Tag Archives: gender

“A White Woman Dipped in Chocolate” Misogynoir and Cocoa Throughout History

When an aptly named German chocolate brand “Super Dickmann’s” posted this image of Meghan Markle, some people got upset while others laughed at their sensitivity.

The infamous tweet depicting mixed-race Meghan Markle as a chocolate-covered marshmallow

The German employee in charge of the corporate Facebook account was likely not aware that the comparison between African women and chocolate is imbued with historical misogynoir. Misogynoir, a term coined by black feminist Moya Bailey (Anyangwe, 2015), is double discrimination faced by black women where bias is both race and gender-based (Verve Team, 2018).

While women have long been seen as buyers, preparers and religious devotees of chocolate, the earliest depictions associated with chocolate were those of infants such as cupids or angels (Martin, 2020). Later, chocolate became associated with an idealized image of white womanhood, as society women became an important consumer demographic. An 1874 New York Times issue announced that wealthy women were the biggest purchasers of an “elaborate style of French candies.” New ads featured elegant white women and were meant to appeal to both the tastes of upper-class consumers and the aspirations of lower-class ones (Robertson, 2010).

Aspirational chocolate advertisements, such as this image from the 1970s, continued into the late 20th century

Such ads put white consumers at the forefront and minimized chocolate’s roots in West African agriculture. Romanticized images of white agricultural workers such as of this milkmaid carrying pails attempted to further erase chocolates’ African origins (Robertson, 2010).

Early 20th century Cadbury advertisement

These fictionalized images associated the labor required to produce chocolate with “wholesome whiteness” in the minds of consumers (Robertson, 2010). Notably, a 1930 Cadbury ad that does feature African women, shows them as faceless silhouettes balancing baskets brimming with cocoa pods on their heads (Robertson, 2010). While white women associated with chocolate were bestowed with good taste and wholesomeness, black women were dehumanized and fetishized through racist depictions.

In 1947 a new character “Honeybunch” was created to advertise Rowntree’s Cocoa (Robertson, 2010). Honeybunch looked infantile – barefoot and with bows in her hair. In this ad, she is dehumanized through the juxtaposition of her “imagined” character to “real” white people in the ad (Robertson, 2010).

Honeybunch and “real” white consumers

A 1950 ad goes further to depict Honeybunch as a spring bouncing out of tin of cocoa – an example of a common trope of Africans drawn as actual cocoa (Robertson, 2010) This association of a person with an edible object further solidifies the idea that black people are false commodities (Polanyi, 2001). According to Polanyi, labor is one of those fictitious commodities to which the market mechanisms should not apply (2001). According to Polanyi, not only labor but also the laborer can become commodities for sale if the commodity function of labor is prioritized (2001). Commodity function of labor is the low labor cost for the sake of lower prices, and in the case of chocolate, low labor costs help support higher remuneration for cocoa processors and chocolate producers instead of African workers. This problem persists into modernity: according to the Cocoa Barometer, cocoa farmer households earn merely 37% of living income in Côte d’Ivoire, the leader in cocoa bean production supplying 40% of world’s cocoa (2018).

Blackness is also objectified and commodified through the association between black skin and chocolate – a trope that still pervades today. Food-related descriptions have long been used to describe dark skin. While light foundation shades are often called “nude” or “fair,” darker shades are often named after commodities such as cocoa or coffee. This further solidifies the toxic idea that white womanhood is the default, and objectifies black womanhood through comparisons with edible objects.

A 2004 ice cream advertisement conceived in Brazil

Even black women of the same status as the white women in chocolate ads are not immune to dehumanizing fetishization. In 1976, a magazine editor described supermodel Iman as “a white woman dipped in chocolate,” (Oliver, 2015). The editor’s baffling comment is akin to Charlie’s question about whether the Oompa Loompas, which were distinctly African in the original book, are made out of chocolate (Robertson, 2010).

The fact that class cannot protect black women from misogynoir sheds critical light on “respectability politics,” an ideology that emphasizes the need for black people to gain respect and “uplift the race” by correcting ‘undesirable” characteristics and embodying desirable ones (Harris, 2014). Racist treatment of Iman despite her social prominence parallels the way companies such as Rowntree or Cadbury used depictions of black girls and women like Honeybunch for their “distinct difference” while dehumanizing them.

Pat McGrath, one of the most prominent makeup artists of the century, also had a cocoa related story that shed light on how designers who hire black models failed to provide them with equal supplies. McGrath often had to use cocoa powder on set because she wasn’t provided with darker makeup shades (Prinzivalli, 2019).

A group of black women has found a way to use the association between dark skin and chocolate for their benefit, creating a food-inspired makeup brand “Beauty Bakerie,” which counts cocoa-flavored powder among its products.

The “Beauty Bakerie” website

And what about Pat McGrath who had to use food instead of makeup? Her beauty empire is now worth almost a billion dollars – and her dark foundation colors are named Medium Deep and Deep instead of cocoa and chocolate (Mpinja, 2018).


Anyangwe, E. (2015, October 5). Misogynoir: where racism and sexism meet. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/oct/05/what-is-misogynoir

Fountain, A and Friedel, H. (2018). Cocoa Barometer

Harris, F.C. (2014). The Rise of Respectability Politics. Dissent 61(1), 33-37. doi:10.1353/dss.2014.0010.

Mpinja, B. (2018, July 23). Why Makeup Artist Pat McGrath Is the Self-Made Beauty Billionaire We Need. Retrieved from https://www.allure.com/story/pat-mcgrath-self-made-billionaire-success

Phillip, N. (2018, October 23). My Very Personal Taste of Racism Abroad. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/23/travel/racism-travel-italy-study-abroad.html

Oliver, D. (2015, September 10). Iman Opens Up About Deeply Upsetting Career Moment. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/iman-racism-fashion-industry_n_55f02b31e4b002d5c0775000

Polanyi, karl. The great transformation: the political and economic origins of our time. Boston: bEACON, 2001. Prin

Prinzivalli, L. (2019, May 21). Why Makeup Artist Pat McGrath Grew Up Using Cocoa Powder as Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.allure.com/story/pat-mcgrath-cocoa-powder-foundation-dark-skin-tone-shades

Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.

Team, V. E. R. V. E. (2018, September 4). Feminist Facts: What is Misogynoir? Retrieved from https://medium.com/verve-up/feminist-facts-what-is-misogynoir-5392c29d6aab

Chocolate from an Outside Perspective: An Interview with a Person Not Studying Chocolate

Chocolate. Chocolate is something that everyone is familiar with. Everyone has some sort of relationship with chocolate. Whether it be someone who loves chocolate more than anything else, someone who feels the opposite, or someone somewhere else in between the spectrum, everyone is familiar with chocolate. However, while chocolate is a common theme across all of our lives, it is not often that we truly think about this personal relationship with chocolate, and how it relates to chocolate in general across the world in addition to its vast history. In an effort to encourage this deeper analysis of chocolate, I conducted an interview with a Harvard undergraduate addressing chocolate to them as well as the more general relationship between chocolate and society. The interview begins with discussion of the personal relationship this person has with chocolate, and then delves into more broad chocolate conversation. The interview helps reveal some typical feelings and uses of chocolate across society, including identifying chocolate being used as a coping mechanism to deal with stressful and uncomfortable events, as well as delving into the relationship between chocolate and gender and discussion about the wide variety of different uses of chocolate from the happiest to the saddest of situations, as well as everything in between.

Chocolate is widely consumed around the world

The interview began with relatively simple questions about the frequency in which this person consumes chocolate. The student answered, “I probably consume chocolate about once every other day in some form. I usually try not to seek out chocolate, and I rarely buy it myself, but if there is chocolate available to me for free, which there frequently is, I will not hesitate to eat it.” While she may not personally purchase chocolate, the fact that chocolate seems to be so frequently available to this student speaks to the high chocolate consumption rates in the United States. In the United States, there are 300 billion pounds of chocolate consumed annually, which equates to about 22 pounds of chocolate per person every year. In comparison, China consumes 146 million pounds of chocolate annually, which equates to only 1.8 ounces per person (Martin, 2019). When asked if her chocolate consumption was consistent year-round, the student answered, “I would say my consumption varies. During Holidays that emphasize chocolate consumption such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day, I consume much more because it is more readily available. During the colder months in the winter, I tend to consume hot chocolate beverages because they are comforting and delicious.” On an individual level, it makes sense for chocolate consumption to vary throughout the year simply because chocolate is more readily available at sometimes more than others. Looking more into the difference in consumption across different countries, chocolate in Western Civilization is often used in forms of celebration and indulgence, such as for Halloween. However, part of the reason Chinese consumption is far less than the United States is due to a difference in consumption and nature of purchases in general. In China, the market is centered more around gifting purchases, while the United States market is centered around self-indulgence purchases.

To celebrate Halloween, people eat and give chocolate

The next question asked of the student was about what their favorite way to consume chocolate is, to which they answered “My favorite way to consume chocolate is in hot beverages or small bite-sized candy with caramel. Chocolate in hot beverages taste delicious and gives me a sense of warmth at the same time. Sometimes I mix chocolate beverages with coffee to make it taste better.” Throughout history, chocolate has frequently been consumed as a beverage beginning in Mesoamerica. The flavoring of chocolate was different in the Americas as opposed to European flavors. In comparison, the flavors of chocolate beverages for Europeans utilized more diverse spices and produced more diverse flavors (Sampeck and Thayn, 2017). The rise of big chocolate companies today can be rooted back towards developments in chocolate consumption. For example, Cadbury, a popular chocolate company today, was the first company that began to use confections. America’s most iconic chocolate company, Hershey’s, was not founded until 1903. The company initially struggled to create the perfect milk chocolate bar, but upon development the products, such as the iconic Hershey’s Kiss, became extremely popular. In general, the market for chocolate is dominated by three main companies. While there seems to be such a wide range of chocolate selection, Nestle, Mars, and Hershey’s make 99.4% of snack-sized chocolates (Martin, 2019). When asked about her favorite chocolate bars, the Harvard student chose Twix, Snickers, and Kit Kats. Both Twix and Snickers are created by Mars, and Kit Kats are created by Nestle. While all of these chocolate bars have their own brand and are extremely well known, it is not as commonly known that they are often produced by the same company.

Many recognizable brands are owned by the same parent company

Moving forward in the interview, I began to ask the interviewee about the concept of the relationship between gender and chocolate. Upon asking about the perception of chocolate with women, the student said, “I do feel like chocolate is more associated with women in media, from advertisements to female characters in movies.” There is a strong history of the relationship between gender and chocolate. When looking through chocolate advertisements and marketing throughout history, a common theme is the role that women play. Many advertisements attempt to either appeal to women through displaying the chocolate as a feminine, sweet treat, or use images of women to create a sexual appeal with the chocolate in an effort to resonate with men and women (Robertson, 2010). A common perception is that chocolate is for girls because girls are supposed to be sweet and sweet-loving, where chocolate it the perfect food. Additionally, throughout history, chocolate has been advertised for stay at home mothers to use chocolate as a source of energy when tired from taking care of kids. The student had further comments on the relationship between gender and chocolate, saying “I also think it is more typical that chocolate is given as a gift to women in celebration of holidays such as Valentine’s Day. I do see chocolate as a gendered commodity.” It is interesting to consider the role of gender and chocolate with Valentine’s Day, which is traditionally a very gendered holiday. Typically on Valentine’s Day, a man will cater to his significant other and take the day to appreciate her and make her feel good. This often involves chocolate. Given the intimacy of the holiday, chocolate seems to be an appropriate gift, as it is believed to be a food with aphrodisiac qualities, meaning it stimulates sexual desire (Martin, 2019). This contributes to the generalized trend of sexuality and chocolate. Chocolate is often believed to have a sex appeal.

Valentine’s Day Chocolates

The next topic of conversation in the interview shifted back towards the student’s personal relationship with chocolate. When asked how chocolate has become important to the student, she answered, “Chocolate to me is extremely comforting. I feel like when I consume chocolate it makes me feel more relaxed. When I am stressed out or feeling overwhelmed, I personally feel like I can turn to chocolate to make me feel better.” This use of chocolate as a relaxant is not just applied to this student, as she went on to say, “. I also have a very close friend who went through a significant traumatic experience last year and she relied heavily on a specific type of chocolate as a coping mechanism. I think it did make her feel better.” Chocolate is stereotypically used as a coping mechanism for people dealing with bad situations, such as after a breakup or in mourning a loss. In a study researching the usage of chocolate when dealing with stressful situations, the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that people who eat more chocolate are more likely to be depressed. This is due to the tendency of people to eat chocolate when stressed or depressed in an effort to provide comfort (Flanigan, 2018). Researchers went on to find that eating chocolate actually does have positive short-term effects in easing depressive symptoms, but there is no significant long-term impact. The research actually suggested that consuming chocolate had negative impacts in the long-term. This could be because chocolate provides short-term relief, which is helpful, but may prevent people from seeking real treatment to address their issues (Flanigan, 2018). Because chocolate can make people feel better, but not truly fix their problems, people may feel like they can deal with their problems on their own, which has potential negative consequences. However, chocolate is a source of instant satisfaction, and will provide short term help to make a person feel better. If a person is able to consume chocolate to feel better without suppressing their feelings long-term, chocolate can be a good tool to make people feel better.

