Gender and Class Hierarchies in Chocolate Ads: Old Stereotypes, New Interpretations

Since the European appropriation of chocolate, it has continuously been perceived through the lens of overarching societal gender and class stereotypes. Namely, chocolate consumption has been synonymous with male superiority and social status and consequently, women have been primarily represented as powerless. Chocolate was first consumed by the early Spanish settlers who moved into the former indigenous lands of South America, and it became associated with the upper class land owners. Further, it was the wealthy Spanish women who were portrayed as the first “chocoholics” who were unable to resist it (Coe & Coe, 114). Jose de Acosta recalled in 1590, “the Spanish men, and even more, the Spanish women – are addicted to the black chocolate” (Coe & Coe, 114).

choc god
Women are often portrayed as unable to resist their lust for chocolate, even to the point of hysteria.

Gender and class stereotypes continued into the 18th century. During the golden years of the Age of Enlightenment, men belonging to the upper classes consumed chocolate in clubs where they would engage in activities deemed unfit for women at the time, such as cigar smoking, gambling, and political debates, while women primarily consumed much smaller portions of chocolate the traditional female space of the kitchen (Coe & Coe, 222-224). In the early 20th century, driven by the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution,  chocolate transformed from a rare luxury to a common foodstuff that quickly became an item that was sought by the masses (232). Simultaneously, chocolate manufacturers burst onto the scene with a seemingly endless array of new chocolate candies which they were able to sell at affordable prices thanks to new and efficient processes aided by mechanization. Further, developments in transportation, packaging, preservation, and retailing made it possible to market their products to far larger populations than they had ever been able to before (Goody, 72).

 

chco 1
    An ad for Whitman’s chocolates. Here, the woman is represented as the consumer, and the man as the provider. 

As the fledgling chocolate industry gained momentum, and the competition for customers became more fierce between companies, advertising campaigns became a critical tool to attract consumers. Specifically, these advertisements reflected the societal gender stereotypes and notions of class status that have been associated with chocolate consumption since European’s were introduced to it. In these ads, women were often represented as feeble, with little or no self control, who were unable to control their lust or addictive tendencies, whereas men were portrayed as both reasonable and resolute, which reinforces an androcentric view of gender in society (Robertson, 20; 68). Further, chocolate companies, such as Cadbury, draw “explicitly on upper-class stereotypes” by representing individuals from higher classes enjoying chocolate in their advertisements, which invite middle and lower class customers to associate chocolate consumption with a higher social status (Robertson, 26).

These themes come together to create a narrative that has been employed continuously by chocolate companies throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. The narrative creates the image of the female as the primary consumer, who is inherently weak because of her gender and thereby cannot control herself when it comes to chocolate’s overwhelming power. The male figure is represented as the provider, who brings her the chocolate, thereby pacifying her or becoming the source of her happiness, which establishes a gender hierarchy by placing the male figure as dominant over the female. Finally, the chocolate is presented as a luxury item, promising consumers wealth with their purchase of the confection. This narrative is represented in the add for Dove chocolate below.

This advertisement begins with the man describing chocolates immense power to erase a woman’s memory. His girlfriend chose to eat chocolate after a visit to the gynaecologist, suggesting that women should be embarrassed by their own sexuality and body. The woman is portrayed as easily manipulated by the power of the chocolate, and she forgets how to play piano. She also sends a nude picture to everyone in her office in a state of innocent ignorance, and she promptly pops a piece of Dove chocolate into her mouth to forget her embarrassing mistake. In fact, her memory is so affected that she has to wear a label around her next that informs her who her boyfriend is because she is unable to recognize him due to the affects of the chocolate. This label further suggests the notion that the female belongs to the male. Throughout the entire ad, the man speaks for her and the woman in the clip only says two words. The ad suggests that women are innocently ignorant, and that they seek forgetfulness in order to deal with their lives. Further, the ad objectifies women as sexual objects who need to be closely looked after male authorities because of their mental incapacities. The ad promises romance, wealth, intimacy, and masculine dominance over women through the power of chocolate.

Below, I have created an ad that counters the gender inequalities and hierarchies that are ubiquitous in chocolate advertising:

Chocolate Dove Ad

The goal was to create an ad that could be appealing, while redefining the relationship between men, women, money and chocolate. The man and the woman are roughly equally displayed in the photo, and they are feeding each other chocolate, which contests the binary that the man is the provider and the woman is the consumer. Neither individual displays any dominance over the other, and any indication of social class is mostly ambiguous. Finally, the individuals are focused on each other, as opposed to the chocolate, and the affects of the chocolate are significantly downplayed. At the same time, the visually central location of the chocolate catches the viewers attention and invites consumers to draw a connection between Dove chocolates and the individuals’ state of happiness.

References Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” In Counihan, Carole, and Penny Van Esterik, eds. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2009.

Dove Chocolate Commercial. YouTube. Web. Feb. 1,

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