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Food and Mass Media Discourses

2014 June 26
by Robert Bamsey

Having It His Way

Freeman and Merskin

In the Freeman and Merskin article they discuss the role masculinity plays in the advertising of fast food meat products, and how these portrayals reinforce the gender dichotomy, gender roles,  and patriarchy in modern society.  The article discusses how meat is and historically has been associated and often equated with heterosexual masculinity, but in modern times it plays a larger role.  Freeman and Merskin conducted a interpretive contextual analysis of 17 advertisements using Barthes’ semiotics theory and Hall’s representation analysis.  They found that the fast food ads often stereo typically portrayed men as dominating the public sphere and women, objectifying women, portraying a pack mentality men have, and portraying women as second class citizens.  These ads suggest men should satisfy their immediate “needs” of being hungry by satisfying themselves with a burger from their store — while equating the burger satisfying their hunger as they would like a woman to satisfy them sexually. The ads also seem to portray a strong sense of hedonism such as the Burger King ads and slogan of “having it your way”; in which the authors point out as a potentially harmful message to send to society.  Another important aspect that the researchers found was that these advertisements strongly reinforce the patriarchal dominant gender dichotomy our society still has today.  The advertisements such as Carl’s Jr.’s objectification of women reinforce the patriarchal view of women as secondary to men and that women are objects to be looked at but not taken seriously and often, as the researchers found in the ads, to be completely silent.  Overall, as they illustrated in the first paragraph of their article, men are targeted by the fast food industry to yearn to be masculine, and their advertisements try to reinforce the gender role mentality.  The young man they described in the beginning felt the need to do something masculine while buying organic healthy food (feminine food) in order to combat the public threat to his masculinity.

What I found interesting was that the first paragraph described something that I have felt while in that same position.  Although I didn’t run out and buy a Hummer, I still felt the need to maybe have a deeper tone of voice or mannerism while conversing with the cashier.  I don’t consciously make food choices depending on whether it will make me look feminine or not, but I still often do feel a little awkward when I check out with all healthy food, because I know that the media does have a large effect on society’s norms.  Overall though, being conscious of the ad’s intentions and tactics is important to being able to break the stereotypes these ads portray and the societal implications they have.  Can you think of a time where you may have been persuaded or dissuaded to eat something you have seen in a fast food commercial?    Can you describe a time where you have become conscious of a food choice you may have made because of an ad or because the gender roles stereotyped in our society?  Are you a stereotypical food consumer or do you break the mold?  Personally, I am a pretty stereotypical male when it comes to what the media says men “should” eat in our society, which means I mainly eat meat, rarely eat veggies, but actually love fruit.



News Media Coverage of Trans Fat:  Health Risks and Policy Responses

Jarlenski and Barry

The article by Jarlenski and Barry discusses the agenda setting function of the news media in regards to the issue of trans fat and the health risks and implications it has on our society.  The researchers conducted an analysis of 156 news stories over 11 years that found the media played an agenda setting role in “highlighting the characteristics and health risks of trans fat and in framing trans fat as a public health problem of sufficient consequence to merit a response from policy makers” (214).  They also found that three-quarters of the stories mentioned diseases known to be linked to trans fat intake, and nearly all of the news stories discussed at least “one governmental or food industry response to address health risks of trans fat” (214).  Finally, the researchers found that stories that mentioned heart disease linking to trans fat were much more likely to have responses from the government that talked about curbing consumption of trans fat.  The coverage of trans fat had decreased sharply during the last two years of their study from 2006 to 2008 by 85%.   The researchers believe that the news media have a powerful weapon with increasing control of agenda setting capabilities and the ability to frame these stories how they please, and can hopefully inform the public on the health risks of trans fat, but also call for more empirical research to understand how news reporting affects individual choices.

Being a cultural communication major myself, I have tended to be interested the agenda setting function the media plays in our society and how we view certain foods depending on their overall agreed upon quality or harmfulness.   A good example was the kale craze that spread across media and America, because news coverage hailed it as a super-food, but more recently it isn’t AS great as it was hyped up to be.  What is interesting about the trans fat coverage though is that some media may portray trans fat as harmful and push for corporations to have to be limited or regulated on using it, but at the same time run a business story that pushes for less regulations on such companies.  The researchers also found that most of the media coverage pointed to calling trans fat a public health concern of sufficient consequence – but at the same time they noted a decrease in news coverage from 2006-2008 on trans fat; so why do you think there was such a decrease?  Also, do you feel that the government should be regulating the amount of trans fat companies use, or focusing more on education on the harmfulness and how to avoid and choose better food?  Do you think that if they approached the problem by educating instead of regulation, healthier food costs would increase and trans fat food costs decrease, and in turn hurt the lower class?  Just a few questions to think about!