Stress eating chocolate is very common

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about chocolate is how diverse it is in usage and consumption. As we just discussed, chocolate is often used in negative situations by people to help ease stress and negative emotions. On the other hand, chocolate is also used just as frequently in celebrations and positive situations. People often give and consume chocolate in celebration of many different holidays. The most obvious example of this is Halloween, where the entire premise of the holiday is highly related to chocolate consumption and gifting. However, considering other holidays, the presence of chocolate is nearly just as strong. For example, think about Easter. To celebrate Easter, people often host big scavenger hunts for eggs from the Easter bunny, which typically are filled with chocolate. The Easter bunny brings baskets for people too, which is often filled with chocolates. Think about Christmas, a holiday centered around giving. People often receive their stockings filled with chocolates. Even more generally, think about birthday’s, where people celebrate eating chocolate cake, or other sorts of chocolate. I can continue to list the prevalence of chocolate in nearly all celebrations. There are not many foods or things in general that are traditionally used in such diverse situations, from happy celebrations as just discussed or sad situations such as mourning.

For this reason, the use of chocolate on a personal level can often change overtime, where at some point in time a person relies on chocolate as a distraction or coping mechanism but then later the relationship becomes more positive. I asked the interviewee about how their relationship with chocolate has changed overtime, to which she responded, “When I was kid, I craved chocolate a lot more and I would always try to convince my parents to buy it for me. Chocolate would always be associated with happiness. However, I now don’t seek out chocolate as much as I used to, and it is more ordinary to me.” For her, chocolate used to be a big source of excitement. The thought of getting and eating chocolate alone brought her happiness and thrill to the point of where she would beg her parents to replenish her cravings. As she has gotten older, the student no longer sees this excitement from chocolate, and she is much more relaxed and calmer about chocolate consumption. While she still does enjoy consuming chocolate, she no longer feels the necessity to have chocolate to satisfy cravings. Moving forward, who knows how this relationship with chocolate will evolve. It is possible the relationship won’t change, but it just as likely that it will. Perhaps when growing up and having children of her own, the student’s relationship with chocolate will come full circle, where her kids are begging at her mercy to buy chocolate for them. Unlike many other foods and objects, the ability of chocolate to have such diverse usage, in addition to diverse consumption methods from food to beverages, allows for significant changes overtime in the personal relationship that people have with the product.

This interview provides a look at the perception a typical person had about chocolate at both a personal level and more general level. We were able to uncover some of the causes for the high chocolate consumption levels by seeing individual consumption tendencies. More broadly, we were able to look into the relationship between chocolate and gender, and how it is perceived to people. However, perhaps most importantly, this interview allowed us to uncover the usage of chocolate as a coping mechanism to deal with stress and other negative situations, and how the use of chocolate as a crutch may not be good for long-term treatment of problems. Lastly, the interview helped uncover the everchanging relationship people have with chocolate on an individual level, and why it is able to change so drastically.

Scholarly Sources Cited:

D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth,

Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126

Flanigan, Robin. 2018. “The Connection Between Chocolate & Stress Eating.” Esperanza – Hope To Cope.

Martin, Carla D. 2019. The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.

Martin, Carla D. 2019. Sugar and Cacao.

Martin, Carla D. 2019. Chocolate Expansion.

Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.

pp. 1-131

Sampeck, Kathryn, and Jonathan Thayn. 2017. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of

Chocolate Colonialism.” pp. 72-99

Multimedia Sources Cited:

Simply Chocolate (https://www.simplychocolate.com/learn-different-types-of-chocolate)

Chocolate Pizza (https://www.chocolatepizza.com/product/happy-halloween-chocolate-pizza-2/)

OXFAM (https://firstperson.oxfamamerica.org/2013/03/10-everyday-food-brands-and-the-few-giant-companies-that-own-them/)

Li-Lac Chocolates (https://www.li-lacchocolates.com/Valentine-Chocolate-Heart-of-Truffles-41-pc)

Women Working (https://www.womenworking.com/stress-eating-5-signs-youre-eating-feelings/)

Bonbons and Bad Moms: An Anthropological Exploration of Chocolate and Gender

The “bonbon-eating housewife” narrative is so pervasive that it has become a rallying cry for stay-at-home-moms who feel underappreciated and overworked despite their reputation for laziness. In dozens of blog posts, these stay-at-home mothers decry the injustice of this stereotype, mocking the image of the bon-bon obsessed housewife in satirical articles and feminist op-eds. It seems as though this stereotype became widely accepted with the advent of the multi-camera situational comedy — one of the most widely-known models of how American family life is and should be. Since the earliest days of the multi-camera sitcom, the modern housewife has been stereotyped in the media as indulgent, lazy, and chocolate-crazy. The 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy and the 1990s sitcom Married … With Children provide perspective on the evolution of this stereotype and gendered assumptions we make about chocolate confections and the people who consume them. Through analyzing contemporary criticism of the “lazy housewives with bonbons” archetype, we can develop an understanding of how modern feminism challenges this narrative and how chocolate could be less strongly associated with femininity in the future. This association between housewifery, misogynistic narratives about women’s economic value, and the bonbon can help us to more clearly understand the cultural relationship between chocolate and femininity.

First, we must explore what a chocolate bonbon is and how it became associated with middle-class womanhood. A bonbon is typically a piece of candy — usually nougat, caramel, or other soft candies — covered in a thin coating of chocolate. While truffles are traditionally defined as balls of chocolate ganache covered in a thicker layer of chocolate, Americans often use the terms “bonbon” and “truffle” interchangeably to describe a small, bite-sized, chocolatey piece of candy. “Bonbon” can be roughly translated to “goody goody” in French, and French confectioners have been creating these sweet, delicate treats for centuries (ChocolateNoise.com). In the pre-industrial period, bonbons were handmade luxury goods, filled with expensive ingredients like candied fruit and nuts. Without mechanized equipment, confectioners had to hand-temper chocolate and cook candy with unreliable heat sources, hand-craft and coat each morsel of candy with chocolate, and sell them in small storefronts (France Today). Therefore, bonbons were a small-batch luxury good rather than a treat that any housewife could afford.

With the dawn of industrialization, many confectioners could streamline the process of producing bonbons. By the 19th century, confectioners could use mechanized equipment to produce bonbons more quickly and reliably — they no longer had to hand-sculpt each candy. The benefits of this more efficient bonbon-making process can be seen in the below video, in which a confection uses industrial cooking vessels and molds to easily produce many bonbons (Insider).

Increased sugar production in the Caribbean and other European colonial territories made sugary goods of every variety more affordable for middle- and working-class families (Mintz, 174). By the 20th century, a variety of bonbons and truffles were being produced in the United States, including the ice cream bonbon, which were largely sold in movie theaters and sports stadiums in addition to grocery stores (The Nibble). A 1988 New York Times article mentioned ice cream bonbons as one of international food conglomerate Nestle’s most popular chocolate products (Feder). Today, Americans buy over 36 million boxes of chocolate (typically filled with bonbons) for Valentine’s Day every year (Shah)! Clearly, the chocolate bonbon is one of America’s most treasured chocolate confections, but it is not clear how modern Americans came to associate bonbons with lazy stay-at-home mothers and the fraught gender politics of womanhood and work.

Perhaps the earliest example of this “lazy bonbon-eating housewife” stereotype can be found in Lucille Ball and Desi Arnazs’ semi-autobiographical 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. In the show, Lucy is depicted as a funny, confident, and somewhat scatterbrained wife and mother. In contrast to other television mothers from the so-called “Golden Age of Television” (the late 1940s to the early 1960s), Lucy was the star of the show and frequently proved her husband wrong. Where Leave it to Beaver’s June Cleaver was demure, Lucy was vibrant and opinionated. Where The Honeymooners’ Alice Kramden was bitter, Lucy was witty and pleasant. However, despite her character’s originality and complexity, Lucy was still subject to the gender expectations of her time. Like many married woman of her time, Lucy was a housewife and stay-at-home mother, and I Love Lucy frequently focused on disagreements between breadwinner Ricky Ricardo and his supposedly-lazy wife.

This conflict came to a head in the famous I Love Lucy episode “Job Switching” ( In the episode, Ricky accuses Lucy of being a lazy spendthrift who doesn’t appreciate how hard he works to put food on the table. In turn, Lucy accuses Ricky of failing to understand how difficult it is to be a homemaker. To settle their disagreement, Lucy and Ricky agree to switch jobs — Lucy and her friend Ethel spend a day making bonbons in a chocolate factory because they are talented makers and consumers of bonbons. At the same time, Ricky and Ethel’s husband Fred spend the day as “housewives.” Both groups fail spectacularly at their new “jobs,” as seen in the clips below.

This seems to reinforce the idea that Lucy and Ethel are naturally suited to housewifery while Ricky and Fred are naturally suited to work outside the home. When Lucy and Ricky resolve their differences at the end of the episode, Ricky presents Lucy with a five pound box of chocolates to show his appreciation for her hard work (This Was Television). This joke is ironic because Lucy has just spent a terrible day working in a chocolate factory, but also because housewives stereotypically love a box of chocolate bonbons. Early 1950s sitcoms were largely not as interested in subverting or exploring gender stereotypes as they were in reinforcing these stereotypes. Because Lucy in many ways represented the “model housewife,” she was traditionally feminine, took pleasure in domestic work and motherhood, and devoted to her husband. Her stereotypically feminine love of chocolate bonbons was an integral part of this “zany domestic goddess” image.

By the 1990s, many sitcoms were significantly less interested in upholding “traditional family values.” For example, in the irreverent sitcom Roseanne, eponymous main character Roseanne was a beleaguered working mother rather than a cheerful, polished housewife, and family comedy Full House abandoned the traditional nuclear family model altogether, instead centering around three men raising a family together. Perhaps no series embodies the genre-bending 1990s sitcom better than Married… With Children. The show centers around the Bundy family: Al, a misanthropic shoe salesman; Peggy, a profoundly lazy housewife; and their often-bratty children, Kelly and Bud. In many ways, Married… With Children is a perverse satire of the traditional family sitcom a la I Love Lucy, particularly because Peggy Bundy makes little effort to be an exemplary wife, mother, and homemaker. Instead, Peggy spends every day literally sitting on her couch and eating chocolate bonbons. Bonbons have become so closely associated with the character of Peggy Bundy that multiple recipes can be found online for “Peggy Bundy’s Bonbons,” including a recipe for “Peggy Bundy’s Lazy Day Coconut Bonbons.” The recipe description characterizes Peggy as “selfish and lazy” and associates theses qualities with Peggy’s habit of “watching Oprah and eating bonbons” (Eat Out Loud).

This association between Peggy’s gender, occupation, character, and love of chocolate bonbons is an extreme example of the way in which the “housewife with bonbons” stereotype had become widespread by the late 20th century. Peggy Bundy was the embodiment of every negative stereotype about housewives in the 1990s, when the female employment rate reached its all-time high of 57.4% by the end of the decade (Statista). Her ever-present box of chocolate bonbons signaled to the audience that she was the quintessential self-indulgent housewife who did not “produce” anything. Today, many online articles about the character, published by news and tabloid outlets like Time, Newsday, and Us Magazine mention her love of bonbons in describing her laziness and self-centeredness. Clearly, bonbons have been largely recast as an affordable, indulgent treat for the lazy housewife rather than handmade luxury items at the pinnacle of haute-patiserie. Peggy Bundy embodies our contemporary anxieties around the role of women as housewives as many women seek employment outside of the home, as well as our understanding of once-expensive goods as mass-produced commodities in the industrial era.

This popular association between one of television’s most dysfunctional mothers and the chocolate bonbon has sparked an online movement among housewives. The “housewives and bonbons” stereotype has become a reference point for many discussions of the value of women’s domestic work, like an Ohio housewife’s blog Bonbons and Martinis: The Diary of a Modern Housewife (BonBons & Martinis); satirical articles on housewife-oriented media outlets like the article “Children Removed From Home Where SAHM Eats Bonbons And Watches TV All Day” on SammichesandPsychMeds.com (Sammiches and Psych Meds); and practical columns in women’s magazines, like the article “9 Things Not to Say to a Stay-At-Home-Mom” in Women’s Day. This rejection of the “housewives and bonbons” stereotype isn’t necessarily an anti-feminist paean to the virtues of motherhood. Rather, they can be understood as a feminist reclamation of the value of traditionally-female domestic labor, whether the authors of these articles would label themselves feminists or not. In the same way that I Love Lucy’s Lucy Ricardo refused to let her husband degrade her work as a housewife and Married… With Children’s Peggy Bundy embraced her box of bonbons instead of becoming a picture-perfect stay-at-home-mom, these housewives are rejecting the stereotype that they are either a Lucy Ricardo or a Peggy Bundy.

Works Cited

“The Life and Times of Chocolate, Part 4.” Chocolate Noise. http://www.chocolatenoise.com/the-life-and-times-of-chocolate-part-4/

“French Bonbons.” France Today. https://www.francetoday.com/food-drink/french_bonbons/

“How BonBons are Made.” YouTube, uploaded by Insider, 2 May, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHTcrK0NGv4

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, Penguin Books, 1985.

“Product: Ice Cream Bonbons.” The Nibble: Great Food Finds, 14 November, 2010. https://www.thenibble.com/blog/2010/11/14/product-ice-cream-bonbons/

Feder, Barnaby J. “Carnation’s Big Ice Cream Bet.” The New York Times, 1988. https://www.nytimes.com/1988/11/27/business/carnation-s-big-ice-cream-bet.html

Shah, Khushbu. “Americans Will Spend $18.9 Billion on Valentine’s Day.” Eater, 9 February, 2015. https://www.eater.com/2015/2/9/8004991/americans-will-spend-18-9-billion-on-valentines-day

“Televising Masculinities: I Love Lucy: Expectations of the Sitcom Husband in the early 1950s (Part 2).” This Was Television, 11 September, 2002. https://thiswastv.com/2012/09/11/televising-masculinities-i-love-lucy-expectations-of-the-sitcom-husband-in-the-early-1950s-part-2/

“I Love Lucy: Job Switching.” YouTube, uploaded by calvin Fx, 16 January, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvYZ3gpZMpY

“I Love Lucy’s Famous Chocolate Scene.” YouTube, uploaded by History104WWU, 19 May, 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NPzLBSBzPI

“Peggy Bundy’s Lazy Day Coconut Bonbons (Married With Children.” Eat Out Loud, 12 February, 2017. https://eatoutloud.com/peggy-bundys-lazy-day-coconut-bonbons-married-with-children/

“Employment Rate of Women in the United States from 1990 to 2017.” Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/192396/employment-rate-of-women-in-the-us-since-1990/

“Top 10 TV Moms June Cleaver Would Hate.” Time, 18 October, 2010. http://entertainment.time.com/2010/10/19/top-10-tv-moms-june-cleaver-would-hate/

“Memorable Moms in TV and Movies.” Newsday, 13 May, 2018. https://www.newsday.com/entertainment/movies/memorable-moms-in-movies-and-tv-1.1887347

“Sofia Vergara Gets a Sexy Peggy Bundy Makeover and Asks, ‘Do You Like This Look, Ed O’Neill?’” US Magazine, 3 September, 2015. https://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/sofia-vergara-gets-a-peggy-bundy-makeover-teases-ed-oneill-picture-201539/

“About.” BonBons & Martinis: The Diary of a Modern Housewife. https://bonbonsandmartinis.wordpress.com/about/

“Children Removed From Home Where SAHM Eats Bonbons And Watches TV All Day.” Sammiches and Psych Meds. https://www.sammichespsychmeds.com/children-removed-from-home-where-mother-eats-bonbons-and-watches-daytime-soaps/

“9 Things Not to Say to a Stay-At-Home-Mom.” Women’s Day, 30 January, 2012. https://www.womansday.com/relationships/family-friends/a6293/what-not-to-say-to-stay-at-home-moms/

A Survey Investigating Gendered Advertising in Chocolate

Introduction and Historical Context

Chocolate has long been associated with gender and sex; in particular, narratives and advertisements regarding chocolate have sexualized women. Records dating back to the Guatemalan Inquisition of the sixteenth century note that that women were accused of using chocolate to bewitch men into sexual submission (Grivetti and Shapiro 5999). This narrative makes it is clear that chocolate had sexual associations with women and that chocolate was a tool for women to control men. As chocolate entered the European market, witchcraft-related connections between women and chocolate faded, and luxurious self-indulgence and irresistibility toward chocolate began to take shape. Van Houten’s defatting process – an 1828 invention – brought on the development of bonbons, which were quickly associated with sexuality (Grivetti and Shapiro 6077). Popular women’s magazines of the nineteenth century were behind this association, using media to sexualize the sweet morsels. In fact, James Wadsworth claimed that chocolate would make women “… long for you know what, [i]f they but taste chocolate” (Wadsworth 137). This admittedly grotesque assertion stems from the idea that women have a higher temptation for luxurious things and self-indulgence, which in turn increased media-driven sexual desire for bonbons (Grivetti and Shapiro 6097).

Female cookbook writers also contributed to the sexualization of chocolate in the nineteenth century. Writers associated chocolate with decadence, sin, and femininity. Interestingly, the idea of chocolate as a ‘sinful pleasure’ has maintained relevance to the present-day (Grivetti and Shapiro 6057). During the mid-1800s, boxes of chocolate were designed to appeal to women. Designers added lacey frills, suggestive pictures, and romantic imagery (Grivetti and Shapiro 6058). Eventually, advertisers turned to more evocative forms of marketing. For example, some French chocolate companies resorted to overt sexuality, e.g. depictions of women in lingerie and high heels, to advertise chocolate. Overt sexuality in chocolate advertising dissipated during the first half of the twentieth century, only to make a reappearance after the Second World War (Robertson 10).

Early twentieth century advertisements took a different, more wholesome approach to target female consumers. Rowntree advertisements dating back to the 1930s focused on mothers as the target consumer-base; Rowntree’s ‘Special Mothers Campaign’ initiated this push (Robertson 20).

Image 1: Rowntree’s 1930s advertisement that focuses on family strength (source: http://www.advertisementsindia.com/2011/05/rowntrees-cocoa/)

Marketers honed in on this demographic, because families with children were the chief buying agents of chocolate. Women typically brought food into the home (Robertson 21). Chocolate companies continued to paint the loveable housewife as their primary target consumers through the 1950s – healthy, happy children and satisfied husbands often accompanying them. The roles of women in chocolate ads began to expand post-wartime. Women entered the workplace in chocolate ads, and they became more explicitly sexualized during the 1940s. Rowntree’s Judy, for example, wore skimpy outfits and delivered more seductive glares (Robertson 31).

Image 2: Rowntree’s Judy sporting hot pants and tight-fitting shirt (source: https://easyontheeye2.wordpress.com/packaging/judy-says-happy-easter/)

From that point on, chocolate advertisers focused on heterosexual love as a purchasing point for chocolate. Later, in the 1950s, women in advertisements became obsessed with chocolate (Martin). One of the most salient traditions in female chocolate advertisement is the woman being seduced by chocolate (Martin). It appears that advertisers began to diverge from the idea that female purchasers had the power, and instead that men wishing to court these irrational women ought to lure them in with irresistible chocolate. This vision of women as tempted by the powers of chocolate has permeated the chocolate ad space, culminating with hyper-sexualized images of women and chocolate of the last decade. 

Godiva image 3
Image 3: Sensual Godiva ad featuring young woman with chocolate on breast, 2004 (source: http://files.coloribus.com/files/adsarchive/part_648/6481905)

Fascination and focus on feminine sexuality and chocolate begs one to question the effectiveness on such advertising practices. Are women actually more inclined than men to enjoy chocolate? Are women more likely than men to purchase chocolate? Do the wrappers around chocolates truly make or break the purchase decision for women more than men? In order to explore these questions, I conducted a survey with 34 participants (21 women and 13 men) to find gender differences in the consumption of chocolate. Additionally, I explored the efficacy of chocolate advertising via wrappers to observe if they sway participants’ opinions of the chocolates.


Members of the Harvard community were recruited to conduct the study. The population of Quincy House was invited, as were the Harvard Men’s Swimming and Diving Team, members of Eleganza Show, Expressions Dance Company, and the Fly Club (For Gentlemen). I attempted to make the survey known to as many groups that I am involved in to get as close to a random sample as possible. Once those interested returned inquiries with availability, I put equal numbers of men and women in time slots. Naturally, Harvard students did not follow these time slots, so the ratio of men and women was skewed, as was the number of participants in each iteration (the first iteration – discussed in further detail below – had 12 participants (3 men and 9 women), while the second iteration contained 22 participants (10 men and 12 women)).

Both iterations contained the exact same 18 questions. The first 12 questions concerned 6 types of chocolates that each participant sampled. For each chocolate, participants were asked how much they enjoyed the chocolate, and also how likely they would be to buy the chocolate. The latter 6 questions asked:

  • How much do you generally enjoy eating chocolate?
  • How much does price affect your decision to buy a chocolate bar?
  • How much do the ethical practices of a chocolate maker affect your decision to buy a chocolate bar?
  • How much do you associate chocolate with sensuality/romance?
  • How much do you associate chocolate with loss of control?
  • What is your gender?

The first iteration of the survey was a traditional blind taste test; the second iteration, however, allowed participants to see and to inspect the chocolate wrappers. Participants were encouraged to read the wrappers in full. The final question asked for gender identity. This question allowed me to filter results to investigate gender differences in how participants answered questions (although ‘gender non-binary’ and ‘prefer not to disclose’ were options for this question, no participant identified with these answers, thus a pure female-male comparison could be conducted).

Image 4: Participants of Study 2 taste chocolate while inspecting wrappers and completing the survey on their mobile devices (source: David Pfeifer)

Gender-Based Results

Results will be broken down between the answers of men and the answers of women. Because Study 2 had a more balanced ratio of men and women, and because the quantity of participants was more robust (n=22), I used the data from study 2 more reliably. As mentioned before, participants were asked to rate 6 types of chocolate. While eating each one, they answered how willing they would be to buy and how much they enjoyed each chocolate. Specifically looking at those who responded that they are ‘likely’ or ‘extremely likely’ to buy the chocolates, I averaged the responses across each chocolate and between genders. Using the results of Study 2 (wrappers visible), women reported that they are 10% more ‘likely’ to buy chocolate and 10% more ‘extremely likely’ to buy chocolate than men.

Figure 1

While continuing to look within Study 2, women appear to generally enjoy eating chocolate more than men. According to figure 2, women are 27% more likely to ‘enjoy [chocolate] a great deal’ than men. Contrastingly, figure 3 shows that women are not only 7% more likely to ‘not at all’ be effected by price, but women are also 20% less likely to be effected ‘a great deal’ by price. In other words, women seem to care less about price when they are considering purchasing chocolates. Men, therefore, care more, even though they enjoy it less (see fig. 3). Although results regarding sensuality and romance are mixed when looking at men and women, it is clear that women have a 13% higher likelihood of ‘moderately’ associating chocolate with romance, and a 5% higher likelihood of associating chocolate with romance ‘a great deal’ (see fig. 4).

figure 2

Figure 3

figure 4

Control versus Subject-Based Results

Results will be detailed beginning with broad Study 1 versus Study 2 insights  – those independent of gender and purely based on whether participants had access to the wrappers or not. Participants from Study 1 (pure blind taste test) will be referred to as ‘Controls’; Participants in Study 2 (inspected wrappers) will be referred to as ‘Subjects’.

As figure 5 signifies, subjects reported that they ‘enjoy [chocolate] a great deal’ 13% more than controls. Additionally, Subjects reported that they ‘dislike’ chocolate 12% less than Controls. In other words, exposure to the wrappers – complete with Fair Trade insignias, personal stories about ethics, etc. – caused Subjects to enjoy chocolate more and dislike it less than Controls. Figure 6 details how price affects the decision to buy a chocolate bar. As the graphic indicates, 67% of Controls answered that price affects their decision ‘a lot’, whereas 18% of Subjects indicated the same. Additionally, 0% of Controls reported that they are ‘not at all’ affected by price, but 14% of Subjects said they were ‘not at all’ affected. Effectively, those exposed to wrappers were less likely to care about price regarding their decision to buy chocolate. The awareness of the ethics of chocolate manufacturers appear to have marginal impact, if any, on whether participants are more willing to buy a chocolate bar. Figure 7 shows that, although Subjects are slightly more likely to buy a chocolate bar with the knowledge of fair trade, ethical sourcing, etc., Subjects are also slightly more likely to report that they are ‘not at all’ impacted by the ethics of chocolate companies. Results regarding associations between chocolate and romance (see fig. 8) appear to be insignificant. It is worthwhile to point out, however, that 23% of Subjects reported associating chocolate with romance ‘a lot’, while 0% of Controls reported so. Question 15 (“how much do you associate chocolate with loss of control”) on the survey was vague and uninformative. “Loss of control” may mean a host of different things to participants, and the results in figure 9 show that the question was not clear. There are few differences in the answers from either group, which indicates that the question missed the mark on clarity and salience.

figure 5figure 6figure 7figure 8figure 9

Discussion and Limitations

From a historical standpoint, women were the initial targets of chocolate advertising in the Wester World. Eventually, advertisers attempted to target men with the idea of tempting sexy women with irresistible chocolate. The study conducted above sought to investigate how useful these tactics were by attempting to quantify if women actually do enjoy chocolate more and if they are more likely to buy chocolate. Additionally, the study sought to shed some light on the effectiveness of branding chocolate to appear ethical or feminine.

Results show that women do enjoy chocolate more than men; a higher percentage of women ‘enjoy [chocolate] a great deal’. Results also show that price affects men’s decision to buy a chocolate bar more than it does for women. This could indicate that advertisers accurately predicted that men are the current purchasers of chocolate; because they are concerned with buying chocolate not to consume, but to court, they are more aware of the prices of chocolate. My results, when looking at opinions of romance between men and women, were mixed. When looking at results between women across studies, however, results are relatively robust (see fig. 10 below). That is to say that women in Study 1 (blind taste test) associate chocolate and romance markedly less than women in Study 2 (wrappers available). I suspect that, because some wrappers contained very romantic and feminine themes, women associated chocolate and romance more in Study 2, because they had access to such visuals. For example, one chocolate bar, the Chocolove XOXOX Strong, contains a Shakespeare Sonnet. The Divine Chocolate Bar has hearts on the logo and on the packaging in general. This finding demonstrates that marketing chocolate bars with romantic themes causes women to associate chocolate more with romance. The women did not, however, show any more enjoyment for these particularly romantic chocolate bars than any other chocolate.

figure 10


This survey was extremely fun to conduct, and I enjoyed hosting 34 people to eat chocolate, drink rosé (21+ of course!), and help me to find some answers about wrapper advertising and gender differences in chocolate consumption. That being said, this study has some serious setbacks that prevent it from yielding truly objective, statistically significant results. For one, the participants were not random. The very vast majority of participants enjoy chocolate, and chances are there was some selection bias, because only those who enjoyed chocolate offered to do my study. Additionally, the beforementioned balance issues with men and women in Studies 1 and 2 caused study 1 to be extremely unreliable. Only 12 people showed up, and 9 of them were women, so the results were too small to do a proper comparison.

Additionally, I think I could have done more than simply have the wrappers out and encourage participants to read them. Having personalized documents that detail the company’s message and ethics could have yielded more salient results. Explaining ‘loss of control’ more thoroughly would have cleared up confusion regarding question 15. It also could have been useful to ask a question regarding whom the participants buy chocolate for: themselves or for others. Having 5 responses (e.g. hate it; dislike; indifferent; enjoy; love it) made data analysis difficult. I would decrease it to 3 to be able to supply more relevant data analysis.

Chocolate advertisers target certain consumers, because they believe tactics of sexuality and femininity will increase their bottom lines. It appears that targeting women is advantageous, because they do in fact enjoy chocolate better. Whether they buy more chocolate is unknown (according to this study), because they appear to be less likely to buy due to price. Chocolate advertising has changed over the centuries, but women – whether in wholesome housewife stereotypes, or sexualized stereotypes – have remained a focal point throughout.



Sources Cited

Grivetti, Louis E.; Shapiro, Howard-Yana. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage (Kindle Location 5939). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 9: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” Aframer 119x. CGIS, Cambridge. 28 March 2018. Lecture.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2010.   1-131. Print.

Wadsworth, J. A curious history of the nature and quality of chocolate. Quoted in: Fuller, L. K. Chocolate Fads, Folklore, and Fantasies. New York: Haworth Press, 1994

Naughty but Nice: Gendered Sexualization in Chocolate Advertising

Chocolate is recognized as one of the most craved foods in the world, resulting in the coinage of terms such as chocoholic or chocolate addict. However, going from targeted marketing by most chocolate companies around the world, one would assume that the majority of the chocolate addicts or chocoholics were, women. As soon as a woman takes her first bite, in an advertisement, a sense of ecstasy follows triggered by the chocolate, invariably showing the relationship between women’s sexual pleasure and chocolate. Women’s sexual pleasure, much like the attitude towards chocolate, is considered sinful; the juxtaposition of these two views woven into narratives through chocolate commercials, only solidifies the concept of “naughty but nice” as they objectify women sexually while they are consuming chocolate.

Women tend to be sexually depicted in commercials in two ways, one, in which women are aroused by consuming chocolate, or two, women become attractive to men after they consume chocolate. Below are examples of two ads from Dove and Godiva that exemplify these two categories of portrayal of women in chocolate advertising. 

In both the commercials, chocolate is seen as a sinful treat that women consume. In the first Dove commercial, a woman is being wrapped in chocolate coloured silk as she sighs and savors the luxury of consuming chocolate whilst being wrapped around by a luxurious fabric. It is depicting the after effects of consuming the chocolate whilst showing what a privilege it is to be able to consume chocolate. The background music and noises further alludes to the effect of sexual arousal post consumption and the use of silk in the commercial shows luxury and class, and at the same time, it represents a material that is often used to portray sex. In the Godiva commercial, three women are shown in three different locations wearing long dresses that represent three kinds of Godiva chocolates; dark, milk and white. Three men can be seen gifting chocolates to the women, which in turn sexually arouses the women and thus excites the men. It is interesting to note that the commercial does not show men consuming the chocolate, but only women. In one instance in the commercial, one of the women almost shares the chocolate with the man but then teases him as she eats the whole truffle herself, because she just cannot share it or resist it.

Professor Peter Rogers, from the University of Bristol, explains: “A more compelling explanation lies in our ambivalent attitudes towards chocolate – it is highly desired but should be eaten with restraint”, he further states that “Our unfulfilled desire to eat chocolate, resulting from restraint, is thus experienced as craving, which in turn is attributed to ‘addiction’.” (Rogers, 2007) Women in the above commercials depict this relationship of resistance and indulgence with chocolate, not only through the consumption of chocolate itself but also through their sexual desires. Due to the perception that “nice” women and their sexual pleasures should be restrained as opposed to men’s sexual pleasures, chocolate gives them the narrative, the chance of indulgence, and gives them the opportunity to be “naughty”. Chocolate then starts to show women’s relationship with their own sexual desires, that relies on chocolate to be fueled.

Chocolate, then hence is portrayed to being the food for women by commercials. In contrast, a Burger King commercial shows meat as the food for men, aptly titled “I am Man”. The commercial shows men eating burgers while chanting socially accepted norms that make them men; these are men who are strong and can lift cars and pull heavy weights, men who cannot survive on “chick food” such as quiche. Commercials such as the one by Hungry Man, as well as Mc Donald’s McRib advertisement, show only men, consuming meat products. When catered to men such as the ones that are shown in these commercials, chocolate becomes delicate and feminine. When contrasted, meat becomes the socially accepted food for men while chocolate becomes the socially accepted food for women. 

Without any concrete scientific evidence, chocolate is now widely believed to be craved by women more than men. Dr. Julia Hormes from University of Albany states in her study published in Appetite in 2011 that “half of the women [in the U.S.] who crave chocolate say they do so right around menstruation,”. (Hormes, 2011) Hormes’s study tried to correlate menstruation with chocolate craving however, she arrived at the conclusion that “These biochemical, physiological hypotheses didn’t pan out.”  (Hormes, 2011) Hormes believes that the strong influence of culture, particularly the kind portrayed in commercials plays a role in how women tend to react to chocolate.

In an interview with Kate Bratskeir of Huffington Post, Hormes talks about chocolate marketing, she says;

“Chocolate is marketed as a way for women to deal with negative emotion (like, say, the stress and headaches that come with PMS), Hormes said. It is an “indulgence” because it is an exception to the rule — women who diet and subscribe to a certain ideal of beauty should only consume chocolate when they “need” it.”…“Only in America. In Spain, for example, women don’t report craving chocolate perimensturally nearly as much as women in the U.S. do. It’s not that Spanish women have a different make-up to their cycle, it’s really that tampon and chocolate ads aren’t aired during the same commercial break. In the U.S., it seems, there’s something so strongly feminine about chocolate that fewer men report wanting it. But, “Spanish men are almost as likely to crave chocolate as Spanish women.” In Egypt, neither men nor women really report craving chocolate; “They tend to crave savory foods,” Hormes said.” (Hormes, 2011)

The need that is described above by Hormes is a culturally manufactured one that is fabricated through commercials showing women needing chocolates, specially when it comes to sex.

Ferrero Rocher Print ad. https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2010/12/02/guest-post-sex-desire-and-chocolate-propaganda-research/

Chocolate advertisements not only play into women’s sexual desires but also women’s body image and various insecurities. The above print ad from Ferrero Rocher shows a naked model being tempted by chocolates that are growing from the tree. The ad is attaching the narrative of Eve and the forbidden fruit to chocolate, depicting this woman as a “sinner” for consuming chocolate and having sexual desires. The ad also shows a skinny model indulging in the sinful act of consuming chocolate. The inclusion of a model, gives off an image that makes it okay for women of regular sizes to indulge in chocolate. It shows that women can still be thin and be naughty, and consume chocolate as a guilty pleasure. While talking about the relationship of female body image and chocolate marketing, in his paper, Occidental College student, Jamal Fahim writes,

In order to remain slim and attractive, women must avoid foods that are high in fat, sugar and calories. Images of the ideal body have permeated the minds of many consumers who are inclined to view the body as an object of admiration and a model for self-construction. Moreover, consumer goods may serve to compensate for a person’s “feelings of inferiority, insecurity or loss, or to symbolize achievement, success or power” (Campbell 1995:111)”.

Dove Print ad. https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2010/12/02/guest-post-sex-desire-and-chocolate-propaganda-research/

Chocolate companies tend to play up various different feelings that Campbell described whilst talking about consumer products, however in most cases those feelings within the wide spectrum from insecurity to success are usually related to sex and women in chocolate advertising. The print Dove advertisement above, for example, associates itself with an insecurity that is often linked with sex, lasting longer. The ad compares indulging the Dove bar to lasting longer while showing the face of a woman who is satisfied.

All the advertisements mentioned above adds to the misconception of chocolate as an aphrodisiac and that it works more on women. The New York Times article, tries to evaluate this claim stating;

“Nowadays, scientists ascribe the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate, if any, to two chemicals it contains. One, tryptophan, is a building block of serotonin, a brain chemical involved in sexual arousal. The other, phenylethylamine, a stimulant related to amphetamine, is released in the brain when people fall in love. But most researchers believe that the amounts of these substances in chocolate are too small to have any measurable effect on desire. Studies that have looked for a direct link between chocolate consumption and heightened sexual arousal have found none. The most recent study, published in May in the journal Sexual Medicine, looked specifically at women, who are thought to be more sensitive to the effects of chocolate. The researchers, from Italy, studied a random sample of 163 adult women with an average age of 35 and found no significant differences between reported rates of sexual arousal or distress among those who regularly consumed one serving of chocolate a day, those who consumed three or more servings or those who generally consumed none.” (O’ Connor, 2006)

The article concludes by stating that, “if chocolate has any aphrodisiac qualities, they are probably psychological, not physiological” (O’ Connor, 2006).

This psychological perception of chocolate and sex is one that is manufactured by chocolate advertising bringing out various themes that are associated with female sexuality starting from the perception that female sexual desires are akin to a sin, to body image issues that perpetuates women’s need to be slim to various other insecurities associated with sex such as lasting longer or overall satisfaction. Even though the findings and correlation between chocolate and sex are negligible, the marketing for chocolate continues to perpetuate chocolate’s association with sex and its implied special relevance to women’s sexuality as it plays into societal expectations from women, that require them to be and make them more attractive if they are “naughty but nice”.

Work Cited:

Bratskeir, Kate. “This Is Why Women Crave Chocolate, Men Want A Burger” Huffington Post. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/10/chocolate-craving-pms-men-vegetables_n_6102714.html&gt;

Campbell, Colin. 1995. “The Sociology of Consumption.” Acknowledging Consumption: A Review of New Studies. London, England: Routledge.

Fahim, Jamal, “Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing”. 2010. Sociology Student Scholarship <http://scholar.oxy.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=sociology_student&gt;

Hormes, Julia M, Alix Timko. “All cravings are not created equal. Correlates of menstrual versus non-cyclic chocolate craving”. Appetite. Vol 57. 2011. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21440592&gt;

Lindell, C.  Women and chocolate: A history lesson. Candy Industry, 180(3), 21. 2015

O’Connor, Anahad. “The Claim: Chocolate Is an Aphrodisiac”. The New York Times. 2006. <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/18/health/18real.html&gt;

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women, and Empire. New York: Manchester UP, 2009. 

University of Bristol. “Chocolate Is The Most Widely Craved Food, But Is It Really Addictive?.” ScienceDaily. September 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070911073921.htm>.


Interview with EH Chocolatier

It was early February and Catharine Sweeney and Elaine Hsieh, co-owners of EH Chocolatier, were busy working on their Valentine’s Day orders. Sheet trays and whisks clanked against the steel countertops at a steady rhythm. February is one of the busiest time of the year for a chocolatier. Catharine and Elaine anticipated forty to fifty orders for Valentine’s Day; a modest amount for their three-year-old business, but enough to keep EH Chocolatier very busy. Catharine and Elaine make all of their chocolates by hand, as well as overseeing the packaging and shipping. As Valentine’s Day approached, they were hit with a New England curveball: winter storm Nemo, which would become the fifth largest snowfall in Boston history, was forecast to hit the weekend before Valentine’s Day. All around Boston the news warned of shutting down roads, airports, and subways. Authorities urged residents to prepare for a heavy downfall and warned of potential power outages. Nemo could wreck their biggest sale day and reputation.

However, EH Chocolatier had no idea of the real storm coming. On Tuesday, February 12th, Elaine was surprised to see EH Chocolatier featured in The New York Times  day’s “Best in the Box” article. Their salted caramels had been recognized as a top ten best chocolate caramel just in time for Valentine’s Day. Catharine and Elaine said that they did not get their hopes up initially, since  EH Chocolatier had previous exposure in major publications like Food and Wine. But at 9:05 AM Elaine’s email sounded off like an alarm, “bing, bing, bing, bing, bing”–the sound of hundreds of online chocolate orders pouring into her inbox. “It was kind of like an Oprah moment,” Elaine says recalling the experience. “We literally got five hundred orders in thirty-six hours.”

Most entrepreneurs could only dream of the success EH Chocolatier experienced with their first New York Times feature. However, waking up in the morning with five hundred orders of handmade chocolates is a daunting task. The article said chocolates could be ordered by Valentine’s Day–giving the team at EH Chocolatier merely four days to accomplish ten times their expected workload.  And then there was Nemo. “Oh my God, I don’t think we can handle this,” recalls Elaine of the experience. “But we did it.” With the help of friends and family, EH Chocolatier was able to successfully mail their chocolate orders in time for Valentine’s Day. Since The New York Times feature, Elaine and Catharine say that business has picked up at a steady pace.

Despite the publicity, the economic odds were against two mothers starting a business at the tail-end of a recession. “Micro-Chocolatiers” face tough competition from large manufacturers like Godiva or Lindt, who have extensive shipping networks and long shelf-life products. While EH Chocolatier still has room to grow as a business, there are benefits to staying small. “I think where we stand out is that its fresh,” Catharine says in our interview. “We make very small batches. . . . [T]he flavors [in chocolate] dissipate over time and will dry out a little bit. When you eat them and they’ve been made that week, theres no comparison to eating something that you’ve purchased from a large chocolate manufacturer who has [a shelf life of] maybe six months.”

Not only are EH Chocolatier’s confections fresh, but they offer creative flavor combinations. Inspiration for new chocolate flavors is not limited by the world of dessert. “A lot of it comes from our joy of savory eating,” Catharine says. “I have a friend that’s Thai and she cooks for me all the time. . . . [Y]ou start thinking; I wonder if I can pair these flavors with chocolate? [T]hats where our lemongrass Thai chili bonbon came from.” Beyond chocolate, EH Chocolatier also offers a passion fruit caramel  made with passion fruit puree combined with white chocolate.

The heart of EH Chocolatier that keeps the core of the business strong is the bond between Catharine and Elaine. “We knew of and heard of all those horror stories of friends starting businesses together,” says Elaine in the interview. “Catharine and I realized that it wouldn’t really be worth doing business together if we wouldn’t be friends afterwards.” “Because our strengths are very different it really is a match made in heaven,” Catharine says looking to Elaine as they share the kind of unrestrained belly-laugh that can only be had between close friends.

“We’re very ying yang,” says Elaine, who is dressed in a white linen shirt and brushed silver jewelry, with her straight black hair neatly parted down the side. Catharine sits by her side wearing a cherry red sweater with matching red rectangular glasses and red dangle bead earrings. “We are both equal in terms of developing new recipes and creating new ideas and we each sort of come at it from different bends and different palates. We’re equal in terms of strengths,” says Elaine.

Perhaps this strength is ultimately what enables a entrepreneurs to persevere through the difficult initial phases of a new business. After all, a business is fundamentally about relationships between people, whether it’s buyer or seller.  The challenges of winter storm Nemo and an unexpected bump in orders due to the Times article showed the EH Chocolatier has the right business model–and people for success.

Catharine and Elaine are helping to define what it means to be a female entrepreneur. In businesses highly dominated by men, women often forced to repress their femininity in order to be taken seriously. Desirable leadership traits are usually associated with male stereotypes of being aggressive, dominant, and individualistic. Women often feel pressure to be a “woman in a man’s world” and are not given the freedom to be a “woman in a woman’s” world because society has often categorized female-dominated industries as being less important, less deserving of respect, less difficult, and less desireable. As two mothers and entrepreneurs in the chocolate industry, an industry that has long been the domain of women, Catharine and Elaine reflect what it means to be a strong, female leader who fully leans into being a “woman in a woman’s” world.

It is important to see female leadership in the chocolate industry for a few reasons. The story of how chocolate rose to global prominence has largely taken place in the unwritten history of women. For example, many believe European colonists were responsible for innovating on cacao recipes taken from the Mesoamericans and transformed to fit European tastes. For example, Spanish Doctor and Military surgeon Antonio Lavedan wrote in 1796 in Tratado de los usos, abusos, propiedades y virtudes del tabaco, cafe, te y chocolate:

“When the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in the Americas, the inhabitants there made a cacao liquor which was diluted in hot water seasoned with pepper and other spices . . . all these ingredients gave this mixture a brutish quality and a very savage taste . . . The Spanish, more industrious than the Savages, procured to correct the bad flavor of this liquor, adding to this cacao paste different fragrances of the East and many spices of this country [Spain]. Of all these ingredients we have maintained only the sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon” (Lavedan, Antonio).


This Eurocentric view is fundamentally flawed but has persisted because historians have routinely overlooked the history of people of color and women. When the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in Mesoamerica, they employed the encomienda system and forced women to perform housework and prepare food. As a result, Mesoamerican women introduced European settlers to the different ways of preparing cacao and rather than the Europeans modifying chocolate to fit their different cultural tastes, Europeans developed a cultural taste for Indian chocolate (Marcy Norton, 2006). Historians have often ignored the role of gender in shaping history and as a result, many people fail to realize that Mesoamerican women are largely responsible for introducing chocolate to the world out of obscurity.

For example, many people believe Europeans were the first to sweeten chocolate, however Mesoamericans had been sweetening chocolate for a while.


Martin, Carla. “Colonial Mesoamerican Cacao Beverage Recipe Ingredients,” Chocolate Expansion, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture. Spring Academic Year, 2017.


Source: Martin, Carla. “Colonial European Chocolate Recipe Ingredients,” Chocolate Expansion, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture. Spring Academic Year, 2017.

As chocolate made its way through Spain, Italy, France, and Britain, recipes were passed down between women from kitchen to kitchen. This played a formative role in discovering new uses for chocolate but scholars and historians have traditionally ignored studying and documenting this because chocolate has long been considered a “women’s” domain. As a result, the early evolution of chocolate throughout Europe is poorly documented and relatively unknown.

As the industry surrounding chocolate developed in the early 1900s, women were excluded participation in the development of chocolate as a business and it wasn’t until  1970s that Mar’s Chocolate hired a woman named Lone Clark to Vice President of HR, an unprecedented move at the time but still a testament to the newness of welcoming women into ownership of an industry that they by and large laid the foundations to.

Furthermore, chocolate has long been a tool for those in power to set the agenda on the wants and desires of women. Advertising is largely dominated by men and has historically had a lack of diversity of women in senior level positions. As a result, the messages connecting women to chocolate have focused on reinforcing highly gendered, heteronormative stereotypes of femininity. It is yet another way men have defined what constitutes women’s spaces and what it means to be a woman.

Catharine and Elaine’s success as chocolatiers represents women taking ownership of “women’s” domains, and paying homage to the unacknowledged labor of women who introduced the world to chocolate.



Dishman, Lydia. “The Gender Divide and the Traits of Effective Leadership: Who Comes Out on Top?” Fast Company, 05/20/2014. Retrieved online: https://www.fastcompany.com/3030754/the-gender-divide-and-the-traits-of-effective-leadership-who-comes-out-on

Hsieh, Elaine, Catharine, Sweeney. Personal Interview about EH Chocolatiers. Conducted March, 2015.

Lavedan, Antonio. “Tratado de los usos, abusos, propiedades y virtudes del tabaco, café, té y chocolate : extractado de los mejores autores que han tratado de esta materia, á fin de que su uso no perjudique á la salud, antes bien pueda servir de alivio y curación de muchos males.” Madrid : En la Imprenta Real, 1796.

Retrieved online: https://archive.org/details/tratadodelosuso00lavegoog

Mars Inc. “At Mars, the Evolution of Female Leaders Started Early,” Mars News. Mars.com, 03/23/2017. Retrieved online: http://www.mars.com/global/press-center/newsroom/womens-history-month-ione-clark

Martin, Carla. “Colonial European Chocolate Recipe Ingredients,” Chocolate Expansion, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture. Spring Academic Year, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Colonial Mesoamerican Cacao Beverage Recipe Ingredients,” Chocolate Expansion, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Lecture. Spring Academic Year, 2017.


What Do You See?

Chocolate seems to permeate our lives. It saturates the grocery shelves during the holiday seasons and appears on our television screens. It is a true constant in our rapidly-changing world. Because our modern world is always developing, how has chocolate maintained permanent-product status? The easy answer is: sugar. Several hundred years ago when sugar first emerged onto the European food scene, it was a new and exciting ingredient from Mesoamerica that served many uses. It began as an expensive superfluous supplement to the natural European diet, but after two centuries, sugar had become a staple to the English diet and essential to the rest of Europe (Prof. Martin Lecture). This kind of integration was not isolated to sugar. Chocolate made the journey from a fancy, elite delicacy to a common household item… or so it seems. As this article of fun facts reveals, Modern day “Americans consume 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate each year, or over 11 pounds per person” which is much more than the average for Europeans. I argue that although statistics show that the common person consumes great amounts of chocolate, it still retains its original status as a highbrow item despite its price. This is best showcased by the chocolate sections at CVS.

There are a couple of different places to find chocolate at CVS, each with their own chief marketing purpose. The first is in the candy aisle. Here you can find the label “bagged chocolate” and see an assortment of chocolate from big, well-known companies like Hershey, Reese’s, etc. They all have seemingly endless variations of dark, milk, and white chocolate, sometimes mixed with peanut butter, nuts, or other embellishments. As you walk into the aisle, the sheer amount of options is overwhelming. The range of your selection makes them all seem to blend together. It is even hard to read each label individually because your eye is constantly being drawn elsewhere by cartoon images and bright colors. Eventually, you just go with what you know. This is either a run-of-the-mill choice like plain milk chocolate or something slightly more niche like salted caramel dark chocolate. In the case of a more niche preference, you will likely already know its position in the aisle because it does not change. Never at eye-level, your bag of salted caramel dark chocolate is eternally juxtaposed to the bag of mint milk chocolate, both sold by the same company. At any given CVS, they will sometimes be on a high level but more often than not, they will be off to the side. This particular bag of chocolate will reside at shin-level so you have to bend down to pick it up. It never goes on sale. But your friend has a slightly different experience. You see, she is a big fan of Hershey’s Dark Chocolate, no almonds or other extras. She needs two bags because finals are coming up and she stress eats when she feels bloated. She turns into the candy aisle, finds the sign indicating the chocolate, and walks right up to inspect her choices. She does not have to look for long. As she glances to the side, her eyes find the Hershey’s label and her brain immediately recognizes the color. She grabs two bags since there is a sale that applies to this type of chocolate (second bag is 50% off!) and you both head to the front of the store to pay.

Photo taken by me.

Now let’s say that you and your friend prefer the finer things in life. Pretend that there has been a tragic epidemic and every chocolatier in your immediate vicinity has been destroyed. This leaves CVS as your only option for buying chocolate. The two of you cannot eat “commoners chocolate,” whatever that means (you and your friend are chocolate-snobs) so you head to the “Premium Chocolates” stand that CVS has on display. There is a notable absence of plastic bags and cartoon labels, no bright colors that remind you of late Halloween nights. The characteristics of this section that stand out to you are the highbrow-looking packaging, lack of “Big Chocolate” name brands (or so you think), and the fact that the vast majority of the packaging features some sort of picture of smooth chocolate.

Photo taken by me.

Because you and your friend prefer everyone to know the percentage of cocoa that your chocolate is, you grab a package from eye-level that advertises “85% Cocoa” in big, bold letters beneath the word “Excellence” written in a super fancy script font. This chocolate is slightly pricier than the chocolate in other areas of CVS so you and your friend agree to split the bag. Then you both head to the counter to pay.

In both situations, you have to pass the “impulse buy” test. As you wait in line to pay, you are surrounded by shelves of mini-sized candy. It is a slue of small packaging, with candy, gum, donuts, and chocolate all mixed together. The gum is at the top because it is the easiest to justify in a situation where you need to freshen up your breath. Directly below the gum are four entire shelves of candy, mostly chocolate. This is a departure from the fancy marketing you saw earlier. It is a return to the “Big Chocolate” name brands like Hershey. In contrast to the chocolate aisle, this chocolate is being sold in much smaller quantities. Its small size and location in the store point to a popular marketing ploy that stores like to use, especially in America. In America, we are very susceptible to the “impulse buy.” It is very easy to justify buying a small chocolate candy bar on your way out of CVS than buying a whole bag. Even further, these candies are not at adult-eye level but they are positioned perfectly to draw the attention of any child who walks past them. You, however, are not a child. You wait your turn and pay for your chocolate at the cash register. Then you leave CVS, concluding your shopping experience.

Photo taken by me.

These elaborate scenarios showcase various ways that chocolate plays a part in our everyday lives. For instance, the way that companies choose to visually represent their chocolate speaks to how we perceive chocolate. The “Premium Chocolates” section is a perfect example of this. In “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics”, Mary Norton discusses how sociologists and cultural historians “have eschewed biological or economic determinism and instead theorize taste as socially constructed” (Norton, 663). She uses Mintz’ work on sugar’s development “from a medicinal additive to a luxury good among the upper classes” to complement his argument that “sugar ‘embodied the social position of the wealthy and powerful.’ He points to ‘sugar’s usefulness as a mark of rank—to validate one’s social position. To elevate others, or to define them as inferior.’” (Norton/Mintz). This seems antiquated to us in modern day but it really holds true to society’s perception of chocolate. If you take into account the countless ads like this one that present chocolate as a luxury item that should be desired, then it becomes easier to see why presenting their product as “Premium Chocolates” is an effective marketing tactic used by Lindt and Ghirardelli in CVS.

Looking at this commercial, the first thing to notice is the incredible CGI they have used to recreate Audrey Hepburn, an icon of class and elegance. There is classic music playing in the background. Audrey Hepburn leaves the public transport bus and makes the transition into a handsome man’s car where he proceeds to act as her chauffeur as she eats chocolate in the backseat. This is a very clear way of associating chocolate with a certain lavish lifestyle that mirrors the purpose of the upscale display at CVS. This demonstrates how chocolate is still thought of as a luxury good despite its frequency.

Similarly, you can discern the intended audience from the location and price of the chocolate. In the chocolate aisle and the section right before the cash register, the position of the chocolate can reveal many things. If it is at eye-level for an adult, odds are that product is very popular. An example of this is the Hershey’s chocolate staple: plain dark chocolate. If the product is more particular, it is likely that it will be on a different shelf in order to make room for the standard products. One exception to this rule is when products are placed at the eye-level of children. Today, ads everywhere target kids because they want to create costumers for life. This has various ethical complications, not the least of which are explored in the article “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies” by Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens. Their article describes the way sugar’s detrimental effects on public health were covered up by greedy corporations. Along the way, scientific research has found that “sugar and its nearly chemically identical cousin, HFCS, may very well cause diseases that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, and that these chronic conditions would be far less prevalent if we significantly dialed back our consumption of added sugars” (Taubes). The ethical complications arise when the companies knowlingly advertised their product that contained unhealthy ingredients without making the public fully aware of their effects. There is also research that links the overconsumption of sucrose and HFCS to obesity and type 2 diabetes, both of which disproportionately affect young people. Ad campaigns like this one from Cadbury target young people in an effort to foster a relationship between the child and the brand so that as an adult, their potential purchasing power increases because of their trained loyalty to the specific company.

