Gendering food: Kids deserve more than these sexist stereotypes

Written by LIE contributor Margot Magowan; originally published at Reel Girl

When I started Reel Girl my plan was to blog about the sexist stereotypes marketed to kids through movies, TV, and toys. I never considered blogging about sexism in food.

I got this photo from Melissa Wardy at Pigtail Pals. A friend of hers took it in Las Vegas.

Can the gendering of products get any more stupid?

Seriously?

In the future, people are going to look back on 2012 and try hard to understand how intelligent human beings could ever be so deranged.

Yet, selling sexism to kids through food products is the norm.

Yesterday, my daughter was home sick. She was lying on the couch, watching TV, and eating Parmesan Goldfish. An ad for Goldfish crackers came on. She thought that coincidence was pretty hilarious. She held up one of her crackers and said, “Hi!” to the Goldfish on TV. Then she looked at down at the package. “Who are mine?” she wanted to know.

They are: Xtreme, Gilbert, Brooke, and Finn.

I know what you’re thinking: Xtreme must be female, right? Or maybe Finn? Pepperidge Farm would never put 3 males and 1 female on a package. So, I went to Wikipedia. Check out these character descriptions:

  • Finn- A cheddar flavored goldfish that wears sunglasses (though not in the commercials).
  • Gilbert- A pretzel goldfish that tends to be a worrier.
  • Brooke- The beautiful and intelligent parmesan flavored goldfish and the only female member of the goldfish club until both Candace and Coral showed up.
  • Xtreme- A flavor-blasted fish who enjoys doing crazy stunts. His real (and embarrassing) name is Fumbleton.
  • Swimmington Von Stuffington III Esquire- Xtreme’s snobby older brother.
  • IQ- A honey graham fish who wears eyeglasses lives in the vacuum and befriends Gilbert and helps him escape out of the vacuum.
  • Candace- A pink fish who wears a red bow on her head and has a small blue star on her tail fin. She has a crush on Gilbert. Candace is also the winner of the “Finn’s New Friend” contest.
  • Coral- A chocolate graham and fun-spirited fish with a Southern accent who currently befriends the club. She is possibly somewhat of a tomboy.

My daughter and I made up different names and stories for the Goldfish, of course. But don’t start telling me it’s a free country, and we can just make up anything we like. I’m a creative person, and I struggle with this. Give me something to work with here, Pepperidge Farm! I’m also, like most moms, busy. Can’t I just read the damn names off the bag?

It would be so much easier to foster creativity in kids (and the adults that they will become) if we weren’t mired with the same old, same old ridiculous, gender-stereotyped narratives at every turn.

Excluding the pink ghetto where no boy is supposed to go, when it comes to products for kids, why are there so many more males than females represented? Girls are half of the population, but you would never know that from looking at imaginary characters. Is this discrepancy because female characters are so stereotyped that companies are simply incapable of coming up with several personalities and narratives for them?

Think about breakfast cereal. Are there any female characters at all? According to this link that one commenter sent me on the 30 Greatest Kids Cereals of All Time, no. If they do exist, clearly, they’re too hard to find, which is really sad because my kids, like many, love to look at and read their cereal boxes while they eat breakfast. Games, toys, and activities go with the boxes. Now, many have characters have internet games connected to them as well.

At breakfast, my daughter was examining this picture:

She asked me: “Why do girls always wear pink?”

Frustrated, I flipped her cereal box.

Darth Maul, Yoda, R2-D2, C-3PO, Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jar Jar Binks and our Token Feisty: Queen Amidala, the only female. These images are all advertising pens that are prizes inside the box. My daughter got Jar Jar Binks. She decided to give it to her male cousin. Why do you think?

Can you imagine a cereal box picturing 8 female heroes and villains to 1 male? Or 5 female rap avatars to 1 male?

Our family’s favorite cereal, Special K, does have a female on the box.

A superhero? A character from Star Wars? Um, no. It’s a woman on a diet, which apparently has given her a sense of pride that she’s never felt before.

Next time you buy your kid food, check out the package. Talk about the images with your children. They are are bombarded 24/7 from every blank space, every surface, and every screen with stereotypes about gender. It’s too much.

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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