Food, Gloriously Gendered Food!

// 30 May 2009

foodks.JPGI was asked earlier today (as were other writers on The F-Word) if I was interested in commenting on gendering of food through advertising. And I thought it was quite an interesting subject. Here are my thoughts:

I have a real problem with “gendering” food at all. From the “women like chocolate more than sex” stereotype to the notion that certain products will sell better to men if you describe them as “not for girls”. At best it’s unnecessary and at worst it’s directly promoting gender prejudice.

In particular what is a problem is that as soon as food is deemed suitable for women, it will almost certainly be a lower-calorie version of the original food. The inference that women are or should be dieting all the time is noxious in a world where eating disorders affect a huge proportion of teenage girls and adult women and are on the rise. At the same time the “real men don’t diet” message makes it harder for men to choose to eat healthily and is certainly a contributory factor in the sky-high (relative to what it could be) levels of heart disease, stroke, etc seen among men in the UK. This imbalance also plays into the notion that men do or should do tougher physical jobs (fire-fighting, military roles, etc) and play sport in their free time while women are seen as weak and in need of a “strong” man to look after them. These are all notions which do nothing for our society except to act as drivers for sexism, stereotyping and discrimination.

If food manufacturers want to sell me their food – they should make better quality food. Organic, traditionally and locally farmed, free from additives and excessive packaging and without those kind of bulking-out products that have become so commonplace on the modern food shelf – “exotic” fruit juice that’s mostly grape, “meat” pies that are mostly onion. Real food, real value, and real concern for the environment will appeal to me – not patronising out-dated gender stereotypes.

Comments From You

Jess // Posted 30 May 2009 at 9:28 am

Well said. The “all girls like chocolate” myth is so annoying – I really can’t stand the stuff (gives me the skin-sweats!). Bring on the cheese!

polly styrene // Posted 30 May 2009 at 10:36 am

I’m absolutely furious about the marketing of Pot Noodle (not to mention that in trying to make them more ‘healthy’, surely an oxymoron, they’ve removed most of the taste. ). I’m completely their target market, as I have an aversion to cooking and washing up, love carbohydrate heavy junk food, have scant concern for my health, and the empty pots are very handy for cleaning paintbrushes in.

Yet they will persist in aiming their product at sexist males. And just for that, I’m going to eat super noodles instead.

Aimee // Posted 30 May 2009 at 11:17 am

Oh my goodness, those adverts make me so SO angry. It just gets ridiculous when FOOD starts to be gendered. And why is it that food aimed at women has to be advertised by a woman eating said food in a ‘sexy’ way… women can only be associated with food through the medium of sex? Unless we’re giving it a blow job and going on about how ‘naughty’ it is, or harping on about how ‘good’ we are because we’re nibbling on a rivita like good women, we’re big, horrible fat pigs who don’t deserve to disgrace the telebox of aesthetic perfection? Please. Pot Noodles are disgusting. I think it’s more offensive to men that they are the ones deemed to be eating them. Yuck.

Troika21 // Posted 30 May 2009 at 12:29 pm

I’ve never encountered the ‘real men don’t diet’ thing, maybe thats just me. Though it does puzzle me, this website has said much on how diets aimed at women are typically a bad thing.

The ‘its not for girls’ thing is clearly ludicrous, no company would want its products to remain unsold. The company likely did its research, found the majority of its customers are men, and decided the risk of alienating half the population was a risk worth taking.

I do appreciate your rant however, that Mr. T snickers advert was one of the more pathetic ads I’ve seen recently.

Lastly, ‘organic’ is a scam, three times the price for the same quality as any standard food you can buy. And I don’t know what you mean by ‘traditionally’ farmed. I’ve got this image that you think Britain’s farms are all small holdings owned by ex-city types ‘making a go of it’, oh please.

depresso // Posted 30 May 2009 at 12:35 pm

if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your food, try a vegan diet.

because a lot of food companies don’t seem to recognise that vegans do actually need to eat too, and put milk powder or pork gelatine into everything they make, the food is relatively ungendered mostly because it’s not advertised.

