Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Let's Take A Trip Down The Cereal Aisle

Being a huge foodie myself, I love to go grocery shopping. However, every time I look down the cereal aisle, I become very disheartened when I take a look at the front of the cereal boxes that line the aisle. If you just think of all the cartoon cereal characters that are used as mascots by the leading cereal producers: General Mills, Kellogg's, Post, and Quaker, how many can you think of that are female? I've come up with zero.

I found this lack of female representation in cereal mascots upsetting for several reasons. The target consumers for many of these cereals are mothers who buy the cereal and children who consume the products that their mothers buy. When a little girl is looking at the covers of the boxes in the cereal aisle or the ones her mother has just purchased, what type of impression does it give her to find no characters that she can identify with? The major cereal faces that jump out at me are such characters as Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam, both with male names and characteristics. Why can't they be Tonya the Tiger and Toucan Samantha? Even the more androgynous characters like the Trix Rabbit and the Honey Nut Cheerios' Bee are described using male pronouns.

The cereal Wheaties, while it does not have a cartoon character as it's spokespersons, athletes are used to sell their products. Out of the 7 athletes that have been used to be the spokesperson for Wheaties since 1958, only one, gymnast Mary Lou Retton, has been female. She was also the first female athlete to be pictured on the cover of the Wheaties box in 1984. Golfer Babe Didrikson Zaharias was the first female to appear on the Wheaties box back in 1935, however she was not on the front.

And when we do think of the whole array of food product spokes-characters, only a handful of those are female. Mrs. Butterworth, Aunt Jemima, and the Land O' Lakes Indian are the only ones that come to my mind. And even with these female representations in the grocery store, they are highly racialized and stereotyped. Again, what messages does this send to these products' target audiences?

The types of representations of women and female characters within the whole spectrum of grocery store are few and far between and the ones that we do have are far from adequate. What this sends out to the major consumers of food products, mostly women, is that the producers of such products, mostly men, do not see using the female representation as worthwhile. This therefor gives the impression that the female image as something that the American public doesn't trusts.

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