Yogurt is fem­i­nine, na­chos are macho

Gen­dered stereo­types help shape our food choices, new re­search has found

Toronto Star - - WORLD - DANIELLE PA­QUE­TTE THE WASHINGTON POST

A Yo­plait Straw­berry com­mer­cial that aired in June shows a slen­der brunette danc­ing around a pink cot­tage.

“Good news, ev­ery­body,” she coos in a French ac­cent. “There is now 25 per cent less sugar!”

An Arby’s ad­ver­tise­ment, which hit the air­waves the same month, fea­tures a no-fuss plat­ter of siz­zling ba­con. A deep, au­thor­i­ta­tive voice that could be­long to a five-star gen­eral pro­claims: “We have the meats.”

The mes­sages seem clear: Ladies love low-calo­rie yogurt, and men de­mand the meats.

These tired gen­der stereo­types are as old as com­merce — and that’s prob­a­bly not co­in­ci­den­tal. New re­search, pub­lished this week in the jour­nal So­cial Psy­chol­ogy, re­in­forces what cre­ative agen­cies have long ex­ploited: Cul­tural cues can shape our food choices.

If a prod­uct doesn’t ar­rive in its ex­pected gen­dered pack­ag­ing, we may be less likely to buy or savour it.

“Not only do peo­ple tend to eat what oth­ers in their cul­ture eat,” the re­searchers wrote, “but what peo­ple eat com­mu­ni­cates some­thing about the kind of per­son they are.”

Co-au­thor Luke Zhu, an as­sis­tant busi­ness pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba in Win­nipeg, said a grow­ing body of ev­i­dence sug­gests that din­ers, con­sciously or not, asso- ciate healthy food with “fem­i­nin­ity” and un­healthy food with “mas­culin­ity.”

His team de­cided to in­ves­ti­gate the phe­nom­e­non af­ter a for­mer White House chef gave an in­ter­view about his meal prepa­ra­tion process. Be­fore U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s 2009 in­au­gu­ra­tion, a re­porter asked Wal­ter Scheib­how he might cater to both Obama and Ge­orge W. Bush, or “men with dif­fer­ent tastes.”

“I think the key word there is ‘men,’ ” the chef re­sponded.

“There isn’t blue-state food and red-state food. Food at the White House has a ten­dency to de­lin­eate along gen­der lines as op­posed to po­lit­i­cal lines . . . Both pres­i­dents that I worked with, if we had opened up a bar­beque pit or rib joint, they’d be just as happy.”

Re­searchers wanted to un­der­stand just how strongly these as­sump­tions af­fect daily eat­ing habits.

They asked 93 adults which foods they con­sid­ered manly and la­dy­like: baked chicken ver­sus fried chicken, diet potato chips ver­sus reg­u­lar potato chips, baked fish ver­sus fried fish.

Re­spon­dents con­sis­tently la­belled the health­ier op­tions as “fem­i­nine” and the greasier fare as “mas­cu­line.”

They also served iden­ti­cal muffins in six dif­fer­ent types of pack­ag­ing.

One ar­rived in a “fem­i­nine” ex­te­rior, with the word “health” and an im­age of a bal­le­rina.

One, for the men, came with the word “mega” and an il­lus­tra­tion of football play­ers. One was meant to ap­pear gen­der neu­tral with a pas­toral scene and no splashy ad­jec­tives.

Oth­ers mixed up all these qual­i­fiers, pair­ing “mega” with, say, a bal­le­rina.

Peo­ple re­sponded most favourably when so­cial con­structs re­mained in­tact.

“Par­tic­i­pants rated the prod­uct as more at­trac­tive, re­ported stronger pur­chase in­ten­tions and were will­ing to pay more money for it,” the re­searchers wrote.

“Par­tic­i­pants rated the prod­uct as ac­tu­ally tast­ing bet­ter when the health­i­ness and the ‘gen­der’ matched.”

The take-away, Zhu said: Con­sumers should be aware that gen­der norms may af­fect our gro­cery choices.

Or­der­ing salad doesn’t have to be an act of iden­tity re­bel­lion. It might ac­tu­ally save the ar­ter­ies of peo­ple who strongly iden­tify as burly.

“Based on our data, they’re more likely to be in­clined to­ward un­healthy food,” Zhu said.

“There are very se­ri­ous health im­pli­ca­tions.”

JIM WAT­SON/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

“Food at the White House has a ten­dency to de­lin­eate along gen­der lines as op­posed to po­lit­i­cal lines,” said Wal­ter Schieb, a for­mer White House chef.

New re­search sug­gests that, con­sciously or not, peo­ple as­so­ciate health­ier foods with “fem­i­nin­ity.”

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