Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Steak or salad: food is just another tool of the patriarchy

Growing up, whenever something delicious touched my mouth, my grandma would look at me and say “a minute on your lips, forever on your hips.”

Her message was clear: don’t get fat. Her words exemplified the message I internalized every time I fueled my body. Girls and women in America are subliminally, and sometimes openly encouraged to eat fewer calories, be dainty, and indulge sparingly (because life is hard).

A few weeks ago, while campaigning in New York, Hillary Clinton stopped for some ice cream. While chowing down on her sundae (Pictures seem to indicate she ordered both chocolate and vanilla. Undoubtedly, a politically calculated move), a male reporter asked her how many calories were in her ice cream. Clinton, along with the crowd, erupted in a chorus of boos. The Internet properly responded posing the question: If it had been a male candidate, would he have been asked that same question? Almost certainly not.

Marketing manipulates our eating habits, and our eating expectations. Foods marketed towards women generally have low-calorie or low-fat labels (which are usually pink or purple). Advertisements encourage the female consumers to “indulge.” Where marketing suggests that men loveburgers and steak, it tells us women favor yogurt and quiche

In a recent episode of Modern Family,  a female character, Claire, struggled to adjust to her new business position as a company executive. In an effort to prove she was just as powerful as her manly predecessor, she ordered steak and scotch at lunch. After a summer of associate lunches, and then this episode of Modern Family, I started wondering if “manly” food is associated with power?

Men can fire up the grill and indulge in steak anytime they want. Yet women have strict societal limits on when it’s okay to indulge. Women can indulge when they need to. And even when women are permitted to indulge, we must indulge in certain foods: most notably chocolate. Chocolate is society’s treat of choice for women.

Women are expected to eat chocolate and pints of ice cream as a coping mechanism formenstruation, stress and break ups. And even women indulging, we must be careful not to overindulge. Cadbury recently released a new chocolate bar for women, Crispello. The chocolate comes packaged in three re-sealable sections so women can eat part of the bar in one sitting, and save the rest for later. 

Women eat less in the company of men. Studies tell us this isn’t just about our physiques, but also how we are perceived when we indulge.

Women worry about that they eat, how much they eat, and what people think of them while they’re eating. When Hillary Clinton defiantly stuck her spoon in that sundae, she was defying billions of marketing dollars telling her she should resist.


Meredith Hankins said...

This article really struck me, as I recently had lunch with two female friends and we were talking about what the best food is for (heterosexual) first dates. The comments of myself and my friends all echoed similar ideas: we don't want to eat too much, we don't want to look like pigs, it can't be too messy.... Ugh. No wonder eating disorders are so much more prevalent in women with all the pressure we/society puts on ourselves around food (

Kate said...

This post also reminds me how women feel pressure to explain their eating choices to each other, and even their bodies. I've definitely felt the need to explain that I've worked out if I reach for dessert, or that I've been eating too many snacks if I'm in a bikini. It often feels like something has to be acknowledged, like an unspoken rule that we all know to follow. The flip side is, of course, men have nothing to explain.