About Erin Saliba

Erin Saliba is an artist, critical thinker, and chocolate lover. As an ethnically diverse half persian half Lebanese American and student of Orange County School of the Arts, food is central to my culture and heritage. I view food as a universal language with the power to connect different people from various backgrounds. Food advertisements contribute to this language by reinforcing gender stereotypes of the past and present as opposed to dissolving or rewriting them.

Mars Bars: The Hidden Gender Stereotypes on a Chocolate Planet

“Man up” and “like a girl” are just two examples of sexist sayings common in American culture today. Could candy have the power to reinforce such sayings? Although candy may be seen as mere snack indulgences, chocolates such as Milky Ways helped shape gender stereotypes and gender norms of the past and present.

Beginning in the late 1800s, chocolate was originally advertised for female consumption (Inness 18) as depicted in the below advertisement selling Whitman’ chocolate.

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Advertisement for Whitman’s  Chocolates, 1900

The ad portrays a man in a suit holding a box of chocolate and two woman wearing frilly dresses carefully selecting chocolates from the box. The women’s glances suggest that they are both intrigued by the chocolate and the man. Both women are standing behind the man, reinforcing the dominance that men had over women and “the ideology that identified women as homemakers and men as breadwinners” (Parkin 1). By labeling women as “homemakers,” they were viewed has having “much less personal power and social status” compared to men (Manton 2).

 
 

Milky Way advertisement, “There’s a Thrill in Every Bite of Milky Way,” Saturday Evening Post, July 1931.

 
  

The idea of chocolate being sold to women was also illustrated in this ad from the 1930s. Advertisers display a happy woman laying on a sunny beach, implying that Milky Way consumers will feel as though they are in paradise when indulging in a Milky Way. This idea of “paradise” could appeal to the independent woman who recently earned the right to vote, but also to the housewife who was looking for an escape from the never ending flow of duties such as “maintaining the family’s health, raising the children, and keeping the household on an efficient daily schedule” (Shapiro 29). The ad’s emphasis on “every bite” correlates to the big role the small Milky Way bar played in the paradise image–implying, as it does, that this tiny object exerted an overwhelmingly positive impact on women in the 1930s. The small size of the Milky Way also emphasizes the stereotype of woman as delicate creatures. Carefully and lightly unwrapping the Milky Way, the woman in this ad does not tightly grasp the candy as that would reinforce manly actions instead of feminine ones. 

Mars bar advertisement, “Good Cheer on Both Fronts,” 1943

More masculine actions are illustrated in Milky Way advertisements related to wartime efforts. As depicted in this advertisement from 1943, Milky Way bars provided a source of energy for all types of men who contributed to war efforts. For men, eating candy “was depicted as a practical activity that enhanced strength and improved endurance” (Inness 31), characteristics that were essential to wining the war. Advertisers illustrate the man to the right of the ad as being strong and hardworking by depicting him in an army outfit; and the man to the left of the ad as being hardworking and strong through the dirt on his face and the stains on his shirt. This ad depicted Milky Ways as a unifying constant source of strength and energy for all types of working men “on both fronts.” The way the men are holding the bars also reinforces the gender stereotype of men being brave, heartier, and stronger than women. Both men are grabbing the Milky Ways, unlike the delicate peeling action that the women depicted in Milky Way ads. The men are also creating an almost  fist like shape with their hands, which emphasizes their role and duty in fighting for their country during times of war.

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Mars bar advertisement, c. 1930

Mars also created candy bar ads that appealed to boys. Targeting young men, the advertisement illustrated on the left has only one distinctive word: ”Mars.” The simplicity of the ad represents how the ad is meant for children. The only thing that boys need to know is that eating A Mars bar will make them as happy as the child in the ad.   

Targeting children is also seen in the video (circa 1960) below as advertisers created a more playful atmosphere by adding a cartoon cow. Also, by arguing how there is so much “fresh milk” in Milky Ways, the ad targeted mothers who were under pressure to “satisfy their families” (Inness 54) while also picking nutritions foods.

Chocolate advertisements have contributed to gender stereotypes of men being strong and women being weak. Today, candy and chocolate are highly associated with children and occasions such as Halloween; however, there are still commercials and advertisements that will enforce gender stereotypes to promote their food product.   

Works Cited

Inness, Sherrie A. Kitchen Culture in America: Popular Representations of Food, Gender, and Race. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 2001. Print.

Manton, Catherine. Fed Up: Women and Food in America. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 1999. Print.

“Neat Designs – 20 Interesting Vintage Candy Ads.” Neat Designs. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2015. < http://neatdesigns.net/20-interesting-vintage-candy-ads/>

Parkin, Katherine J. Food Is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 2006. Print.

Shapiro, Laura. Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1986. Print.

“Vintage – Milky Way Candy Bar Television Commercial.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 01 July 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffRp-tTUnZo>.

Whitman’s. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. <https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/aa/66/63aa66639a2fed9ab0b8f14cf1cbfbeb1b.jpg>.