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Lindsay Kagalis permalink
    June 26, 2014

    It’s extremely interesting to take a step back and revisit how gender roles and norms influence our food choices in their advertisements. Media and advertisements are areas of our life that bombard us with different restaurants, clothing stores, and careers paths that ultimately reinforce a very heteronormative view of what the norms are for masculinity and femininity. Personally, I barely if ever eat at places like Carl’s Jr. Hardy’s because of how misogynistic their advertisements are. I can think of multiple commercials that portray women in a highly sexual way, and who suggest that men and only men can eat their high-stacked burgers. I also have been dissuaded by Burger King after their commercial “I am man” for a burger, which rewrote a song that is known to be an anthem for women and their rights. I think these styles of ads are mainly seen within fast food chains, which have led me to attempt to refrain from eating there. That is of course, on top of these chains having very unhealthy food. Sadly, many times I would never really think about what advertisements were really saying, but after my gender communication class I tend to really analyze them. I now can see how focused meat is with male heterosexuality and if women are present, they are usually highly sexualized.

    I would like to say that I break the mold of a food consumer, but then when I truly consider it, I believe that I actually am pretty molded to the normal food consumer. I fit the norm that mainly women are vegetarians and tend to be more conscious about my food choice such as eating healthy, organic fruits and vegetables and worrying about eating really greasy foods. I am wondering though, how can one break the mold of a normal food consumer? I’m just curious to hear from people on that.

    • Charlotte Harnad permalink
      June 27, 2014

      Lindsay, you make some great points. Although I do find myself finding more and more ads that discriminate women and portray gender roles, this has been occurring for many years and has gone unnoticed by me. The longer that advertisements have depicted women in their ‘traditional roles,’ the more racy and bold they have begun. There are increasingly more advertisements that are not even approved to be released to the public because of their graphic and intense nature. Depictions of gender roles and subordination of women is also beginning to have a negative impact on companies because they are actually beginning to lose customers for their behavior and assumptions.

      I know that when the ‘Go Daddy’ commercials came on, I was immediately turned off at the idea of using the website. I still to this day have no idea what the website is, all I know is that I never intend on using it. There are so many different advertisements that can be seen throughout the day that subordinate women to men in an embarrassing way, such as the Burger King ad shown above. I agree with your point that I can think of multiple ads where women are subjected to sexual behavior off of the top of my head: it is sad because there are more advertisements of that nature about women than men, reinforcing many social constructions. It is funny you mention the ‘I am man’ commercial because that exact commercial actually turned me off from Burger King as well! You also have a great point concluding that many sexual ads are seen for fast food chain restaurants, which is highly ironic because the food is highly caloric and unhealthy and prevents one from looking ‘sexy’ if eaten somewhat regularly.

  2. Brooklyn Steele permalink
    June 26, 2014

    The first picture you posted represents how women are still seen as almost more objects instead of people, but definitely second to men. It’s terrible that marketing departments would try to lure men into buying their food with half naked women. It is a completely correct assumption that the message behind that picture is that if you eat this hamburger it will be as satisfying as sexual intercourse with a women. Also noticing how thin the woman is, but holding a hamburger which she could never eat to stay that thin. I saw a picture (also Burger King) that just had a picture of a woman’s lips with bright red lipstick and one of their long chicken sandwiches going into the woman’s mouth resembling a penis.

    It’s crazy to think that eating extremely unhealthy is “manly” while eating healthy is feminine? Why is meat masculine and lettuce feminine? Because its the less. More than likely unless you are a vegetarian, you will prefer meat over lettuce whether you are a man or woman. When gender roles are even being transferred over to food there is a problem, but also comes from the pressure to be extremely thin as a woman.

    The goal of advertising is to almost guilt trip a viewer you need this to be this. “You need this hamburger to be masculine and satisfied”, “You need this weight loss pill to be thin and happy”. I guess it goes back to how people are persuaded and if men are persuaded by seeing a half naked woman you should be ashamed of yourself, because those are people that reinforce gender roles.

    I know personally if I am with friends and they all order healthy at a restaurant, I feel obligated to order healthy because I don’t want to be seen as a woman having no self control or being big.

  3. Charlotte Harnad permalink
    June 26, 2014

    I think that you captured what Freeman and Merskin were arguing really well. They really focus on the distortion that media creates which then contributes to altering roles in society. You notice it every single day, whether you are online and an advertisement pops up on your screen or if you are just reading a magazine. Wherever you go, there are so many stereotypes regarding different societal constructions. The largest one I notice is the gender roles in different campaigns. I am probably considered biased because I am a woman, but I have begun to notice that if I see an ad sexualizing women or sexualizing women in any way shape or form I automatically feel appalled. This may be because I am concerned for equal rights, I feel offended because it suggests that all women need to be subordinate to men as their ‘natural rights,’ and that every woman is the same. I have also found that when a company portrays women in a vulnerable way that I practically go out of my way to avoid such stores and chains, because I certainly do not want to be associated with them. I think that making advertisements sexy are also a way for chains to distract the individual from what they are actually purchasing, which a lot of the time is crappy fast food, such as the Burger King ad you have provided. Media needs a reality check with the huge implications that such sexual and degrading advertisements have on women, because if that was done there would certainly be changes.

