d like to see you try and stop me!