Although March was Women’s History Month in the U.S., U.K., and Australia, it was also a month when advertisers released some seriously convoluted ads about gender and food. While sexism in food advertisements is obviously nothing new or unique, two of the ads that came out last month were notable because they were trying to capitalize on pseudo-feminist marketing messages in their attempts to sell cooking and food products. Instead of seeming progressive and innovative, the ads ended up being even more objectionable than your average run-of-the-mill sexism. The ads serve as a reminder that the relationship between food and gender is fraught with deeper cultural meanings about consumption, identity, and social power and that advertisers attempt to exploit these encoded meanings about food and gender as the ideological gateway to sell us shit.
At the beginning of March, Food Network Canada was plugging Season 4 of Top Chef Canada which is “Battle of the Sexes” themed. (Sooooooo original, guys. Seriously, pitting men against women under patriarchy is so fresh, so innovative!!! How do you come up with this gold?) The ad for the season featured the men’s team standing stern-faced under copy that read “This kitchen is no place for a woman.” Making obvious reference to the tired sexist cliché that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, on one level the copy attempts to subvert traditional notions of women’s subjugation through their relegation to domestic and reproductive labor in the home by implying that women don’t really “belong” in the kitchen, after all. (Thanks for that message, Top Chef. You’re at least half a century late on that one, bros. Niccccccce.) However, given the existence of rampant and systemic inequality for women chefs, and the anti-woman bias of Top Chef in particular, the ad couldn’t help but leave a bad taste in the mouths of Canadian fans who understandably saw the ad as blatant sexist trolling. The ad’s tone-deaf gendered message only mirrors the larger ignorance and indifference in the cooking and dining world about the insidious sexism faced by women chefs.
By the end of March, Snickers Australia had jumped on the pseudo-feminist ad bandwagon. Some Snickers advertising geniuses across the water in Australia released a massively problematic commercial, which like the Top Chef Canada ad, was blatantly sexist while trying to come off as so totally pro-lady. The Snickers commercial featured a group of construction workers cat calling women who walked by their construction site. Instead of yelling predictably harassing things, they belt out little gems like “I’d like to show you the respect you deserve” and “You know what I’d like to see? A society in which the objectification of women makes way for gender-neutral interaction free from assumptions and expectations.” (You and me both, dude. You and me, both.) Then the Snickers ad reads: “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”
(Booooooooom! Construction dudes, you need to run, not walk, and get yourselves a Snickers before the rightful order of gendered power in Australia, nay, all of the world, fucking collapses because your caveman-like primal hunger has you so confused you ACTUALLY TREAT WOMEN WITH A TINY, TINY BIT OF RESPECT. Except, the men in the commercial are still cat calling women reminding us that, no matter what, it is still men's prerogative to invade women’s space in public and tell women what they think about any fuck-all thought that enters their shitty misogynist brains. Cool.)
Chocolate: it’s not just for broads anymore! Thanks, Snickers Australia!
The condescending nods to feminism in the two commercials aren’t clever or innovative; they’re just devices that reaffirm two different notions of classed masculinity. On the one hand, the Top Chef ad reinforces the idea that men are elite experts and authorities about all things, especially when they do things that lowly ladies are “supposed” to do, like cooking. On the other hand, the Snickers commercial taps into a notion of working-class masculinity based on the debasement of women and the constant affirmation of a primal, grunting, “innate” misogyny towards women. Given the state of contemporary gendered food politics, it seems more than obvious that both of these commercials were in pretty poor taste any time of the year, but the fact that they were released during Women’s History Month is even more puzzling. Advertisers should do us all a favor and spare us the half-baked allusions to “feminism.”