The Boggart // Posted 30 May 2009 at 12:46 pm

Food has always been gendered; just think of those upper class Elizabethan women who suffered from Greens Sickness (most likely anaemia) due to living off of a diet of appropriately maidenly foods i.e. salads and deserts.

As always, due to its need to exaggerate, advertising is both a mirror and a magnifying glass held up to the subtle and not-so subtle prevailing currents of prejudices, attitudes and opinions in our society.

The Boggart // Posted 30 May 2009 at 12:54 pm

BTW what are you eating? Looks good!

El // Posted 30 May 2009 at 4:45 pm

So many adverts – of all kinds – play on ridiculous gender stereotypes. As a veggie the ones that particularly get under my skin are those that associate eating meat with a warped idea of “manliness”. Countless ads for beef, and it seems to usually be beef for some reason, involve really not-at-all-veiled allusions that pretty much say “Men eat meat, women eat salad”, both as a description of the way things are and an endorsement of that. The most recent that I can remember are ads for microwaveable burgers and fast food chains (that I won’t name because I don’t want to waste any more words on them!). As I remember them, one involves a teenage boy eating a burger and then “getting the girl” (SUBTLE!). Another depicts a man escaping his wife/girlfriend (mother?) in order to go and eat a burger at a restaurant – rather than eat whatever it is that she has cooked for him.

Side note not related to advertising: There’s apparently an old myth that eating more meat while pregnant will increase your chances of having a boy!

Kate Smurthwaite // Posted 31 May 2009 at 2:55 am

The “it’s not for girls” thing is a real advert – for Yorkie chocolate bars. And yet women still seem to buy them…

Aimee // Posted 31 May 2009 at 12:25 pm

Is that Yorkie advert still around? I complained about that one. It was really, really offensive. But then why would i want to be eating yorkies? I’m a woman so obviously I only eat salads and yoghurts with strange, made up compounds in them.

Alex T // Posted 31 May 2009 at 2:35 pm

I don’t buy Yorkie bars because they’re made by NestlĂ©. Just thought I’d throw that in.

SM // Posted 31 May 2009 at 4:01 pm

A shame about the Yorkie thing- when I was little they were my favourite chocolate bar and I always had one when I went to the football(I know, a little girl going to a match with her mum! Crazy!). Then they started that ad campaign and I decided never to eat one again in protest. I’ve kept to it, but the chocolate was so nice I don’t know why they thought they needed to alienate half the population to sell it.

Laura // Posted 31 May 2009 at 4:07 pm

This reminds me of something a friend of mine told me about his parents. His dad is a vegetarian, but his mum isn’t. Whenever the two of them go out to a restaurant, she’ll generally order a steak – eating out is a chance for her to have something they wouldn’t cook at home, as it’s a bit of a waste for one person – while he’ll obviously go for whatever vegetarian option is there. When their food is brought out, the waiter/waitress will invariably put the vegetarian meal in front of her, and the steak in front of him, even if it’s the same person who took their order! Because obviously, if you’re bringing out one plate of salad and one of steak, and there’s a man and a woman sat in front of you, you don’t need to pay attention to who actually ordered what!

Karen // Posted 31 May 2009 at 9:53 pm

Hi Kate, I think the Yorkie bar thing was a sort of double bluff to make us think “can’t buy and eat that chocolate cos I’m a woman? just watch me!”and increase sales. Hence I haven’t touched one since. Good article, F word!

BTW does anyone know if it’s illegal for me to eat Chips yet, as I love a good big portion of proper chip shop chips!

JenniferRuth // Posted 1 June 2009 at 9:30 am

What about that yoghurt advert that has women gleefully throwing away their “fad” diet books and having a jolly old time? They get some diet books shot at a clay pigeon tournament.

They replace their fad diets with a diet of yoghurt and evidently they feel brilliant. And look how happy they are! Thin women are happy women!