    You ask the question, ‘Are you a stereotypical consumer?’ I would say that I am a unique individual. Although I am a woman and tend to drift towards healthier foods quite often, I also have a varied palate. I do appreciate a lot of different textures and tastes and am not limited to just salads. However, when ordering food in public, I do sometimes feel as if I am the ‘stereotypical woman’ when I order salads, change an unhealthy side for a healthy one, etc. when everyone else is getting junk. I would like to argue that I am not a stereotypical woman, but am a girl who likes to take care of herself and have a well-balanced and well-monitored food in-take to assure that I will live for a long time healthily and happily with positive body image and energy.

    • Cassidy Clayton permalink
      June 27, 2014

      I like your arguments here Charlotte! I completely agree that the media has painted this picture of what a woman’s role is to be in our society and while it is degrading as such, the message is being replicated over and over again still. I would like to say that most people in our society today agree with equal rights but with the media and advertisements still pumping out misogynistic ads and statements, I do not think I can.

      In regards to the “stereotypical consumer” question, I would say that I am a unique individual. I think that because I believe that I view food in a unique way compared to my peers. I see food as a means of life – “eat to live, do not live to eat”. However, what makes me feel like this is unique is because whenever I am out to eat with friends, and everybody is ordering cheeseburgers and french fries, I feel scrutinized and judged by ordering grilled chicken and vegetables. I feel as though, even though, the stereotype for girls is that we eat healthy, that when I do eat healthy, people seem to think I am trying to put myself above them. I do not know if I stand alone with this feeling or if any of you have also felt these pressures but I find them interesting.

    • Robert Bamsey permalink
      June 27, 2014

      Charlotte, you make a lot of really good points. I too have noticed for a while now, how gendered and sexual commercials, especially for fast food, have become on TV. Since taking Gender Comm, it is interesting to be able to point out how many obvious sexual messages are sent during these commercials and I now also try and avoid these places to eat. To me, if the commercials send those types of messages, I don’t want to support them or make them feel that their sexual ad campaign is working. I too think media needs a big reality check.

  4. Frank Saunders III permalink
    June 27, 2014

    Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. ads are extremely misogynistic and fall into the stereotypes discussed by Freeman and Merskin. Albeit Nina Agdal does look pretty appetizing holding the big cod fish sandwich while wearing a bathing suit basking in the sun on the beach. The arch in her back while she took a bite out of the sandwich definitely made me want to drive and get Hardee’s. So for that, Hardee’s, a job well done. You created an advertisement catered to the cookie cutter mold that society has made, and I am your consumer. Shame on me. However, this is exactly what these companies are looking for, guys like me who find these advertisements appealing. As said before, they are unfair to women, and they are stereotypical and look to sell ‘sex’ instead of the product itself.

    With that said, meat is definitely something that is masculine in our culture. Women tend to cater toward vegetarian diets and men tend to cater toward a diet rich in meat. A man should be masculine, and eat a masculine diet, and a woman should be feminine, and follow suit with her dietary choices. This tags along with the argument of food and and identity we talked about last week. Freeman and Merskin bring up an interesting point regarding the patriarchy involved with meat. “Meat was a valuable economic commodity; those who controlled this commodity achieved power” (279) and vice-versa for women in economies where plants were more valued. Interesting to note the patriarchy that evolved from the dominant food economies people lived in.

  5. Stephen Klier II permalink
    June 27, 2014

    So interesting too see how this week’s readings have all correlated and given us a grand picture of how large a role that food plays in our everyday life, consciously or unconsciously. I couldn’t agree more with the statements about gender roles, and as I read more and more instances keep coming to mind. Just as I talked about on Monday (how people use food establishments to increase their social status), I use food to increase my masculinity when I am around certain groups. When I am around a group of guys, its a sure ticket to protein city, hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks..all the guy foods are made and consumed because it is what culture has taught me. When I’m by myself, I love a good caesar salad, Its interesting too how alcohol is used. Around guys, the one with the darkest beer or who has consumed the most is the alpha male, so as guys there’s a need to obtain that status, where as when I’m alone a good cosmo or malibu and juice is freakin delicious. Gender roles bending so easily to the ebb and flow of the food culture is dangerous because it will cause genders to miss out on great food and drink experiences.

  6. Carolyn Girondo permalink
    June 27, 2014

    Love all the questions you posed and the application of the readings, I agree that you captured them very well!

    I think I am a pretty basic consumer. I try to eat healthy but definitely splurge once in awhile. I have definitely let gender roles influence my choice. I always think about it in regards to a first date – I want to order something not too much but not too little. It’s like you don’t want to be the salad girl or the steak girl, but as I got older I realized I didn’t care! I break the mold in the sense that I had this realization but I definitely did not always think like that. I agree with the people who were saying the sexualized and objectified way of advertising has actually turned them off. I hate seeing this and find it to be a bit of a cop out way to advertise.

    As for the trans fats – I don’t know if they necessarily need to be regulated by the government but I don’t think it’s a terrible option. Some people hate anything being regulated by the government but I think it is something that could be explored. I don’t like to be closed minded to any options. I agree that crazes take over and everyone follows certain trends until the next one comes along like cutting out trans fats or eating kale everyday.

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