The ad works likes a commercial to kids for kids. The use of children and upbeat music to advertise chocolate is a convincing strategy to associate chocolate with fun. This targeting of children as consumers is demonstrated in stores like CVS where chocolate is placed in the perfect position for children to recognize them from ads on television and the internet.

Chocolate might seem like a normal treat that you indulge in after a difficult day, but if you look deeper into your own perception of chocolate, you will learn that it is integral to multiple societal structures. Not only can you see from the different placements of chocolate in CVS that it is associated with elitism and opulence, but it is also incredibly gendered. This post on reddit.com by user Te1221 establishes the subconscious connection between chocolate and women.

Reddit, posted by user Te1221 in 2014.

The caption is “CVS boosted chocolate sales this year” which implies that its location next to female hygienic products would help it sell more. The suggestion that women on their period are more likely to buy chocolate is widely spread idea. This is just a small example of how chocolate can really represent institutions within our society like gender (like power through its elitism).

Just from looking at chocolate placement in a CVS in Harvard Square, you can begin to understand its intrinsic nature. Chocolate is a symbol of delicacy, power, femininity, and sinfulness (both in relation to physical health and sexually). All you need to do is look.

Works Cited

Norton, Marcy. 2006. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111 (3): 660-691

Mintz, Sidney W. “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History” (New York, 1985), 140, 139, 153, 166–167.

Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, Feb. 15, 2017.

Taubes, Gary, and Cristin Kearns Couzens. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies.” Mother Jones. Nov/Dec. 2012. Web. 04 May 2017. <http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/10/sugar-industry-lies-campaign&gt;.

Chocolate Demonization and the Growth of Sexualized Chocolate Marketing in the Western World

Chocolate has had romantic and sexual connotations essentially since its birth, or at least dating back to “the European conquest of Mexico,” which was dually a conquest of the Aztec Empire (Coe & Coe, 29). Even in ancient use, chocolate was seen as both an aphrodisiac and a necessary facet of marital ceremonies. Such an association has accompanied chocolate to the modern world, though not without undergoing transformations in its exact manifestation in social customs and thus marketing. These transformations are not unfounded; instead, they took place alongside and were the result of historical change. One such change, which substantiates the focus of this paper, is the demonization of obesity which consequently led to the demonization of chocolate. Chocolate entered the Western world as almost a healthy option, which doesn’t come as a surprise given that it was considered a medicine in both ancient and early European societies. This thought survived only until the 17th century, when William Harvey’s work advanced knowledge of the cardiovascular system which disproved the Galenic medical model in which chocolate was included. But even after that, chocolate was revered for its ability to sustain and give energy. Take, for example, its role as a “fighting food” in World War II.                    warman.pngChocolate enjoyed this favorable role until around the mid-twentieth century, when chocolate and candy were exposed for their role in weight gain during a post-WWII stigmatization of obesity. The unhealthy aspects of chocolate were brought to light, and public attitudes toward it were fundamentally changed. And although a focus on women had always been congenital to the marketing of chocolate, this shift brought with it a change in exactly how this focus was manipulated. Women in chocolate advertisements went from being depicted as wholly domestic and in charge of family matters to being depicted as overly sexual and out of control. This shift was made in order to overcome chocolate’s newly immoral image by equating it to sex, which is socially acceptable but also technically sinful. But since women remained central to chocolate marketing, this pairing exudes deeper implications about women in relation to chocolate and sex, which are ultimately unfounded and yet have profoundly impacted public sentiment.

I was brought to such a conclusion through an interview regarding chocolate that I conducted with a good female friend of mine at Harvard College. We sat down in a café and had the following conversation.

Q: What is your favorite kind of chocolate?

A: Mostly white chocolates, but I also love the Cadbury Curly Wurly and Reese’s in particular.

Q: What kind of chocolate do you consider high quality?

A: Dark chocolates, or I guess specific brands like Lindt, or Lindor truffles…definitely not Hershey’s or Snickers. Do you know Milka? I think that’s European and it’s different but I’d probably consider that nice. The kinds that people give as gifts are usually nice.

Q: To whom do you gift chocolate, if ever?

A: You! Haha. But also my little sisters and anyone I feel bad for. It’s a nice quick way to make someone feel better. It’s easy, convenient, and everyone likes chocolate.

Q: Do people ever give you chocolate?

A: My family at holidays, and sometimes guys.

Q: In what situations do you eat the most chocolate?

A: Holidays and if I feel bad or upset about something. Chocolate is nice because it makes you feel happy. I think there are studies on that, that it makes you feel happy because of the sugar. Some people are addicted to it I think.

Q: Understandable. Lastly, in what context do you see chocolate most often advertised?

A: Oh! Wait. This is something I can really go on about because it’s so weird to me, and so interesting. Advertisements use women and eating, and sexualize the women eating it, which makes it seem doubly attractive because of both the woman and the chocolate.  It makes you think of sex and like, sinning, because chocolate’s unhealthy and sex is associated with sin. Not that sex is something to be ashamed of, but they’re associated. If you’re writing a paper on this you should do it on that!

My friend’s influence on my topic is pretty evident from my last question, which excited her to the extent that she insisted I use the interview to highlight that correlation. But even her answers to other, non-explicitly gender-based questions contribute evidence to the sexualization of women in chocolate advertising, its exact form, and the misconceptions it generates even to someone so obviously aware of it. To elaborate, her responses demonstrate how higher quality chocolate in particular is gifted to women by men or by other woman, but rarely to men. Furthermore, she clearly buys into the indulgent role of chocolate, and its ability to make her feel better instantly. This thought, unbeknownst to her, is also partially the result of chocolate advertising. But the advertising does not function this way arbitrarily; it acts on associations which, despite having morphed over time, are in fact grounded in chocolate’s roots.

Chocolate’s ancient romance-based role as an aphrodisiac and a factor in betrothal may be the starting point of the focus on women in particular since these connotations include heteronormative and monogamous assumptions. Women are therefore necessarily involved. In Mayan culture, kings purportedly sent messengers equipped with beaten chocolate out to found them wives (Coe & Coe, 61). And at the ceremony itself, the bride and groom would give each other five grains of cacao (Coe & Coe, 61). The first instance clearly illustrates that chocolate would, in that case, be expected to woo such a bride. Thus, chocolate’s supposed love-inducing power on women is seen even here. This concept was somewhat exempt from some of the early to mid-twentieth century chocolate advertising campaigns, which had other intentions, but it resurfaces in the current environment.

The aforementioned campaigns, which took place in the first half of the twentieth century, lack this concept because they sought to situate women and chocolate in the domestic realm. They were particularly prolific following the First and Second World Wars, due to the fact that women had worked traditionally male jobs in place of men who had been drafted. Female empowerment and the beginnings of an understanding of equal ability regardless of sex had emerged, and a heady effort was made to re-establish gender roles and thus reduce any competition with women for jobs. One way of doing this was to trumpet the image of the “housewife,” generally in an overwhelmingly positive light, so that women understood that this was still their primary role. Naturally advertising campaigns are an efficient way of making public statements, and so it isn’t surprising that cocoa and chocolate ads in this era worked to this end. Instead of focusing on women in a sexual manner, they focused on them in their roles as “the main shopper of the family, or at least the coordinator of the all the family shopping” (Robertson 23). A Rowntree poster depicts a woman carrying cups of cocoa for her children while they play with her outfit, which is starkly reminiscent of a maid’s uniform. This design is purposeful, and is included to insinuate that the purpose of wives and mothers is directly comparable to that of a maid. And a 1937 Baker’s Chocolate ad shows happy children and, separately, a woman eating dessert with her husband with a description that exclaims, “Gee, Mother’s a parent with swell ideas! (She’s smart, too, to make her soufflé with Baker’s Chocolate.” Ultimately, this illustration of women gives them some kind of power, even if it comes from a distinct “feminine knowledge” which was gleaned through being relegated to full-time housewife status (Robertson 23). rowntreebakers.png

In the 1940s and 50s in America, however, nutritional health concerns suddenly became paramount and obesity was increasingly stigmatized. Although being overweight was viewed as unappealing in previous decades, “psychiatrically-oriented postwar medical thinking about obesity was more stigmatizing…newer biomedical theory linked fatness to the already stigmatized condition of addiction and authorized attribution of moral blame to the fat” (Rasmussen 880). This new psychiatric attitude also directly blamed mothers for the obesity of children. Hilde Bruch, a New York psychoanalyst claimed that the “key element of a family environment promoting obesity…was a domineering mother too invested in mothering…this overmothering involved overfeeding” (Rasmussen 883). Given this blame-oriented reaction to unhealthiness and fat, chocolate advertisements naturally needed to alter their methodology and move away from the idea that smart mothers feed their children large amounts of chocolate and cocoa. Because although chocolate served as a sustainer, in its most popular form it also contained large amounts of sugar and fat. But the question then became one of what the new appeal of chocolate would be. This was an especially difficult issue, for the reason that unhealthy foods like candy and chocolate were not only stigmatized…they were essentially demonized (Lecture note, 8. March 2017). This is largely due to timing and grouping— “addiction and fatness attracted widespread popular stigma at about the same time—and for the same set of reasons based in a Protestant morality strained by the abundance of industrial capitalism” (Rasmussen 881). Opiate and cocaine addiction came to the forefront of societal concerns at the beginning of the twentieth century, and addicts were gradually seen as incurable and even criminal (Rasmussen 881). And those involved in the temperance movement which was in full swing until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 continued to condemn alcohol consumption largely for the addiction it was so disposed to cause. Now that obesity was also thought to be the result of addiction, but to food, the overweight were similarly denounced and eating junk food was, through this parallel, equated to committing a sin.

The best way to conquer this new face of chocolate was ultimately to embrace this idea of sin by pairing it with sex and lust. This pairing made sinning out to be a good thing, grounded in the understanding that sex is technically a “sin,” or morally perverse, and yet people engage in it regardless and with pleasure. If chocolate had instead been paired with a sin that has virtually no nuance and which is inhumane as opposed to immoral for religious reasons which not all people agree with, such as murder or theft, such a method would plainly fail. Needless to say, no advertising agency would assume this position—the comparison seeks only to elucidate how the choice of lust is one of few ways to save a name which had been thrust into the realm of immorality. From the pairing of sex and chocolate, emerges a concept of dual indulgence in both. The thought is that although eating chocolate is wrong for health reasons, it is addictive and pleasurable and understandable in the eyes of modern society, as is sex. This manifested itself in commercials and posters of beautiful women eating chocolate in a notably seductive fashion, and acting as though the chocolate itself is as pleasurable as sex. Some advertisements even make a point of acting as though the women are so drawn to the chocolate that it makes them irrational and out-of-control. This idea is pervasively linked to romance, where women are also stereotypically (albeit unfairly) thought to be irrational when inextricably involved with men. And sex in particular is thought to be a cause of this irrationality. The other common form of chocolate advertising features men gifting chocolate to women with “implied meanings of gratitude and sexual submission” (Robertson 33). Random gifting takes on the insinuation of seduction, or of chocolate’s ability to literally seduce a woman both in its intrinsic role as an addictive delicacy and in its role as reasoning to be grateful to a man and therefore be willing to indulge him. And in another chocolate-gifting trope, chocolate is given to appease a woman who is angry with her significant other. In these scenarios, the woman “overcome[s] such faults as a bad temper…the man is never really bad and there is a reason for his moodiness” (Robertson 30). Therefore, here too is the idea that women are inherently irrational, and that they can be either “subdued by the gift of chocolate” or simply seduced by it (Robertson 32). Regardless, they are often portrayed as out of control through images of them being both driven crazy by and placated by chocolate. It is important to note that this type of advertising was originally restricted mostly to nice chocolates and chocolate assortments—Emma Robertson qualifies that “at least until the 1970s, the link between sex and chocolate had become circumscribed according to the type of chocolate being marketed” (30). Cocoa powder and chocolate geared toward children remained innocuous. This is still the case on some level, which is why my friend equated nice, dark chocolates with the kinds one would gift. But this is a qualifier mostly only when concerning gifting—modern advertisements such as those first described tend to link women and sexiness regardless of quality. The sexual connotation now comes across in most marketing of chocolate.


Clearly, even before the health revolution of the 1950s, women were a focus of advertising efforts. Marketing is often gendered—commercials for traditionally “masculine” commodities such as cars and razors and cologne focus conversely on men to promote a masculine association with their product. An example of this which ironically coincides with gendered chocolate marketing is this Axe commercial. While still primarily featuring a man, it insinuates that the passion women ostensibly have for chocolate and the passion they will have for men that wear Axe deodorant are equivocal. For this to be appealing to men, this passion is necessarily sexual.

Aside from highlighting the toxic masculinity that emerges in advertising from companies such as Axe, this campaign functions for our purposes on two levels. As previously touched upon, it proves that chocolate has been shaped into something that the public feels women are literally attracted to in a sexual manner. The man is happy because, in his role as a man made entirely of chocolate, he is a recipient of the sexual desire men crave. Secondly, the fashion in which women respond to him is intentionally almost animalistic, so crazed are they by chocolate. While this implicitly lends proof to the earlier idea that gifted chocolate is meant to elicit a sexual response, it also speaks to the broader theme of female irrationality and impulsiveness at the hands of both chocolate and sex.

This theme can be proven to be artificially manufactured, however, at least in terms of chocolate. Societal views on female irrationality regarding sex are more nuanced and deserve to be more deeply analyzed separately. The trajectory of chocolate and a lack of control began when chocolate and other junk foods, after being caught up in the wave of altered medical and psychiatric thought of the mid-twentieth century, were classified as addictive. But the chocolate industry clearly decided to use this to their benefit. By subsequently linking chocolate to sex, the addictive classification was exacerbated. Sex is also considered classically addictive—Jamal Fahim notes that we “typically associate addictive behavior with drugs, alcohol, or sexual behavior” (13). So the link to sex compounded the addictive label and implied that chocolate can elicit reactions similar to those elicited by drugs and alcohol—chemical and unnatural. This made chocolate into a necessary indulgence, which is one way of increasing sales. Advertising is therefore necessarily involved, since it is the realm in which the association grew. It is also interesting to note that, in an age where addictions to such substances were under heavy criticism, “tobacco and alcohol are socially deemed masculine luxuries” (Fahim 12). Thus, it appears that the addictions plaguing the public were largely those associated with masculinity. It is therefore convenient that a new addiction emerged which was almost concretely linked to women through the media. Though it cannot be stated with any certainty, it is possible that likening chocolate to an addiction and then placing it in the female realm redistributed blame for a societal problem which previously had more of a male affiliation. After all, women were also targeted in Hilde Burch’s aforementioned concept that the overfeeding mother is responsible for child obesity. Regardless, claims of the addictive properties of chocolate are for the most part unsubstantiated— “studies on chocolate have indicated that the amounts of these mood-enhancing chemicals, such as alkaloids or Phenethylamine, are at such a low level that it is unlikely that they are the reason behind the euphoria one feels when they consume chocolate” (Aaron and Bearden 2008:169, as qtd. in Fahim, 14). Yes, chocolate tastes good and the alkaloids that it contains (caffeine and theobromine) may have some positive effects on mood and stimulation, but it is not addictive in the same way that drugs and sex are. Research that portrays it in such a manner in order to “validate a deeper relationship to sex [is] so negligible and trivial that one must conclude that it is only chocolate marketing that perpetuates chocolate’s association with love and sex and its implied special relevance to women” (Fahim 15).

The lack of scientific evidence to back chocolate addiction theories doesn’t change the fact that the stereotypes crafted by the advertising world have genuinely imbedded themselves in society. This is evident in the interview with my friend. For example, the gender-based one-way gifting is validated by her anecdotal evidence, in that she recalls giving gifts to me and her sisters alone, while receiving them from men. She also has a little brother, and so it is significant that she didn’t mention him while describing giving chocolate to little siblings. The history of chocolate’s public image makes the gifting of chocolate to boys and men seem almost outlandish. She also touched upon her tendency to eat chocolate when she’s upset because it makes her feel happier, even adding that this is why some people are possibly addicted to it. This made me realize that misconceptions put forth by the marketing of chocolate have been widely accepted by the public, because her description of chocolate betrays a belief that chocolate has powers similar to that of a drug in enhancing mood. And this notion has been strongly influenced by advertising’s exaggerated depictions of the female reaction to chocolate.

There is, however, probably some validity to the natural mood-enhancing capabilities of chocolate. Recent years have yielded an abundance of literature heralding positive effects of chocolate on maladies such as depression, blood pressure, and inflammation. It is important to keep in mind that, in such research, “reported results are based upon dark rather than milk chocolate” (Coe & Coe, 30). But since entirely dark chocolate is not sweet like milk chocolate, it has not been incredibly popular with the public. Thus, even if such research is valid, it wouldn’t apply to the vast majority of the mainstream chocolate onto which the media projects its fabricated claims.

What is most interesting to me about the marketing of chocolate is its loyalty to a feminine focus. When the basis of the domesticity-based chocolate and cocoa campaigns was uprooted by the obsession with thinness and the stigmatization of obesity of the mid-twentieth century, marketers of chocolate turned to sex in connection with women in particular to make chocolate similarly alluring and deserving of indulgence. The link to sex also purposefully deepened chocolate’s addictive connotation, so that consumers would feel chocolate was a necessary purchase. But the new methodology didn’t fail to maintain the strong feminine association of the domestic campaign. Although men are implicit in the sexually-tinged gifting policies, it is women that appear in almost all advertisements and often alone with their chocolate, being seduced by it and also seducing the viewer. This propensity to preserve the pairing of women and chocolate, combined with what appears to be growing acknowledgement of dark chocolate and its health benefits, leads me to wonder what kind of marketing we can expect to see if chocolate’s image shifts again. One might think that the focal point of its advertising strategy would simply revert back to domestic life as in the early twentieth century and earlier, but I would argue that the economic equality of women, although not complete, has advanced to the extent that this would not be the new structure. Instead, I think it would be based on the modern focus on women and a societal expectation that they will maintain their health and their body image. For example, I can picture marketing similar to that of this Special K commercial, but trumpeting mental health or blood pressure as opposed to weight loss.

Because unfortunately, it appears that the marketing of chocolate is insistent on keeping a gendered focus. But we can at least hope that, if dark chocolate’s health benefits become fact and are widely understood by the public, chocolate consumption will lose the connection to immorality which likens it to sex, and that women in chocolate advertising will thus cease to be over-sexualized. Granted, this could be replaced by the gendered double standards of health maintenance, but I consider those to be the lesser of two evils. Lastly, needless to say, in the best case scenario the gendered focus of the advertising would be eradicated entirely—but given no guarantee of this, I aim only to predict a slightly better alternative.

                                                                        Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York:                    Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

“Chocolate Advertisements.” Slate Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 May 2017.                      <http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slideshows/double_x/doublex/2012/02/13/chocolate-advertisements/jcr%3Acontent/slideshow/6/images%252Fslides%252FChocolate_7.jpg >.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: a Social and Cultural History. Manchester and New York: Manchester U Press, 2009. Print. Distributed in the United States exclusively by Palgrave Macmillan.

Elsey, Brian. Retro Image, Rowntree’s Chocolates and Cocoa. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2017. <http://www.historyworld.co.uk/retroimage.php?opt=retro&pic=123&gt;.

Rudolph, Janet. “Dying for Chocolate.” Thanksgiving Weekend: Baker’s Vintage 1937 Ad & Recipes. N.p., 27 Nov. 2011. Web. 01 May 2017. <http://dyingforchocolate.blogspot.com/2011/11/thanksgiving-weekend-bakers-vintage.html&gt;.

Rasmussen, Nicolas. “Weight stigma, addiction, science, and the medication of fatness in mid-twentieth century America.” Sociology of Health & Illness 34.6 (2012): 880-95. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

Lecture Notes: information recorded in class, provided by Professor Carla D. Martin.

Bmt27. N.d. YouTube. YouTube, 19 Oct. 2006. Web. 01 May 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcbhHOZZXnI&gt;.

Elliott, Stuart. “Godiva Rides in a New Direction.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Nov. 2009. Web. 01 May 2017. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/16/business/media/16adnewsletter1.html&gt;.

“BLACK MAGIC CHOCOLATE ADVERTISEMENT 1939.” Flickr. Ed. Star1950. Yahoo!, 17 July 2008. Web. 01 May 2017. <https://www.flickr.com/photos/castlekay/2678319672&gt;.

Matheuscp. N.d. YouTube. YouTube, 30 Jan. 2008. Web. 02 May 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZK7HS9J46Y>.

Fahim, Jamal, “Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing” (2010). Sociology Student Scholarship. http://scholar.oxy.edu/sociology_student/3

Johnklin. N.d. YouTube. YouTube, 29 Sept. 2009. Web. 04 May 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPJpkgqLQ_M&gt;.




Women in Chocolate Advertising – Does Sex Sell?

Gender has been an important aspect of chocolate consumption since its introduction into the west. Although chocolate was mostly consumed in male-dominated coffee and chocolate houses in the seventeenth century, the eighteenth century marked the feminization of chocolate as it became associated with luxury and leisure in the domestic setting. As industrial manufacturing developed over the nineteenth century, chocolate became affordable to all, and in consequence, women were made responsible for providing ‘wholesome cocoa’ for their families (Robinson 2010). However, even today, when men consume as much chocolate as women, being a ‘chocoholic’ is a trait that is mostly identified with, by women. The portrayal of women in advertising however, often presents women in a fairly negative light. They emphasize a supposed female weakness for temptation, depicting women in a sensual setting, mesmerized by the product that brings them to near ecstasy. Moreover, the seductive nature of the women in the advertisements seem to be undeniably linked with what society believes to be the ideal of female beauty, to the point where a critical observer would be skeptical of whether the model in question would ever eat a piece of chocolate. The issue of nutritional value, is a key problem that marketers of chocolate had to overcome, as the product they are promoting is inherently high in sugar and fat, while their key audience has become increasingly more health and body conscious. This is, in part, due to the fact that today’s society has become more obsessed with outward appearance and resembling the ‘ideal’ female body, so much so that over-indulgence has become taboo. Yet, this is exactly where lies the tension of the sensual depictions of women in chocolate advertising. How is the chocolate industry getting away with using skinny models usually in a seductive setting, an advertising choice offensive to many women, to entice this very consumer base to buy their inherently fattening product?


A Brief History of Chocolate in Advertising

Chocolate advertising has always targeted women according to the different roles they play in society. In the early 20th century, prominent chocolate companies such as Rowntree and Cadbury developed entire marketing strategies around housewives and mothers. Although these advertisements most certainly did not have sexual connotations associated with them, advertisers back then already knew how to manipulate their key audience, as proven by the following statement from Rowntree’s advertising firm: “Any technique by which we can appeal to the mother’s concern for the well-being of her family or her related anxiety about being a successful mother and winning the loyalty and gratitude of her husband and children might serve as a vehicle to make her think of Rowntree’s Cocoa in the way we want her to think of it”(Robinson 2010). In contrast, chocolate, in the form of luxury assortments, was the epitome of heterosexual love and romance. Many advertisements from the early 20th century show chocolate consumption as the ultimate sign of courtship, as chocolate was to be a gift from a man to a woman and a way to “keep your sweetie sweet” (Robinson 2010). Towards the end of the 20th century however, chocolate advertising begins to target women as individuals, and not as gateways to their husbands and children, and even in the more romantic advertisements, men start to fade into the background. Simultaneously, chocolate advertising became increasingly more sexualized. The women are depicted independent of any man, and have found a new obsession: chocolate. An example of this, is the 1960 advertisement for Cadbury Flake. The actress looks flirtatiously at the chocolate and seems to be constantly battling temptation, until she finally gives in, at which point the music speeds up and becomes more high-pitched. The slogan “Cadbury’s Flake, a heaven all of your own” underscores how the product can bring a woman pleasure in the absence of a man. Although the sexual reference is made abundantly clear, this commercial is relatively tame in comparison to the more sexually explicit commercials and advertisements of the present day. What caused the chocolate industry to drastically increase the sexualization of women in their marketing strategies?

The Demonization of Chocolate & The Sin of Overindulgence

During the early 1900s, the United States was known to many as a “great candy eating nation”. Athletes swore on the performance-enhancing abilities of candy, aviators survived record-breaking flights on chocolate bars and the National Confectioners’ Association campaigned for daily candy eating. Candy advertising even framed it as a weight-loss agent. An example of this is the Curtiss Butterfinger advertisement. Their slogan “Candy…enriched with dextrose” made the added sugar seem like some kind of nutritional perk. The popularity of candy, and thus chocolate, soared as housewives and mothers were encouraged to incorporate sweets into the diets of their children. Towards the end of the 20th century however, as the negative health effects of candy became known to the public, an anti-candy movement was started in which candy was demonized (Dr. Carla Martin, Lecture March 8th). The consumption of fatty, sugary foods became taboo for women who were expected to be skinny in order to maintain their feminine allure. Eating chocolate, a product inherently high in sugar and fat, became associated with overindulgence and harmful to a women’s sexual appeal. Being overweight would signal an inability for self-constraint, something that wasn’t desired in a future spouse (Parsons 2015). Although this ideal of self-constraint and a women’s responsibility to fight off temptation wasn’t novel, in combination with the temperance movement against candy gaining popularity, it posed a real threat to the chocolate industry. Many companies moved to make their products bite-sized, in order to create the allusion of a more moderate, and thus healthier, snack. But it wasn’t enough. Marketing strategies had to find a way to distance their product from the sin of overindulgence and the taboo of food in order to entice their audience to buy the products society told them not to consume.

