Food Is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America

Food Is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America

Food Is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America

Food Is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America

Synopsis

Modern advertising has changed dramatically since the early 20th century, but when it comes to food, Katherine J. Parkin writes, the message has remained consistent. The text draws on thousands of ads that appeared in the most popular magazines of the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Excerpt

My great-grandmother, Mary Morris, was born in 1906 and stopped school in the third grade, working first in domestic service, then at Jenkins’s glass factory, and finally retiring as head of Kroger’s dairy department. Living until 1997, she witnessed many remarkable changes in American society. Certainly one of the most notable transformations took place in her kitchen and in kitchens across the country. Convenience foods sped up the cooking that had previously taken long, laborintensive hours. Yet even as the cooking got easier, she, and not her husband, was responsible for it. This was true even though all of the other housework responsibilities fell to her and she worked outside the home for wages. However, she did not always make the food and often used the supermarket and the bakery to supply her feasts. Mary wanted to show her love with food, but she demonstrated her love by procuring and preparing food, not necessarily making it at home from scratch. Indeed, as she was able, Mary Morris bought more and made less, reflecting a growing trend, as more Americans bought prepared foods for their convenience.

Still, throughout the twentieth century, the ideology that identified women as homemakers and men as breadwinners held strong, even as a different reality strained the ideal. Mary Morris’s role was not unique; cultures around the world and across time have bound women, food, and love together. American society and advertising in particular have envisioned the preparation and consumption of food in distinctly gendered terms. While everyone eats food, women have had sole responsibility for its purchase and preparation. By commodifying these attitudes and beliefs, women’s magazines and food advertisers have promoted the belief that food preparation is a gender-specific activity and that women should shop and cook for others in order to express their love.

Many scholars have considered the role of advertising in American society, but few have considered the centrality of food advertising in shaping twentieth-century gender roles. Big-ticket items like automobiles and appliances have attracted many analysts of advertising, while others have examined what seemed to be more explicitly gendered ads for . . .

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