We cannot accept that a German Christmas tree has anything to do with a crib in a manger in Bethlehem. It is inconceivable for us that Christmas and all its deep soulful content is the product of an oriental religion.
But Germans were largely Christian, so getting rid of Christmas was going to be tricky. So Hitler turned it into a celebration of the Third Reich. According to John Brownlee, they re-wrote Christmas carols to extol the virtues of National Socialism. Mentions of Jesus were replaced with “Savior Führer.” Since they well understood that Santa wasn’t white, they re-cast the character; he was played by the pagan god Odin. And they changed the ornaments and placed swastikas atop Christmas trees.
In her now-classic books The Sexual Politics of Meat and The Pornography of Meat, Carol Adams analyzes similarities in the presentation of meat products (or the animals they come from) and women’s bodies.
She particularly draws attention to sexualized fragmentation — the presentation of body parts of animals in ways similar to sexualized poses of women — and what she terms “anthropornography,” or connecting the eating of animals to the sex industry. For an example of anthropornography, Adams presents this “turkey hooker” cooking utensil:
Adams also discusses the conflation of meat/animals and women–while women are often treated as “pieces of meat,” meat products are often posed in sexualized ways or in clothing associated with women. The next eleven images come from Adams’s website:
For a more in-depth, theoretical discussion of the connections between patriarchy, gender inequality, and literal consumption of meat and symbolic consumption of women, we highly encourage you to check out Adams’s website.
This type of imagery has by no means disappeared, so we’ve amassed quite a collection of our own here at Sociological Images.
IndianFeminist sent in this example from India for a Mango flavored drink called Slice. “The brand ambassador,” our reader writes, “is Katrina Kaif, undoubtedly India’s most popular actress.” The ad puts her inside the bottle and merges her with the liquid, then offers her as a date.
An ad I found for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter turns Spraychel into a female politician:
Blanca pointed us to Skinny Cow ice cream, which uses this sexualized image of a cow (who also has a measuring tape around her waist to emphasize that she’s skinny):
Mustard and ketchup make up a “sexy” woman (from Las Vegas Living):
Are you hungry for some lovin’, er, lunchin’? Do you have an all-American appetite for chick(en)s? Or are you secretly ravenous for pig? We think we might have just the thing to satisfy your lust for breast, thigh, and rump:
Amanda C. sent in this sign seen at Taste of Chicago:
Dmitiriy T.M. sent us this perplexing Hardee’s French Dip “commercial.” It’s basically three minutes of models pretending like dressing up as French maids for Hardees and pouting at the camera while holding a sandwich is a good gig:
Dmitriy also sent us this photo of Sweet Taters in New Orleans:
Jacqueline R. sent in this commercial for Birds Eye salmon fish sticks:
Crystal J. pointed out that a Vegas restaurant is using these images from the 1968 No More Miss America protest in advertisements currently running in the UNLV campus newspaper, the Rebel Yell. Here’s a photo from the protest:
Sally R. sent in this two-page Tropicana ad she found in her morning newspaper. The ad features, as Sally puts it, a “hard (bad) surly girl in pants and [an] easy (nice) girl in a dress with a flowery gift and passive smile…” The first is labeled “hard to handle” and the second “easy to handle.” The new orange juice container is supposed to be more like the “easy” girl.
On the face of it, this ad is about parenting. But there is so much more going on that makes the ad work.
Notice how easyness is communicated with symbols of femininity. The message is that girls are, ideally, accommodating and passive. Girls should be like objects, easy to “handle.” Would the ad work quite the same way if the child was a boy? Do we hope/expect that our boys will be completely passive and convenient to handle?
Sally also notes the “double meaning of easy” which, combined with the girl’s coy pose and smile, sends a sexual message. The sexual promise that the ad makes (it/she is “easy to handle”) works despite (or because of?) her age. Consider how similar the image is to these examples in which women and girls are simultaneously sexualized and infantilized with the use of passiveposes and symbols of youth.
This conflation of object status, femininity, being female, and being well-behaved is obnoxious. It’s insulting to both boys and girls and affirms the false gender binary. It’s dangerous, too. It contributes to the idea that girls are objects to take advantage of who are misbehaving if they assert themselves. It’s disturbing to see it reproduced for something as trivial as an orange juice carton.
Joel Best, the sociologist famous for debunking the myth that your children might receive Halloween candy impregnated with poison and razor blades, wishes you a “Happy Halloween” and nothing but the Best candy:
The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend $7.4 billion dollars celebrating Halloween this year. In total, 74% of households will buy something for Halloween and, among those, the average will spend $125.
A full two-thirds of the population will buy a costume, spending an average of $77.52 each. That’s a record in terms of both spending and the sheer number of costumes sold.
Interestingly, the holiday has evolved from primarily a children’s holiday to one celebrated by adults, especially millenials. Less than half of the money spent on costumes is going to costumes for children. Adults dress up (to the tune of $1.4 million) and their dress up their pets ($350 million). They also throw parties for other adults and patronize bars and clubs, which increasingly feature Halloween-themed events, food, and drinks.
One of my favorite examples of social construction is that we eat hot links for breakfast and pork chops for dinner. Both pig, but morning sausage seems odd in the evening and pork chops for breakfast would be a decidedly deviant sunrise treat.
A pretty set of photos at The New York Times illustrates this social construction of breakfast food by highlighting the first meal of the day for children in seven parts of the world. It would be fun — for those of you teaching classes — to show some of them to students and ask them to guess (1) the meal of the day and (2) the age of the eater.
Chitedza, Malawi: cornmeal porridge with soy and groundnut flour; deep-fried cornmeal fritters with onions, garlic and chiles; boiled sweet potato and pumpkin; juice of dried hibiscus and sugar.
São Paulo, Brazil: ham and cheese, bread with butter, coffee.
Tokyo, Japan: stir-fried green peppers with dried fish, soy sauce, and sesame seeds; raw egg and soy sauce poured over rice; lotus root, burdock root, and carrot sautéed with a rice wine; miso soup; fruit; milk.
When I was in grad school studying sociology of agriculture, one thing we talked about was organic agriculture and the difference between “organic” and “sustainable.” Most consumers think of these words interchangeably. So, when many people think of an organic dairy farm they imagine something along the lines of these images, the top results for an image search of “organic dairy farm”:
So happy! So content! And, we assume, raised on a small family farm in a way that is humane and environmentally responsible. Those, are, after all, two of the things we expect when something is defined as “sustainable”: it is environmentally benign and humane. We also usually assume that workers would be treated decently as well.
But there is no reason that those elements considered essential to sustainability have to have much to do with organic agriculture. Depending on who is doing the defining, being “organic” can involve very little difference from conventional agriculture. Having an organic dairy mostly just requires that the cows not have antibiotics or homones used on them, eat organic feed, and have access to grass a certain number of days per year. In and of itself, organic certifications don’t guarantee long-term environmental sustainability or overall humane treatment of livestock.
A great illustration of how little the modes of production on organic farms may differ from conventional agriculture is the Vander Eyk dairy. It is an operation in California with over 10,000 dairy cows. Here are some images (found here and here):
As the caption to the last image makes clear, the Vander Eyk dairy had two herds on the same property, but segregated from one another: the majority of the herd produced conventional milk, while 3,500 cows produced organic milk for sale under the Horizon brand:
In 2007 the Vander Eyk dairy lost its organic certification for violating the requirement that organic dairy cows spend a certain amount of time on pasture. They had cows on pasture, but they were non-milking heifers, not cows that were being milked at the time. What we see here is that the label “organic” doesn’t guarantee most of the things we associate with the idea of organic or sustainable agriculture (and in cases like Vander Eyk, may not even guarantee the things the label is supposed to cover).
This isn’t just in the dairy industry. As Julie Guthman explains in her book Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California, many types of organic agriculture include things you might not expect. For instance, organic producers in California joined with other producers to oppose making the short-handled hoe illegal — the bane of agricultural workers everywhere (and most infamously associated with sharecropping in the South in the early 20th century) — because they want workers to do lots of close weeding to make up for not spraying crops with pesticides. So, though we often assume organic farmers would be labor-friendly, in that case they opposed a change that agricultural workers supported.
Many organic crops are grown on farms that are the equivalent of the Vander Eyk dairy; most of the land is in conventional production, but a certain number of acres are used to grow organic versions of the same thing. Often the producer, which may be an individual farmer or a corporation such as Dole, isn’t very committed to organics; if a pest infestation threatens to ruin a crop, they’ll just spray it and then sell it on the conventional market rather than lose it. They may then have to have the land re-certified as “in transition,” meaning it hasn’t been pesticide-free long enough to be declared completely organic, but many consumers don’t pay too much attention to such distinctions.
The Vander Eyk dairy — and lots more examples of large containment-facility operations selling to Horizon and other brands at the Cornucopia Institute’s photo gallery — are interesting examples of how terms like “organic,” “green,” and “eco-friendly” don’t necessarily mean that the item is produced according to any of the standards we often assume they imply.
Originally posted in 2009.
Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
@zeyneparsel and Stephanie S. both sent in a link to a new craze in China: peach panties. I totally made the craze part up — I have no idea about that — but the peach panties are real and there is a patent pending.
I thought they were a great excuse to make a new Pinterest board featuring examples of marketing that uses sex to sell decidely unsexy — or truly sex-irrelevant — things. It’s called Sexy What!? and I describe it as follows:
This board is a collection of totally random stuff being made weirdly and unnecessarily sexual by marketers who — I’m gonna say it — have run out of ideas.
My favorites are the ads for organ donation, hearing aids, CPR, and sea monkeys. Enjoy!