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Figure 1: A 1952 Curtiss Butterfinger advertisement promoting their candy enriched with dextrose


Chocolate as the Forbidden Fruit

Chocolate has had a long-standing relationship with love and romance, but also sex. Even in ancient times, the Aztecs and the Mayans believed that chocolate could cure impotence and, although modern science has found no significant scientific basis for this, many people today still think of chocolate as an aphrodisiac. Advertisers, looking for a different way to attract their target demographic, happily tapped into this misconception and rebranded the chocolate experience as a sexual experience. Chocolate advertising no longer promised to fulfill one’s energy needs, but vowed to provide intense pleasure and satisfy all sexual desires, portraying chocolate as a substitute for sex. Interestingly, advertisers chose to maintain the element of sin, as demonstrated by the advertisement for Ferrero Rocher. Besides the very blatant reference to Eve and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the model is holding in place, with her hand on her inner thigh, what could be bedsheets and her hair has been teased to make it appear as if she has just had sex. That being said, she is still eying the Ferrero Rocher and is fighting temptation not to grab the “forbidden fruit”, underscoring the boundless obsession women supposedly have for chocolate. The text on the left-hand side, “Are you a chocolate sinner?”, encourages the consumer to identify her craving for chocolate with (a lack of) sexual gratification, while the text “And that dream is just one sin away…” invites her to buy their product and give in to sin. The consumer is made to believe that if a model with the perfect female body gives in to temptation now and then, who is she to resist it? Although this particular advertisement takes the relationship between sin and chocolate quite literally by incorporating “The Ultimate Sin” into their campaign, references to sexual transgressions are abundant in chocolate advertising. As cleverly observed by Fahim, advertisers have “turned chocolate into a sexual, self-indulgent, private experience that invokes a taboo similar to that of masturbation” (Fahim 2010). It might seem superfluous to replace one taboo, that of food and overindulgence, with another taboo, that of self-indulgence, if the ultimate plan is to maintain the ‘sin’ aspect of consuming chocolate. But these taboos have very different, if not contrasting, connotations in today’s society. Although both are associated with losing control and the inability for self-restraint, overindulgence in food is thought to harm a women’s feminine appeal by harming her figure, while the sexual taboo brings her more in touch with her femininity through sexual satisfaction. The fattening nature of chocolate would seem to make it impossible to advertise it as a product that would make women more attractive. Nevertheless, advertisers try to persuade women into thinking that consuming chocolate can enhance their femininity while it is known to do the opposite.

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Figure 2: Ferrero Rocher likening their product to ‘the forbidden fruit’


Sex Sells?

The taboos are inherently linked. Nevertheless, the chocolate industry has been able to emphasize one, while pushing the other to the background. But there is another aspect as to why it’s so surprising the chocolate industry is successful in its usage of sexual references in its marketing strategies. Research has shown that women have a marked negative response to sexually explicit images in advertising, questioning the old saying that sex sells (Dahl 2009). Dahl et al. argue that this is the case because advertisements with blatant sexual references place sex outside of the whelm of a committed relationship, which is not in line with most women’s perceptions of sex. However, they found that if the sexual references in the ad could be seen in a broader context related to a committed relationship, rather than casual, non-emotional sex, through subtle cues such as gift-giving, the response would be less negative. Interestingly, that is exactly what the chocolate industry moved away from in targeting women. Ads have become more individualistic and chocolate is less frequently represented as the token of courtship and something that has to be gifted by a man. Instead they portray chocolate as a substitute for sex through their sexually explicit campaigns. In contrast, the same study showed that men had no issues with gratuitous sexual references and in consequence, chocolate, and its characteristic association with sex, has been used to promote male products virtually unrelated to chocolate. For instance, in an ad for Axe Dark Temptation, the deodorant turns the man into a chocolate man, after which he is virtually assaulted by the women he encounters. Although the ad is clearly targeted towards men, it still shows women to be obsessed by chocolate, unable to restrain themselves from getting their fix and taking a bite out of this chocolate man. This idea is perpetuated by the name, “Axe Dark Temptation”, further implying that women won’t be able to resist men wearing this deodorant, like they are unable to resist chocolate. There is even a scene in which women working out in the gym, jump off their treadmills in order to get a glimpse of the chocolate man, once again emphasizing that when chocolate is presented in a sexual setting, women are portrayed to forget all about the harmful effects chocolate may have on their figure, effects society tells them to be mindful of.


Creating ‘Chocoholics’ Everywhere

Although chocolate marketing efforts have targeted predominantly women since the beginning of the 20th century, chocolate advertising has undergone drastic transformation since then. While the early 1900s marked the time of appealing to women’s more wholesome roles as mothers, housewives, or as the subject of heterosexual courtship, contemporary chocolate advertisements have consistently portrayed women as irrational and obsessed, always fighting and losing to temptation. Chocolate advertising has become increasingly more sexualized, despite the fact that research has shown that women seem to have an aversion for sexually explicit images in advertising. Nevertheless, the chocolate industry seems to be succeeding in persuading women to buy their products, as proven by the many self-proclaimed ‘chocoholics’ out there. Moreover, they’ve been able to convince their key demographic that their product will enhance their femininity through its connotation with sexual satisfaction, by eating a product that has also been demonized for causing women to lose their female figures, and thus their sex appeal. To complicate the already complex relationship even further, the models used in the ads and commercials are often thought to represent the ideal female body. A skeptical observer would question whether these models have ever even tasted the product they are selling. But perhaps this further reinforces women to buy the chocolate. If the gorgeous, slim woman is able to enjoy the occasional chocolate and still looks the way she does, then why couldn’t the consumer? One could imagine that the relationship is even stronger than that, in which case the consumer might think that the model looks the way she does, because she eats the product she is selling. One way or another, the chocolate industry has found a way to emphasize one taboo, while letting the other fade into the background, and although both taboos seem to be inherently united in their product, women all around the Western world are falling for it.


Works Cited

Dahl, Darren., Sengupta, Jaideep, Vohs, Kathleen. 2009. Sex in Advertising: Gender Differences and the Role of Relationship Commitment. Journal of Consumer Research Gainesville: 36(2): 15-231

 Fahim, Jamal. 2010. Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing. Sociology Student Scholarship. http://scholar.oxy.edu/sociology_student/3

Martin, Carla. 2017. Lecture March 8th – The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.

Parsons, Julie. 2015. Gender, Class and Food – Families, Bodies and Health. pp. 108-133. Print.

Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. pp. 1-131. Print.

Multimedia Sources








Valentine’s Day Chocolate as a Commentary on Society

The History of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day has not always been associated with love, red hearts, bouquets of roses and a box of chocolates. In fact, the first celebrations of Valentine’s day, which date all the way back to Roman times, were not linked to romance at all (Butler). The initial appearance of gift-exchange occurred during the Medieval Period, when knights would lavish roses upon maidens to express their “courtly love” (Butler). This gift giving practice continued to grow in the following centuries (Henderson). However, the exchange of chocolate and candies was not yet in practice since sugar was still regarded as a highly precious commodity (Butler, Henderson). By the Victorian Era, commercialization of the holiday had begun (Henderson), and the practice of exchanging elaborate and highly decorated gifts had become routine (Butler) .

Richard Cadbury and the Heart-Shaped Box

Richard Cadbury was one of the first entrepreneurs to fully take advantage of the love-crazed commercialized frenzy (Butler). Through industrialization and technological advancements, Cadbury had discovered a cheaper way to produce what was referred to as “eating chocolate” (Butler). Cadbury, being the commercial genius that he was, began to design elaborate heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates to distribute during Valentine’s Day (Henderson). The boxes were extremely successful that even to this day, Victorian Era Cadbury boxes, such as the one featured below, still exist, are wildly popular, and “are treasured family heirlooms and valuable items prized by collectors” (Butler).

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Wilson, Laurnie

Valentine’s Day is compelling in the ways it reflects changes in Western society regarding the introduction of exchanging sugar and chocolates and a movement towards industrialization and commercialization. Currently, however, it is also most indicative of the ways in which society hasn’t changed, according to the continued gender-biased and heteronormative nature of the holiday.

Advertisements Across Time

Looking among different chocolate advertisements celebrating Valentine’s Day, common themes emerge based on assumed gender roles and heteronormativity that remain constant throughout time and across companies.


Since Cadbury is the founder of the heart-shaped box of chocolates, I thought it only appropriate to look at the content of their advertisements over time.

Cadbury Vintage Style Ad

This vintage Cadbury advertisement really speaks to the roots of heteronormativity associated with Valentine’s Day. The ad is centered around the simple fact that she loves him, he loves her. The assumptions of heteronormativity are all too clear.

This Cadbury Valentine’s Day Commercial  from 2017 shares many of the same sentiments as the vintage ad. He loves her. She loves him. And they both love Cadbury chocolate.  Although only hands are featured in this commercial, the hands are clearly gender specific. The woman’s hand is feminine, with pink painted nails and of course, hers is the hand that is receiving the chocolate. While there is some playful teasing and banter throughout the commercial, at the very end it is made clear that it is the man who is giving the chocolates by his hand signing the card with a simple “be mine”.


Cadbury, however, is not the only company that has perpetuated gender stereotypes and promoted heteronormativity. The comparison between these two ads from 1943 and 2013 shows that while some aspects of their marketing technique have been updated, fundamental concepts surrounding gender roles and heteronormativity remain the same.

Block, Tara


This Whitman’s ad is from 1943 and demonstrates the evident gender biases of that time. The ad implies that all women care very much about being recognized on Valentine’s Day and that men are expected to actually forget Valentine’s Day because they care so little about this particular holiday and receiving a gift. There is also the reoccurring theme that a man is able to win over a woman’s affections by giving her chocolate. In my opinion, this concept somewhat objectifies a woman and implies that her love may be bought with a simple box of chocolates.

This 2013 Whitman’s Valentine’s Day Commercial does not really show many differences from the printed ad from the 1940s. The language may be updated and the message appeals to a more modern man, who is interested in sports (football), but in the end, the message remains relatively the same that, “men, don’t be the forgetful, careless tough guys that you usually are; go out and buy your caring, sensitive ladies some chocolate… that’s all they truly want on Valentines Day”. Not only is this an extremely gender-biased message, it is also a message of heteronormativity. The ad directly addresses men and directs them to buy something for their special woman.

Many other chocolate brands, including Godiva and Ferrara Rocher, have released recent Valentine’s Day ads that continue to reveal how gender bias and heteronormativity are still very much ingrained into American society.

There are some advertisements, like this Dove commercial, that actually change up the narrative a little bit. However, while it does not subscribe to heteronormativity, it also does not actively combat it. Furthermore, while the ad dispenses of some of the assumed gender roles, such as the man always being the giver of chocolate, it still plays into others. It was particularly notable to me that the recipients of the chocolate were all still women. While commercials like this do perhaps show more progress, I do not believe they are up to standards with the claim to dispense of gender stereotypes and support LGBTQ communities. I struggled to find advertisements that included gay couples or advertisements in which a female romantically and earnestly gave a box of chocolates to a man, who is ready to decadently indulge. I really think that this lack of representation on Valentine’s Day may speak to a larger problem that we, as a society, may not be as progressive as we think we are.

Realities of Valentine’s Day Chocolate Exchange

These issues of perpetuated gender stereotypes and heteronormativity are not just depicted in the advertisements we see, but are also being played out in real life through the Valentine’s Day chocolate exchange. In 2006, an article entitled “pulse point’ revealed that “while 75 percent of chocolate purchases are made by women all year long, during the days and minutes before Valentine’s Day, 75 percent of the chocolate purchases are made by men. Over $ I billion of chocolate is purchased for Valentine’s Day” (p. 9). Furthermore, a study conducted by Otnes, Cele, Ruth and Milbourne revealed that men are not necessarily buying these chocolates because they want to. Many men expressed an intense pressure to buy chocolates for their significant other and actually stated that on average, they experience much more pleasure from gift-receiving than gift giving. The practices of modern day chocolate exchange during Valentine’s Day still reinforce gender roles that men must be the givers and women must be the receivers and gender bias that women care much more about the gift giving than men. Furthermore Otnes, Cele Ruth and Milbourne discuss the novelty of their study, in that it looks at the opinions and attitudes of men on Valentine’s Day rather than women, who historically and stereotypically claim the holiday; however, I could find no study on LGBTQ groups and their opinions and attitudes towards the holiday. Throughout this exploration, it has become very evident to me that the LGBTQ groups are vastly underrepresented during this holiday. While it is concerning that Valentine’s Day chocolate exchange does not seem to represent the progressive and open-minded society we feel we are a part of, perhaps the holiday is actually an indication that our society as a whole is not as updated and progressive as we ought to be.


Works Cited

Butler, Stephanie. “Celebrating Valentine’s Day With a Box of Chocolates.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 08 Feb. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Henderson, Amy. “How Chocolate and Valentine’s Day Mated for Life.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Food and, Retail E. “FEATURE/Valentine’s Day – Celebrating America’s Love Affair with Chocolate More than 35 Million Heart-Shaped Boxes Will be Sold.” Business Wire, Jan 26, 2001, pp. 1, Business Premium Collection, http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/446497881?accountid=11311.

Otnes, Cele, Julie A. Ruth, and Constance C. Milbourne. “The pleasure and pain of being close: men’s mixed feelings about participation in Valentine’s Day gift exchange.” NA-Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21 (1994).

“Pulse Points.” Journal of Property Management, vol. 71, no. 1, jan/feb2006, p. 9. EBSCOhost, ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=19533678&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Images Cited

Block, Tara. “Valentine’s Day.” POPSUGAR Love & Sex. N.p., 07 Apr. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. www.popsugar.com/love/photo-gallery/21966615/image/21966645/Valentine-Day

“Cadburys Chocolate Vintage Style A4 Poster Print Retro Advert VALENTINES DAY.” EBay. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Cadburys-Chocolate-Vintage-Style-A4-Poster-Print-Retro-Advert-VALENTINES-DAY-/232259253864.

Wilson, Laurie. “Candy Favorites – Wholesale Candy & Bulk Candy Suppliers Since 1927.” Richard Cadbury & the Heart-Shaped Chocolate Box – Candy Favorites. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. www.candyfavorites.com/heart-shaped-chocolate-box-valentines-day