Stereotypes in food and gender are no thing of the past. I mean, everyone knows that men are responsible for making the money, fixing things and being tough and strong, while women are delicate and should really only stick to cooking, cleaning, and raising the kids, right? Unfortunately, this idea is believed by many and is reinforced significantly through food advertisements.

Women in the kitchen are usually shown as being happy and loving housewives to the nuclear family. They seem to love the work that they are doing and are enjoying the caring for their family. Cooking is fun and effortless, with almost no problems, and the cleanup is fast.  Women are portrayed as loving the kitchen and are almost never shown struggling to finish dinner in time. Most food and household product advertisements appeal to this idealized housewife and market their products to these women. Advertisers aim to reach the largest audience possible in the quickest way possible, so they follow along with the stereotype that women are in the kitchen preparing food for the family. In the book Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?” American Women and the Kitchen in the Twentieth Century, it says that “Women are consumers of images as well as goods. In the face of a dwindling necessity for hard work in the kitchen, these images have encouraged consumerism and persuaded women to stay in the kitchen by proposing fantasy roles intended to make cooking provide some of the satisfaction we expect of paid work” (McFeely). The dominant narrative of women is being reinforced by these ads by showing that being in the kitchen and caring for the family makes these women happy and feel as if their duty in life is fulfilled.

There is also a sexual aspect to the woman in the kitchen. A woman cooking and cleaning for her husband could be seen as a woman taking care of her husband’s needs, which could go along with a sexual connotation. There is also the common fantasy of a husband coming home to his wife cooking him dinner in nothing but a tiny lace apron and high heels, feeding him a hearty meal before satisfying his sexual needs. Cookbooks published in the United States often instructed their readers in the fine art of “catching and keeping a man”. In 1963, the author of Recipe Book with Household Hints began her cookbook by staying that the “way to the hearts of men” was through “a well-cooked dinner”. In 1950, Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book  contained a chapter of cookie recipes entitled “Beau Catchers and Husband Keepers.” Ultimately, the woman in the kitchen stereotype has a negative view on women, showing that the woman’s only job is to take care of the husband, kids, cooking, cleaning, and other household duties.

In her book, Housework and Housewives in American Advertising: Married to the Mop, Jessamyn Neuhaus analyzes how since the 19th century advertising agencies and their housework product clients utilized a remarkably consistent depiction of housewives, and illustrates that although second wave feminism successfully called into question the housewife stereotype, homemaking has remained an American feminine ideal. Neuhaus said that advertising persistently utilizes highly idealized images of housewives enjoying ease and convenience of modern food, while still devoting themselves to the well being of their families. This reaffirms the domestic gender norms. She uses the example of dishwashing, a labor that “robs the housewife” of time and good spirits. A dish soap ad promised easy and fast cleanup without damaging delicate hands. Emphasizing that not only are women fragile and delicate creatures, but that shiny clean dishes also reflect the housewives care for her home (Neuhaus).

Now, since the women are in the kitchen cooking and cleaning all day, you would think she would be able to open a simple ketchup bottle, but not according to Del Monte. Their 1953 ketchup as shows a woman, fully dolled up with her hair, makeup, and nails done, holding a bottle of Del Monte Ketchup. Above her in bold letters reads, “You mean a woman can open it…?”. This is suggestive of the fact that women are so weak that they can’t even open ketchup. This rejects the idea that women can handle all kitchen duties, and reinforces the idea that women are weak and need a mans help for anything that requires even the slightest bit of physical activity. While this Del Monte ad has a couple of negative stereotypes towards women, there is one indication that this woman possesses some power. In the advertisement, the audience sees this power in the woman’s body language. The womans eyebrow is raised, possibly indicating that she is showing other people that she is capable of opening a bottle because she is physically strong enough.

In Bisquicks 1944 ad, the stereotype seems to be quite the opposite. At first glance, you see a cartoon man wearing a pink apron, pouring what appears to be Bisquick mix into a bowl. He appears in a very feminine matter, almost having feminine features, showing that even when a man does something in the kitchen, it’s still feminine. His pinky is up, and his cheeks are rose, also giving him a sense of femininity. Below the image, is a short story where the man tells the “little woman” that they never have hot biscuits. Calling his wife a “little woman” demonstrates how the husband thinks of the woman as lesser than him. The “little woman” replies that she has so much to do, and can’t make good biscuits anyways. The husband then says that he remembers seeing bisquick at the store, and he will do it himself.  The ad also shows the biscuits being made in 2 steps, as well as displaying the packaging. This ad, at first seems as if its feminist, assuming men are stupid and can’t make biscuits, giving women power. But after reading, one would realize that the ad is actually showing how the woman is unable to make biscuits, and the husband will just go do it himself, its that easy.

Women and food have been deeply connected for countless centuries. What historian Susan Strasser calls “the central ritual of housekeeping” is still very much at the center of millions of American homes. Kitchen culture has confined women to traditional gender roles (Inness), and advertisements reinforce these gender roles and stereotypes.

 

 

Works cited:

 

Neuhaus, Jessamyn. Housework and Housewives in American Advertising: Married to the Mop. 2011 ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.

 

McFeely, Mary Drake. “Women’s Work.” Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?: American Women and the Kitchen in the Twentieth Century. Amherst: U of Massachusetts, 2001. 2-3. Print.
Inness, Sherrie A. Kitchen Culture in America: Popular Representations of Food, Gender, and Race. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 2001. Print.

 

Bisquick ad: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/89298005092822527/

Del Monte Ketchup ad: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv/sexist-ads-mad-men-era-gallery-1.1050013?pmSlide=1.1050003

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