Tag Archives: food/agriculture

1950s Beauty Pageant Judging Guidelines

Originally posted in 2009. Re-posted in honor of Women’s History Month.

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:

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Text:

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.)

Two points:

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):

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This poor pig has a low-set tail–how dreadful:

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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.

When Did Cars Get Cup Holders?

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:

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Companies also sold between the seat inserts that held cups and Cadillac sold a limousine with magnetic cup holders:

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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.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Celebrating Valentine’s Day in Japan

Originally posted in 2010. Re-posted in honor of the holiday.

This morning I heard an interesting story on NPR about the celebration of Valentine’s Day in Japan.

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.

Other posts: the social construction of chocolate and marketing chocolate to men.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Celebrate Martin Luther King Day with Racial Stereotypes

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.

See also: wrong ways to celebrate Black History Month and how not to include racial  history in school curricula.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Social Safety Net Under Attack

Cross-posted at Reports from the Economic Front.

One of the subthemes of current discussions about how best to reduce our national debt is that we must rein in out-of-control spending on federal safety net programs.   The reality is quite different.

The chart below shows spending trends in terms of GDP for the ten major needs-tested benefit programs that make-up our federal social safety net. The programs, in the order listed on the chart, are:

  • The refundable portion of the health insurance tax credit enacted in the 2010 health care reform law
  • Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Financial assistance for post-secondary students (Pell Grants)
  • Compensatory Education Grants to school districts
  • Assisted Housing
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
  • The Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Family Support Payments

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As Jared Bernstein explains:

…for all the popular wisdom that programs to help low-income people are swallowing the economy, the truth is that like so much else that plagues our fiscal future, it’s all about health care spending.  The figure shows that as a share of GDP, prior to the Great Recession, non-health care spending was cruising along at around 1.5% for decades.  It was Medicaid/CHIP (Medicaid expansion for kids) that did most of the growing.

The takeaway from this: we need a new health care system (think single payer).

Regardless, the recent explosion in the ratio of Medicare/CHIP spending to GDP is largely due to the severity of the Great Recession, not the generosity of the programs. The recession increased poverty and thus eligibility for the programs, thereby pushing up the numerator, while simultaneously lowering GDP, the denominator.   Moreover, spending on all non-health care safety net programs is on course to dramatically decline as a share of GDP. Even Medicare/Chip spending is projected to stabilize as a share of GDP.

These programs are essential given the poor performance of the economy, and in most cases poorly-funded. Cutting their budgets will not only deny people access to health care, housing, education, and food, it will also further weaken the economy, in both the short and long run.

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Martin Hart-Landsberg is a professor of Economics and Director of the Political Economy Program at Lewis and Clark College.  You can follow him at Reports from the Economic Front.

Watermelon: Symbolizing the Supposed Simplicity of Slaves

For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2012.

If you pay attention to racist portrayals of African Americans, you will notice the frequent appearance of watermelons.  The trope has its roots in American slavery.

Why watermelons?  According to David Pilgrim, the curator of the Jim Crow Museum, defenders of slavery used the watermelon as a symbol of simplicity.  African Americans, the argument went, were happy as slaves.  They didn’t need the complicated responsibilities of freedom; they just needed some shade and a cool, delicious treat.

Abagond has a nice collection of such images:

Here the copy makes explicit the idea that slaves needed little but a watermelon to make them happy:

Just look at these benevolent White people (sarcasm):

I think this is an interesting example of the way in which supposedly random stereotypes have strategic beginnings.  The association of Black people with a love of watermelon isn’t just a neutral stereotype, nor one that emerged because there is a “kernel of truth” (as people love to say about stereotypes).  Instead, it was a deliberate tool with which to misportray African Americans and justify slavery.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Historical Trends in Gun Advertising

This post originally appeared on Sociological Images in 2010. Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.

Bob Z. and Dmitriy T.M. sent us a link to a vintage collection of gun advertising, organized by decade, that shows some interesting trends.

In the 1900s and 1910s, gun advertising frequently simply touted the benefits of the gun itself, ignoring completely any indication as to what the gun was for:

In the ’20s and ’30s, gun advertising more frequently involved a hunting or pest-reduction theme:

This theme continued through the 40s, but alongside a new theme, war (i.e., World War II):

Then, in the 1960s, the war theme disappeared and the hunting theme continued, this time with a new twist. Instead of just hunting for food (and sport) or to protect your property, ads included the hunting of exotic game solely for sport:

Since the 1990s, we’ve seen a new kind of gun advertising in which self-defense is the selling point.  Interestingly, this new marketing strategy is designed to bring in womengays and lesbians, people of color, and kids.

Notably, if you are unfortunate enough to be assaulted, carrying a gun makes it more likely that you’ll be shot in the encounter.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Growth Of Monopoly Power

Cross-posted at Reports from the Economic Front.

Market advocates have had their way for years now and one of the consequences has been the growing dominance of industry after industry by a select few powerful corporations.  In short, unchecked competition can and does produce its opposite: monopoly.

As John Bellamy Foster, Robert W. McChesney, and R. Jamil Jonna explain:

This [development] is anything but an academic concern. The economic defense of capitalism is premised on the ubiquity of competitive markets, providing for the rational allocation of scarce resources and justifying the existing distribution of incomes. The political defense of capitalism is that economic power is diffuse and cannot be aggregated in such a manner as to have undue influence over the democratic state. Both of these core claims for capitalism are demolished if monopoly, rather than competition, is the rule.

The chart below highlights the rise, especially since the 1980s, in both the number and percentage of U.S. manufacturing industries in which four firms account for more than 50% of sales.

Number and Percentage of U.S. Manufacturing Industries in which Largest Four Companies Accounted for at Least 50 Percent of Shipment Value in Their Industries, 1947-2007:

As the table below shows, the concentration of market power is not confined to manufacturing.

Percentage of Sales for Four Largest Firms in Selected U.S. Retail Industries:

Industry (NAICS code)  1992    1997    2002    2007
Food & beverage stores (445)  15.4    18.3    28.2    27.7
Health & personal care stores (446)  24.7    39.1    45.7    54.4
General merchandise stores (452)  47.3    55.9    65.6    73.2
Supermarkets (44511)  18.0    20.8    32.5    32.0
Book stores (451211)  41.3    54.1    65.6    71.0
Computer & software stores (443120)  26.2    34.9    52.5    73.1

As impressive as these concentration trends may be, they actually understate the market power exercised by leading U.S. firms because many of these firms are conglomerates and active in more than one industry.  The next chart provides some flavor for overall concentration trends by showing the growing share of total business revenue captured by the top two hundred U.S. corporations.  Notice the sharp rise since the 1990s.

Revenue of Top 200 U.S. Corporations as Percentage of Total Business Revenue, U.S. Economy, 1950–2008:

These are general trends.  Here, thanks to Zocalo (which draws on the work of Barry Lynn), we get a picture of the market dominance of just one corporation–Procter and Gamble.  This corporation controls:

  • More than 75 percent of men’s razors
  • About 60 percent of laundry detergent
  • Nearly 60 percent of dishwasher detergent
  • More than 50 percent of feminine pads
  • About 50 percent of toothbrushes
  • Nearly 50 percent of batteries
  • Nearly 45 percent of paper towels, just through the Bounty brand
  • Nearly 40 percent of toothpaste
  • Nearly 40 percent of over-the-counter heartburn medicines
  • Nearly 40 percent of diapers.
  • About 33 percent of shampoo, coffee, and toilet paper

A recent Huffington Post blog post, which includes the following infographic from the French blog Convergence Alimentaire, makes clear that Procter and Gamble, as big as it is, is just one member of a small but powerful group of multinationals that dominate many consumer markets.   The blog post states: “A ginormous number of brands are controlled by just 10 multinationals… Now we can see just how many products are owned by Kraft, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, P&G and Nestlé. ”   See here for a bigger version of the infographic.

And, it is not just the consumer goods industry that’s highly concentrated.  As the Huffington Post also noted: “Ninety percent of the media is now controlled by just six companies, down from 50 in 1983…. Likewise, 37 banks merged to become JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and CitiGroup in a little over two decades, as seen in this 2010 graphic from Mother Jones.”

Not surprisingly, there are complex interactions and struggles between these dominant companies.  Unfortunately, most end up strengthening monopoly power at the public expense.  For example, as Zocalo reports, Wal-Mart, Target, and other major retailers have adopted a new control strategy in which:

…these retailers name a single supplier to serve as a category captain. This supplier is expected to manage all the shelving and marketing decisions for an entire family of products, such as dental care.

The retailer then requires all the other producers of this class of products — these days, usually no more than one or two other firms — to cooperate with the captain. The consciously intended result of this tight cartelization is a growing specialization of production and pricing among the few big suppliers who are still in business…

It’s not that Wal-Mart and category copycats like Target cede all control over shelving and hence production decisions to these captains. The trading firms use the process mainly to gain more insight into the operations of the manufacturers and hence more leverage over them, their suppliers, and even their other clients… Wal-Mart, for instance, has told Coca-Cola what artificial sweetener to use in a diet soda, it has told Disney what scenes to cut from a DVD, it has told Levi’s what grade of cotton to use in its jeans, and it has told lawn mower makers what grade of steel to buy.

And don’t think that such consolidation within the Wal-Mart system makes it easier for new small manufacturers and retailers to rise up and compete. The exact opposite tends to be true. . . . This [system] boils down to presenting the owners of midsized and smaller companies, like Oakley or Tom’s of Maine, with the “option” of selling their business to the monopolist in exchange for a “reasonable” sum determined by the monopolist.

This was the message delivered to many of the companies that in recent decades managed to develop big businesses seemingly outside the reach of the Procter & Gambles, Krafts, and Gillettes of the world. Consider the following:

  • Ben & Jerry’s, the Vermont ice cream company that reshaped the industry, was swallowed by Unilever in 2000.
  • Cascadian Farm, one of the most successful organic food companies, sold out to General Mills and was promptly transformed into what its founder calls a “PR farm.”
  • Stonyfield Farm and Brown Cow, organic dairy companies from New Hampshire and California, respectively, separately sold con-trol to the French food giant Groupe Danone in February 2003 and were blended into a single operation.
  • Glaceau, the company behind the brightly colored Vitamin Water and one of the last independent success stories, sold out to Coca-Cola in 2007.

The practical result is a hierarchy of power in which a few immense trading companies — in control of and to some degree in cahoots with a few dominant supply conglomerates — govern almost all the industrial activities on which we depend, and they back their efforts with what amounts to police power. This tiny confederation of private corporate governments determines who wins and who loses in this country, at least within our consumer economy.

Of course the growing concentration nationally is matched by a growing concentration of power globally, with large transnational corporations from different nations battling each other and, in many cases, uniting through mergers and acquisitions.  We cannot hope to understand and overcome our current problems and the structural pressures limiting our responses to them without first acknowledging the extent of corporate dominance over our economic lives.

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Martin Hart-Landsberg is a professor of Economics and Director of the Political Economy Program at Lewis and Clark College.  You can follow him at Reports from the Economic Front.