I feel like I have seen this “our product will make you thin but it isn’t dieting!!!” (just eating less – I’m looking at you Special K) advert in hundreds of variations, but I have never seen one directed at men.

Reminds of Sarah Haskins rant about yoghurt!

Lindsey // Posted 1 June 2009 at 9:44 am

I think the “it’s not for girls” Yorkie ad acts as a challenge for some women, so not really damaging sales at all. Besides, being over 18 means I’m not a girl anyway so no restriction on my choice of crappy snack products.

Katherine // Posted 1 June 2009 at 10:12 am

Slightly off topic, but the “exotic” ftuit juices ads are racist as well as misleading. I find most advertising so off-the-wall offensive that I regularly find myself ranting at the TV during ad breaks.

Sabre // Posted 1 June 2009 at 10:30 am

I read a good article on Soiological Images ( about how historically men had the privilege to eat meat when good protein was scarce. Women and children had sugar-based foods as a cheap source of calories. Which may have been the origin of the notion that women like sweets and chocolate etc more than men.

I personally agree with Jess, bring on the cheese!

Lara // Posted 1 June 2009 at 11:29 am

A really good example of this is ‘Coke Zero’ – marketing a low sugar alternative for men has to have this overly masculine campaign to make men buy it. The thing is if I was marketing a low sugar or low fat food or drink to a man I would probably do exactly the same thing.

Jane // Posted 1 June 2009 at 1:03 pm


Ah the Yorkie ad – he takes a big manly chunk out of it rather than fellating it as the girl in the Flake ad. Urrgh. Watching the tv recently it strikes me that those awful Activia yoghurts are all aimed exclusively at women too. ‘Feeling a bit blohted?’ And what’s all this coy crap about ‘Activia will help your digestive transit’ as though your insides are a bus route? Eat an apple or some wholemeal bread! That’ll stop you feeling ‘blohted’.

PS: I have nothing against Nell McAndrew who advertises Activia – it’s the ad that annoys me.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 1 June 2009 at 1:30 pm

i think a lot of the “not for girls” stuff is to try and get defiant women to eat them to spite them. there used to be a kids show called no girls allowed. they blew stuff up a lot… but there was a feature about spotting the “girl” who was often the featured racing car driver or something like that. i think it was the same concept expecting to have tomboys watch anyhow, and show some cool “girls” to both sexes. however in most recent years, i cant imagine having a show like that without misogynist “banter.” also these days girls seem to steer away from anything thats not pink for the most part or aimed directly at them. its sad. theres no place for battle of the sexes when people are so scared to cross over the lines. pot noodle on the other hand is just a lads mag. its not trying to get women to buy it in rebellion. its simply ignoring them completely and treating them like dirt for their assumed audiences lolz… horrible.

Kit // Posted 2 June 2009 at 12:25 pm

@Troika21 – I only noticed it recently, with the new “Manly Man” theme of the Coke Zero adverts (while Diet Coke have always been aimed at women, although it’s less obvious now they’ve taken the hunky construction workers out of them – is male objectification not okay then?). It’s not that advertising explicitly says “real men don’t diet”, it’s that it says “women diet” and the assumption is then “men don’t”. Apart from this one supplement advert (where they’re dancing on running machines), all diet products I’ve seen advertised recently have been aimed at women, with only women appearing in them.

Aimee // Posted 2 June 2009 at 5:14 pm

Yeah I try not to eat anything by Nestle, because they are in fact, pure, unadulterated evil.

But so many foods are made by nestle and don’t disclose the fact except somewhere tiny. Underhand bastards.

Sabre // Posted 3 June 2009 at 9:32 am

At the risk of sounding like a idiot, why don’t people eat things by Nestle?

