Msnowe's Blog

What’s on your plate, sexy?

Posted in food preference, gender by m.snowe on March 20, 2008

This morning was an uninspired one, so the prevailing notion was not to post. But lo and behold, when you hope for outrageous material, it is oft thrown your way like an unwanted encomium of 100 calorie packs or homemade beef jerky.

Speaking of things that leave a bad aftertaste, and are leathery and un-digestible, a new study was conducted and reported on this morning, with results that discuss the “different gender preferences” for certain foods.

In one literary swoop, let’s place this study in the location it belongs: the scientific and sociological gutter.

First, let’s address this opening assertion:
“If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then Mars is a land where the refrigerators are stocked with meat and frozen pizza and Venus has a bounty of yogurt, fruits and vegetables, a new study suggests.”

If the SEXES (not “genders”) are from different planets, than we would all more likely appreciate the taste of Tang and Moon Cheese. Thankfully, the sexes are both from earth, and the variations of taste preferences among the sexes are far vaster than those between the sexes. By suggesting different planets, and implying the old adage of “opposite sexes” this report (and probably the study) has determined their findings even before they began. By theorizing that there is an inherent difference between men and women’s food preferences, the research has set itself up as biased. Also, the study hearkens back to the old idea that men hunted while women foraged for berries… so naturally the delicate women must enjoy the light vegetative delights, while big strong men need rip through the carcass of something newly slaughtered. Thus, men like meat and women like yogurt. You couldn’t diverge in comparisons more.

Now, you might be saying, “well–perhaps this is true, and perhaps men do prefer and eat more meat, and women spoon up more yogurt?” The report, in terms of studying the actual amount of each item each sex eats, might be relatively accurate. What is objectionable in this study, and the way it has been reported, is the implications it makes about the sexes, or “gender”–a societal construction reinforced by studies like this. The problem with this study/report is that it implies, rather overtly, that “gender” and/or sex is the main determinant of differences in food choice. But truly, it is the socially constructed views on “gender difference” that helped make this study palatable for some. Somehow, this study is suggesting that your vagina or your penis is telling you what to eat. Maybe studies haven’t been done on this, but it’s pretty much recognized that we all usually use our mouths and taste buds to eat, not our reproductive organs; and the idea that hormones predispose us to to eat certain things depending on our sex–well that’s more mythical than sweet ambrosia.

Reinforced gender stereotypes are the true cause of this study’s results. Society tells us, beginning when we are very small, what to eat, and how to eat it. But it’s not just the food–it’s what the food means based on our sex, and all the other notions of gender that will come to affect what we do and do not put into our mouths. Young girls are told to have proper etiquette, take smaller bites, eat slowly, “watch what they eat,” etc. Young boys, while maybe they are not allowed to eat like complete animals, are given more leeway to be messy and romp about while flinging things in their mouths. Also, girls are encouraged much more to keep their clothes clean, and not spill; whereas food stains, like grass stains, are generally a par for the young boy’s daily course. So from the very beginning, society has predetermined what should happen– and these are learned behaviors taught by the grown-ups. Here’s a quote from “The Political Nature of Human Nature” (in Theoretical Perspectives on Sexual Difference, Yale University Press, 1990)to explain the argument more bluntly:

“If society put half its children into short skirts and warns them not to move in ways that reveal their panties, while putting the other half in jeans and overalls and encouraging them to climb trees, play ball, and participate in other vigorous outdoor games; if later, during adolescence, the children who have been wearing trousers are urged to ‘eat like growing boys’ while the children in skirts are warned to watch their weight and not get fat; if the half in jeans runs around in sneakers or boots, while the half in skirts totters about on spike heels, then these groups of people will be biologically as well as socially different.” (my italics)

So, the biological may exist to a degree, but it was forcibly imposed by gender stereotypes.

The next problem with this study is almost too blatantly obvious to explain: each adult is likely to answer in ways that reinforce the gender stereotypes, because the majority don’t want to seem “odd” , or non-gender-conformist. Men know that to be seen as “truly masculine” they have to say they love meat, pizza, and beer–even if they occasional savor a cone of fro-yo or fruit salad. Women, who want to be seen as a good nutritional role-model for their “feminine gender” will say yogurt or salad, even if they like a good steak or some extra hot buffalo wings. Even on the phone, those 14,000 people are likely to answer with what their questioners would like to hear (and after all, the government could be tapping in, so make sure nobody’s promoting “gender-stereotype terrorism”). The watch-lists we all have out on those people who refuse to fit the gender mold is much more fearsome for your average, everyday joe or judy.

Towards the end, the report says: “Shiferaw said she could not explain some of the odder findings, like why men eat more asparagus than women.”
Calling this finding “odder” suggests that since men must naturally despise most vegetables, assuming that it doesn’t fit into the predetermined male-female designated food choices. Might it be suggested that the preference for asparagus could actually fit into a male-gender-stereotype. The only thing these biased researchers would have to do is make some well placed comments about the Washington monument, or, rather less covertly, phallic imagery. They’ve already implied that when women do prefer a hamburger, it is fully cooked, as opposed to men, who would rather that their meat was still mooing, and they tore it up in large gulps to further signify the blood-thirsty barbarians that they truly are. Thor want meat!

Commercials, food packaging, everything is targeted towards a gendered audience. No wonder we assume its biology–we can’t get past the labels!

hmm, could that be a macho fighter pilot on my frozen pizza? Somehow, eating this pizza will magically transform me into a heroic World War I flying ace!

The image is too small – but if you look on the upper left corner of the Activa box, you can see a lovely, slender female stomach. While there may be guys who have a “yogurt porn” fetish–surely this is nothing more than pandering to the “feminine” problem of body image.

Inevitably, it is society, and not any biological determinants that make food preferences an overwhelming reality. The packaging is not reinforced by “gender difference”–the packaging and marketing itself reinforces a gender difference first imposed through social hierarchies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: