In this paper, I argue that the production and consumption of chocolate has reproduced and perpetuated stereotypes of women as housewives and mothers in less pronounced ways from the eighteenth century to modern day. Not only does it cause this toxic, negative ideology of women in first world countries but it also makes women in third world countries, like Nigeria, become completely invisible to consumers. They are demoralized, undervalued, and subjected to poor working conditions as women working in the agricultural field. This paper will explore class-ism, racism, and sexism within the confines of the chocolate industry through advertisements and images. For supplementary evidence, I describe an interview that I have conducted. It will reveal common chocolate brands that many Americans enjoy, take for granted, and how they are unaware of ethical concerns associated with the everyday chocolate we consume. This will also include gender roles viewed in modern day.
I interviewed a woman that revealed a common and interesting relationship with chocolate. When I asked her what her favorite chocolates were, she said, “Lindt, the swiss brand, dark chocolate. You can get it at the mall and grocery stores. Its fancy but not difficult to access. I like the hollow dark chocolate bunny around Easter. Otherwise, Wegman’s semi-sweet chocolate chips because they are vegan and I like using them for recipes & baking.” The interviewee revealed a lot of information about her relationship with chocolate that can be echoed in many American preferences. One contemporary use is “Its fancy but not difficult to access.” Chocolate has become an inexpensive commodity since the nineteenth century to today, whereas in the sixteenth century after chocolate arrived in Europe, chocolate was predominantly enjoyed by the royal classes (“History of Chocolate”). Now our relationship with chocolate is one where it is easily accessible as the interviewee pointed out “at the mall and grocery stores” in places such as Europe, America, and Canada. Chocolate like Lindt could signify class mobility as the chocolate comes off “fancy” when consuming/enjoying or presenting it as a gift.
Chocolate advertisements portray the opportunity for class mobility (or giving the illusion to raise one’s class status), and they also are problematic because they sexualize and objectify women. Lindt while not only allowing people to appear “fancy,” Lindt aims to make women come off as sexy by portraying sexual readiness. Lindt (as well as many other well-known chocolate companies) attempt to appeal to women by using chocolate in or next to women’s mouths implying sexual connotations that depreciates the value and integrity of women. The ad may also have an effect on male purchasers of chocolate to “win over” a sexually available woman.
This ad (“LINDOR”) for Lindt chocolate represents how women are continuously portrayed as sexual objects rather than people. Viewing this ad, women may be led to believe that they will become the object of promiscuity and desire while men will view this and believe that chocolate can be used as some sort of aphrodisiac to unleash the wild side of the woman of their dreams perhaps.
Not only was the interview interesting because of class changes analyzed over time and objectification of women in relation to chocolate but the interview also availed domestic roles associated with baking recipes using chocolate. When asked about using chocolate in social contexts, the interviewee stated, “ I like making chocolate chip banana bread or chocolate peanut butter pie and bringing it to friends.” Alexis Szmodis in “The Feminization of Baking and Pastry Work: Dissecting Gender Roles in the Foodservice Industry” helps us to understand the fetishization of women using food in domestic roles. Szmodis elicits, “our perception of women as ‘sweet’ and desserts as feminine, which may explain why more women are showing interest in the baking and pastry field” (2018, p.10). Szmodis explains that women today are more likely to be interested in baking and creating sweets as a metaphor for their perceived behaviors (2018). I believe the influence is related to the socialization of women and commercial advertisements encourage these “motherly,” nurturing behaviors. Although women no doubt often hold professional careers, they also hold domestic roles in lesser frequency but while this role is not as visible it is still salient the role of women in families and romantic partnerships as a part-time housewife, who plays two roles in the domestic sphere and professional world. The below traditional advertisement (“New Recipes for Good Eating”) from the 1940’s and 1950’s exemplifies the ideology of fetishizing women as domestic housewives and the mindset has even spread partly in more modern times.
The cover of this cookbook (“New Recipes for Good Eating”) shows just how deep the cocoa industry has invaded the homes of families. We know now that sweets have next to no nutritional value and yet they are featured in a cookbook entitled “New Recipes for Good Eating” and yet this is hardly good eating. You can see that the woman’s role in the home is in the kitchen while watching over the children. Furthermore, you can see the kids trying to grab some of the food on the table to which the mother smiles gleefully in the background. She is meant to be proud of the food she’s cooked/baked as the kids desperately trying to grab the products of her labor indicates her success as a homemaker.
Women were depicted in sexists ways in chocolate advertisements starting in the 1930’s approximately. Early advertisements targeted women and embedded a gendered role. Old ads aimed to normalize the oppression of women and encouraged “motherly” duties: “This particular campaign (Special Mothers Campaign of 1930’s), designed for women’s magazines, showed children attempting to help their parents (usually the mother, particularly for girls) in gendered ways. Daughters attempt to bake and clean, for example, while sons try to polish their father’s shoes” (Robertson, 2009, p. 21). Women were assigned these roles and in the postwar, late 1940’s and 1950’s ads targeted women as housewives that would serve the family hot chocolate drinks (Robertson, 2009, p. 21) and catered to their husbands needs (with domestic tasks like cooking) (Robertson, 2009, p.22). Rowntree was a well known English company to create racist and sexist ads that still have an impact today in society even though his ads are not presented today (“Chocolate and women: The gendered history behind your sweet snack”).
This photo (“Chocolate and women: The gendered history behind your sweet snack”) illustrates how chocolate companies in the early 1900’s targeted mothers as providers of cocoa. Owning cocoa was not optional. It was a part of everyday life. In fact, this ad makes it seem as if the only way to get the family together (including the pets!) was to have cocoa on hand at all times. Even further, by using the word “danger” in the caption “Mother’s cocoa in danger,” the valuation of the cocoa is shown to be of paramount importance as if there’s a need to protect it.
The desirability of a housewife has been on a continuum until today. We see T.V. emphasizing domestic roles like Desperate Housewives and The Housewives of New York amongst other states in the U.S.. Interestingly shows like The Housewives of New York portray women with busy careers but still label these career-oriented women as “housewives.” We have yet to see a T.V., article, or other advertisement that has positive connotations for househusbands. A study discovered the attitude towards women today. The study states, “The results revealed that feminists were evaluated less favorably than housewives, and that the most negative attitudes toward feminists were expressed by authoritarian men” (Haddock and Zanna, 1994, p.1). This reveals that women are not as empowered as we have hoped. Women are preferred to stay at home and perform domestic duties rather than fight for and maintain equal rights in the workplace to have higher roles, equal pay, reproductive rights, and more. The modern Nesquik ad
(“Flavored milk power, syrup and drinks”) below encourages the role of women as mothers. The woman below is playful with her daughter (“Flavored milk power, syrup and drinks”) and it implies she will be a good caregiver by providing her daughter with a chocolate drink.
This image (“Flavored milk power, syrup and drinks”) was created for marketing purposes by Nesquik which is a purveyor of cocoa. There is a motherly figure holding a child which one can easily assume is the woman’s daughter. There are no male figures in the photo whatsoever. Next to the woman and girl is an advertisement for a Nesquik breakfast drink. The advertisement shows that in order to nurture a child and grow into the role of a mother, the consumption of Nesquik, and by associated cocoa is a must.
When men in society try to take on a domestic role, society does not share positive perceptions of men as we still associate domestic responsibilities as “feminine” or the woman’s obligation. A study discovered that “Research has found that househusbands suffer alienation and ostracism from a variety of sources” (Smith, 1998, p. 1). When roles are reversed or shared, hostility towards househusbands is great. Househusbands are sadly not welcomed in a society that looks favorable on men as the provider (not the sole one) as they are seen as taking away their masculinity when taking on these roles. Modern and tradition advertisements of food and domestication have taken part in encouraging these more traditions roles in less transparent ways. The language of modern advertisements does not blatantly say or imply sexist statements and promote housewife roles but through the actions of ads by looking more closely, one may see the inherent messages of promoting a double role of housewife and to a lesser degree career-oriented acceptance.
In Nigeria, women were meant to harvest and transport cocoa from the cocoa farms to markets where they would be sold for a great profit (Robertson, 2010). While the cocoa was revered and held high value amongst the land owners, the women who worked the fields to care for and then transport the cocoa were anything but. These women were not valued for the efforts they put into taking care of this cash crop (Robertson, 2010) and were treated similarly to beasts of burden as a consequence. In addition, despite their important role in the cocoa trade, women were paid less than men (Robertson, 2010). While men made approximately 50 to 60 cents per day for their labors, women were only paid approximately 30 to 35 cents per day (Robertson, 2010, p. 95). This is especially unfair due to the fact that these women were also expected by both society and their husbands to assume the role of caretaker of the children in their family while working as manual laborers simultaneously (Robertson, 2010).
As a result of the hard work output by them, these women aged in a harsher manner and grew weaker quicker as a result (Robertson, 2010). They were exposed to harsh conditions such as the raw elements as they worked outside, as well as to the harmful/poisonous pesticides used on a daily basis (Robertson, 2010) to protect the cocoa from their natural predators. It is unfortunate that modern technology was not made available to them in order to assist with the harvesting and transportation of cocoa (Robertson, 2010).
The chocolate industry has worked hard to appeal to white women and reinforce a domestic role and reduced women to objects available for display. In contrast, women in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa have been made invisible to the chocolate products we enjoy everyday as a method to keep consumers ignorant about the injustices the agricultural laborers are subjected to. While women in cacao take part in all stages of its production, women are devalued by not being given credit for their work, discriminated about what job tasks they are capable of, not paid fairly, face harsh working conditions, and have to do “housewife-like” tasks by taking care of children and are required to take care of the farm too. The chocolate industry has done a convincing job of oppressing women in different contexts and societies. White women are made very visible and West African women very invisible but both have devaluing principles in different ways. Chocolate companies are sexist and racist, and have actively reproduced inequalities for women through agricultural labor and their images they portray that help support traditional roles in a modern world. While changes of women’s roles are certain intact, women as equals in the workforce has a long way to go to stop oppressive mechanisms that encourage the modern housewife ideology and invisibility of African women laborers from the chocolate products we consume everyday.
Chocolate and women: The gendered history behind your sweet snack. (2018, March 21). Retrieved from https://www.latrobe.edu.au/nest/chocolate-women-gendered-history-behind-sweet-snack/
Deluxx. (2008, August 30). New Recipes for Good Eating. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/deluxxedition/2812536814
Flavored milk powder, syrup and drinks. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nesquik.com/en
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Smith, C. D. (n.d.). “Men Don’t Do This Sort of Thing”: A Case Study of the Social Isolation of Househusbands – CALVIN D. SMITH, 1998. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1097184X98001002002
Szmodis, A. (2018, March 21). The Feminization of Baking and Pastry Work: Dissecting Gender Roles in the Foodservice Industry. Retrieved May 1, 2019, from https://scholarsarchive.jwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1031&context=student_scholarship