Saturday, May 31, 2003

Chocolate: The Gendered Candy

In one of the episodes of Farscape (from the first season) that we watched last night, Aeryn and John were discussing diseases. After John tells Aeryn about all the horrors of disease and death on Earth, Aeryn asks why he wants to go back there. He says, "you don't have chocolate."

Of course, everyone laughed -- this is a chocolate-loving household (well, for the most part -- I'm only a mild fan of the stuff). But I found it interesting that a guy on TV would say something like that. Now, I know a lot of men who like chocolate (as I said, this is a chocolate-loving household), but it's pretty rare to hear a man talk about chocolate in the media. It's usually women who are portrayed as loving chocolate -- often even "needing" and "obsessing" over chocolate.

This gendering of food couldn't be more evident than in two ad campaigns for different brands of chocolate bars that appeared in the UK about a year ago.

In an article for The F-Word: Young UK Feminism, Catherine Redfern compares these two advertising campaigns.

In an ad for Fox's Echo chocolate bars:
Two, slightly nervous, middle-aged men with a look of desperation or weary resignation (presumably gained through years of nagging), sit outside what seems to be a pub, facing the camera. "Can you imagine a world without chocolate?" One of them says, in slow, serious, incredulous tones. "Can you imagine what our lives would be like?" There then follows a montage of images of women rampaging through the streets with riot police holding them back, and women screaming at cowed, silent men, in their homes. "Society as we know it would break down." comments the bloke, in awed, hushed tones. The last but one shot shows a large crowd of serious, grateful men raising their glasses to the camera. "That's why the men of the world thank you, Fox's, for putting extra chocolate in Echo" (or words to that effect). "...thank you for keeping our world sane." Just as the ad ends, there is a shot of a bloke sitting in an armchair at home with a screaming woman swinging a vacuum cleaner, about to bring it crashing down on his unsupecting head. The image cuts off before it smashes down, of course.

Redfern goes on to question how this line of thought came to pass (and it's certainly not the first time we've seen this sort of thinking on TV):
Where did this idea come from that without chocolate, women would literally break down and riot in the streets? It's like some kind of addictive drug! Is it referring to the supposed chocolate-PMT connection? Do women have some deep biological need for chocolate that men just don't have? Why is chocolate being portrayed as some opiate of the misses, keeping us sweet, keeping us docile, keeping us 'sane'? Women literally cannot survive without chocolate, the ad is saying. Chocolate keeps us docile and uncomplaining enough to do domestic chores. Women will put up with more crap if we have chocolate to take away the pain. After all, the woman in the final scene is in the middle of vacuuming while the bloke sits down in front of the tv. No wonder she's mad.

In contrast to the idea that chocolate is "feminine," Nestle's Yorkie candy bar launched a campaign April 1, 2002 trying to turn chocolate (at least, their chocolate) "masculine."

The tv ads show women attempting to purchase the chunky chocolate bar - but the only way they can do this is by glueing on fake beards, dressing up as builders with hard hats, and swaggering into corner shops asking (in deep, gruff, fake-male voice) for a "Yorkie please." In one ad, the large, bearded, super-gruff male shopkeeper 'tests' the woman to prove she is a man, by quizzing her on stereotypically male questions, thrusting a fake spider in her face to see if she screams, and so on. He finally hands the bar over, but when he tells her [that] it really highlights the blue in her eyes, she gasps "really?" and he snatches the Yorkie out of her hands and bites off a huge, masculine chunk in one go.


chocolate isn't a pseudo-orgasmic experience for the men who eat Yorkie, of course. It's a re-affirmation of their manhood. The Yorkie ads, on tv and posters, used the slogans "It's not for girls", "don't feed the birds", "not available in pink" and "King size, not Queen size." Interestingly, the campaign even affected the design of the bar itself, seemingly intended to literally stop women buying the bar in the real world. The "O" in Yorkie has been altered into a "no go" road sign, with a line cutting through a woman symbol. The bar also has the phrase "not for girls" on it.

You can see a sample of the ad campaign (if you have Adobe Acrobat) here.

The "top ten" lists aren't very clear, but apparently they say:

Top Ten Things Women Can't Do:
-Make a Decision.
-Watch Football Without Talking.
-Drive in a Straight Line.
-Use Ten Words When a Hundred Will Do.
-Open a Can Unaided.
-Use a Urinal.
-Own a Pet Spider.
-Speak on the Phone for Less than 15 Minutes.
-Understand Cricket.
-Buy a Yorkie.

Top Ten Reasons to be a Bloke
-One Mood- All the Time.
-You Can Goto the Bathroom by Yourself.
-You Get to Buy Gadgets.
-You Don't Have to Clean Your Flat Before the
Cleaner Comes.
-Mechanics Don't Lie to You.
-You Can Change a Plug.
-Grey Hair Adds to Your Sex Appeal.
-The First Thing You Try On in a Shop Fits You.
-You Can Read Maps.
-You Get to Eat a Yorkie.

A year later, Nestle released a new temporary campaign, the "very limited edition" Yorkie bar -- in a pink wrapper, for "those sacred girls who, against their female instinct, can be 'BLOKEY' enough to indulge in the UK's chunkiest chocolate bar!" If you didn't get yours already, though, you're too late -- they were only available in February and March.

As Redfern says,
What a weird world we live in, when a simple foodstuff can have such far-reaching implications. The choice is yours - buy Yorkie, and you are not buying chocolate, you're buying a cliched concept of 'masculinity.' Or buy Echo, and by the looks of the ad, you're buying some kind of numbing, depressant, class B drug.

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