Kate Smurthwaite // Posted 3 June 2009 at 1:33 pm

Hi Sabre – Well the company has a history of irresponsible business practice. For a long time they pushed their formula milk in the third world – telling mothers (wrongly) that it was healthier than breast milk. Of course once kids swapped to formula mothers stopped producing milk and then had to buy formula. Kids died from diseases where the antibodies would have been in breast milk and also from malnutrition when mothers couldn’t afford to buy formula any more. I don’t know if they’re still doing it but I’m sure they have other practices that are just as screwed up. Others may be able to fill you in…

Laurel Dearing // Posted 3 June 2009 at 1:41 pm

personally i hate the way nestle throw gelatin into everything. milky bar yogurt 4 and 12 packs are gelatin free, 6 packs however have pork gelatin. as a vegetarian i dont like nestle for this. i think youll find many various reasons!

Aimee // Posted 3 June 2009 at 4:40 pm

Yeah, and whilst bottle feeding isn’t so bad in this country, where we have clean water and sterilising equipment, in the third world, where they have, no access to these things, the babies are left vulnerable to things like dysentry. They advertise it totally unethically and so many families are unable to afford the formula. So Nestle make a shitload of money and lots of babies die.

Not only that, but they continued to press the ethiopian government for 6 million dollars (i don’t know the exact figure – a shitload of money anway) in the midst of a famine. Their employment practises in foreign countries are insideous… things like sacking workers for complaining against discrimination against women etc.

They’re fucking evil.

Laura // Posted 3 June 2009 at 6:01 pm

Nestle definitely don’t still do the milk formula thing, and I’ve heard some pretty plausible sources tell me that in part it was accidental – donated it as a good cause then women needed it. Also, given that they’ve DEFINITELY stopped doing it, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to continue to punish a company for something they no longer do, otherwise why would they have any incentive to improve their practices.

Aimee, also bear in mind that while formula might be problematic if there isn’t clean water, in cases where the mother is HIV+ then formula is a good way of reducing the chances of HIV transmission.

As for ‘they advertise it totally unethically’ – again I’m not convinced by this. I’ve lived in a number of developing countries for protracted periods, and I’m interested in adverts so tend to keep an eye out, and I haven’t seen anything that jumped out at me as evil. Obviously this isn’t exactly a totally representative sample so quite happy to be proved wrong here.

As for the Ethiopia famine thing, it’s pretty commonly accepted that the cause of famine isn’t usually country level lack of food, but a) a local inability to grow usually as a result of some kind of war/political violence/displacement COMBINED WITH natural disaster e.g. drought, and b) inability OR UNWILLINGNESS on the part of the government to distribute food to those who need it. Ethiopia has been consistently ruled by autocratic governments who spend a lot of money on weapons and repression, and use roads (means of distribution) and aid money (means of development to help prevent future famines) as political tools. Which isn’t to say that Nestle were right to press for the money, just that the Ethiopian government aren’t completely blameless either, and that there is a layer of ambiguity here that is generally missed.

My point more generally is that I sometimes feel that Nestle are sometimes set up as a bit of a straw man for evil capitalism, and I’m not sure they really are as evil as their reputation would suggest, and that, along with most other multinationals, they have greatly improved their working practices in the global south.

Nidi // Posted 3 June 2009 at 6:27 pm

Ditto what Aimee said but also – as the formula milk is so expensive, there is a tendency for it to be watered down (to make it last longer) leading to inadequate nutrition for the baby and a compromised immune system – add that to a lack of clean water & sterilising equipment and you have a recipe for disaster.

Aimee // Posted 4 June 2009 at 3:28 pm

Good point about teh HIV transmissions. There practises are still unethical though, and yes, of course the Ethiopian government were to blame for the famine, but to push for the repayment of a massive amount of money in the middle of a famine is just plain evil.

… Nestle are pretty evil. But then so are a LOT of companes.

Louise // Posted 17 June 2009 at 4:46 pm

Its not just Yorkie advertised “not for girls”, i’ve noticed McCoys Crisps new slogan is “Man Crisps…in man Flavours” and the website is the most infuriatingly thing i’ve seen in ages

Eg: “whoa, better get those beer goggles” …at which point animated beer glasses appear on screen and the ‘average’ looking barwoman suddenly turns into a much thinner ‘sexier’ version.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds