In May we featured a block of cheese that inspired quite the response. Riffing off the name “Monterey Jack,” a company was selling “Monterey Jill”: the same old cheese, but reduced fat. It was an excellent example of the way dieting is feminized.
People — myself included — were pretty stunned to see gendered cheese; who knew this was going to be a thing. In fact, Liam sent us an example of gendered string cheese with the exact same theme: there’s string cheese animated by a male character and reduced-fat string cheese animated by a female character. Also, they’re surfing; aaaaaand I have no analysis of that.
As our society becomes increasingly technological, I love stories that remind us of the value of simpler ways to solve problems, like a faux bus stop to catch escapee nursing home residents or dogs that are trained to sniff out cancer (both stories here).
This weekend we were treated to another such story, this time by Google. The company has announced a plan to bring internet to the whole world… with balloons. The very first launch of a gas balloon was in 1783. Two hundred and thirty years later, the company aims to deliver what is arguably the defining feature of our age — the internet — with helium-filled balloons. That technology will then bring almost countless other technologies, such as medical advances and agricultural information, to people who are largely excluded from them now. A fantastical plan.
I mean we all know that dieting and women go together like peas and carrots. We know this — collectively and together, even if we don’t agree that it should be this way – not because it’s inevitable or natural, but because we constantly get reminded that womenshouldbeondiets and dietingis afeminineactivity.
@msmely tweeted us a fabulous example of this type of reminder. It’s a reduced fat block of Monterey Jack cheese, re-named “Monterey Jill.” There’s curvy purple font and a cow in pearls with a flower, in case you missed the message. And, oh, on the odd chance you thought that this was about health and not weight, there’s a little sign there with a message to keep you on track: “Meet Jack’s lighter companion.”
So now we’ve gendered cheese and managed to affirm both the gender binary (heavy vs. light), heterocentrism (Jack’s companion Jill), and the diet imperative for women. And it’s just cheese people! Cheese!
We all-too-often take for granted that photographs like this one, revealing the impact of an oil pipeline leak on Mayflower, Arkansas, will be able to inform us about the state of the world. In fact, such images are taken by actual human photojournalists whose rights of access are protected by the First Amendment establishing the freedom of the press.
This is a real thorn in the side of both corporations and governments that might prefer to control media’s access to embarrassing or illegal activities. So, often they try to strong arm journalists, co-opt local officials, or pass (likely illegal) legislation designed to protect them from the free press’ gaze. Here are two current examples.
First, Mother Jonesreports that Exxon officials are making efforts to limit reporter access to the oil pipeline leak in Mayflower, Arkansas. This is happening in at least two ways. First, Exxon representatives and local law enforcement are blocking journalists from accessing the spill site, threatening ”arrest for criminal trespass.” Second, BoingBoing reports that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has instituted a temporary “no-fly zone” in the area of the spill. Here’s a screenshot from the FAA’s website:
Second, in the last two years Americans have shuddered in response to the release of undercover video revealing the abuse of animals on industrialfarms and the torture of Tennessee Walking horses. These have resulted in convictions, but they’ve also raised the hackles of the agricultural industry. The New York Timesreports that, in an effort to limit their risk, they’ve sponsored bills (proposed or enacted in about a dozen state legislatures) making it illegal to videotape animals on their property without their permission and requiring all prospective employees to reveal associations with animal rights groups.
These examples remind us how important it is that journalists have the freedom to do their job. They also remind us that we must vigilantly protect that freedom. Corporations, and governments too, have an incentive to limit the freedom of the press. These are powerful entities, often in cahoots, that can and will ignore the First Amendment when they can get away with it.
Larry Harnisch, of the Los Angeles Times blog The Daily Mirror, sent in this image, published in The Mirror in 1959, that illustrated how women’s bodies were judged in the Miss Universe contest:
ALL FIGURED OUT–This chart is used by judges as [a] guide in picking Miss Universe. First six show figure flaws, seventh is perfectly proportioned. (1) Shoulders too square. (2) Shoulders too sloping. (3) Hips too wide. (4) Shoulder bones too pronounced. (5) Shoulders and back hunched. (6) Legs irregular, with spaces at calves, knees, thighs. (7) The form divine, needs only a beautiful face.
(I had no idea that I have irregular legs until I saw figure 6. My self esteem is taking quite the hit. I can’t tell if there’s anything wrong with my shoulders, though–I’ll have to ask someone else for an opinion.)
First, some people like to suggest that men are programmed by evolution to find a particular body shape attractive. Clearly, if judging women’s bodies requires this much instruction, either (1) nature has left us incompetent or (2) cultural norms defining beauty overwhelm any biological predisposition to be attracted to specific body types.
Second, the chart reveals the level of scrutiny women faced in 1959 (and I’d argue it’s not so different today). It made me think of my years in 4-H. I was a farm kid and I showed steers for several years and also took part in livestock and meat judging competitions. I was good at it, just so you know. Anyway, what the beauty pageant image brought to mind was the handouts we’d look at to learn how to judge livestock. Here are some examples, from Kansas State University’s 4-H judging guide (pdf here):
This poor pig has a low-set tail–how dreadful:
It’s almost as if, like superior livestock, beautiful women are a desired cultural product in which we should all invest and be invested. You might compare these to some of the images in our post about sexualizing food that come from Carol Adams’s website.
Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
My best friend’s car has four cup holders in the front seat. FOUR. I would ask what a person does with four cup holders, except I’m too busy feeling jealous. I drive with a measly two.
Cup holders, or what the US News and World Report quaintly called ”crannies for drinking cups” as late as 1989, weren’t considered an automotive necessity until the ’50s. That was when, reports Bon Appetit, “drive-ins and drive-thru windows became mainstays of American eating.” Before then, people were expected to stop for food and drink and then be sated. Can you imagine?
It took a long time, though, for the automobile industry to figure out exactly how to deliver us our cup holders. First there was a “snack tray for car,” as pictured in a 1950 newspaper ad:
Companies also sold between the seat inserts that held cups and Cadillac sold a limousine with magnetic cup holders:
The cup holder as we know it today came to us in 1983 alongside another innovation: the mini van. The first cup holders ”sunk into the plastic of the dashboard” were installed in the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager. It would be a decade, though, before cup holders came standard in essentially every car.
In the U.S., Valentine’s Day is pretty much for women. While women do give Valentine’s gifts to male partners, the emphasis among adults is on men giving items to women: flowers, candy, cards, taking them out to dinner, and so on. In many cases women aren’t expected to reciprocate, or can give a less expensive/significant present, and I doubt many give flowers or chocolate in heart-shaped boxes.
In Japan, however, the roles are reversed: women give chocolates to men, as well as often buying gifts and providing meals. It apparently isn’t entirely clear how this tradition emerged.
There are two types of chocolates that women give men. Giri-choco, or “obligation chocolate,” is relatively cheap and is what you give to coworkers and the like:
Honmei-choco is higher-quality chocolate reserved for men a woman is close to–partners or perhaps a family member:
The big heart on the left costs around $35:
Some women choose to make their own honmei.
Men aren’t off the hook, however. A month later, on March 14th, is White Day, a day when men give candy and other gifts to women:
According to wikipedia, these gifts are supposed to be more expensive than what the men received on Valentine’s Day.
A lot of websites say that White Day was invented by a marshmallow company in the ’60s as a way to increase sales, but I can’t find any reliable source for this explanation.
It’s a good example of the social construction of holidays and food. In the U.S., chocolate is highly feminized–we think of it as a food that women particularly like, and ads about chocolate, especially fancy chocolates, are usually aimed at women (or men buying for them). Valentine’s Day and big heart-shaped boxes with large bows on them are likewise feminized. Valentine’s Day is, primarily, a day when men are expected to show their affection for women through the purchase of these things (and, as a side note, the chocolate that comes in those heart-shaped boxes is often pretty unappealing). Insofar as women reciprocate with gifts for men, they’re unlikely to come in a similar heart-shaped box. When I brought up this possibility to my students, they said that would be really unusual and the male recipient would probably feel strange about it.
In Japan, clearly chocolates for Valentine’s Day (even expensive, fancy chocolate), heart-shaped boxes, and big bows are considered appropriate gifts for men. It makes it clear how our association of chocolate with women is culturally specific.
Of course, the fact that on White Day men are supposed to give women more expensive gifts than they received indicates that, while Valentine’s Day specifically is for men, the expectation is that overall, the balance of gift-giving requires men to show more affection-via-spending, similar to U.S. expectations surrounding the holiday.
Emily B. sent along this notice for a UC Davis cafeteria Martin Luther King day menu:
On the one hand, the cafeteria is making an effort to mark MLK day and, to be fair, the food choices are traditional “soul food” familiar to (especially Southern) Black populations and the South more generally. On the other hand, preparing foods associated with Black people is about the shallowest possible way to celebrate such an important man.
The conundrum — do we or don’t we, as a cafeteria, acknowledge Martin Luther King day and, if so how? — is a familiar one. Can one do so without reproducing stereotypes and appearing on blogs like these? Or should we just pretend the day doesn’t exist?
The truth is, in a context of ongoing racial inequality in which stereotypes continue to harm, organizations such as these are stuck between a rock and a hard place. That’s how racism has such staying power: it makes it such that all choices resonate with its ugliness.