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Archive for June, 2007

attention please

head on over and read my latest at Slant Truth. I’m calling for some strategizing on dealing with maintainers of the status quo.

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Hi all,

So, the final instalment of this 3-post arc has arrived, slightly late of course thanks to my crappy new work schedule at a job that I absolutely can’t wait to quit. 🙂 In any case, I want to thank Shannon immensely for allowing me to use her paper for this series!  If you need to catch up, read part one and part two to get a better sense of what’s going on in Shannon’s paper.

If anyone else would like to guest post here, I’d love to have some different voices here over the summer months. Please contact me if you’re interested!

Processed Foods

Betty’s store of goodwill was truly tested in the years after WWII when factories which had previously turned out military rations shifted their focus to civilians (Shapiro 9). Erika Endrijonas explains the dichotomous choices and conflicting messages women faced.

“Buy processed foods, but cook from scratch; be creative but follow directions precisely; accommodate all family members’ preferences but streamline the food purchase and preparation process; work part-time but be a full-time homemaker; and do it all with little or no training.” (157)

Frozen dinners in aluminum trays, orange juice, fish sticks, and fruits and vegetables proved to be winners, but many less-savory products flopped due to the low prevalence of freezer ownership and, of course, the unappealing nature of deep-fried canned hamburgers. While frozen dinners might have been acceptable on very rare occasions (when Mrs. Consumer was away, for example, but hubby still needed dinner) they were not a staple food in regular use. The popular view of processed foods was so negative that when surveys presented women with nearly identical shopping lists and asked for opinions of the women who prepared those lists, the inclusion of instant coffee resulted in vehement tirades against the character of the woman who dared to purchase a convenience item. (Shapiro 54) The frozen foods industry made good, if unintentional, use of Christine Frederick’s suggestions for selling products to women: “supply her with an instruction booklet…teach her by actual demonstration…[and] give her practical experience.” (183) Christopher Holmes Smith documents how, through enthusiastic advertising and instruction in the use of frozen foods in Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping, House Beautiful and other national publications, experts showed women how to effectively use frozen products to reliably produce edible meals, overcoming the quality objection if not social stigma. (192)

            Cooking by hand and from scratch remained popular throughout the 1950s despite the proliferation of processed foods. Advertisers continually emphasized the convenience of new products, but women were more interested in taste than speed, as few women reported feeling pressed for time when preparing meals. (Shapiro 46) An extensive survey of homemakers between 1938 and 1961 revealed that cooking was the chore most enjoyed (or least disliked), followed by caring for children. (Shapiro 45) A much smaller survey of newspapers and women’s magazines from the 1950s showed that cooks commonly used processed foods such as instant potatoes to take shortcuts, but true enthusiasm was reserved for from-scratch recipes. (Shapiro 50) Even the continually increasing employment of women did not result in correspondingly dramatic rises in the use of pre-made foods. (Shapiro 48)

            Why were women unwilling to buy these new, helpful products? Earlier processed goods were inconsistent in quality and their fresh or handmade counterparts tended to taste better, so mistrust of packaged foods could certainly be a factor. Additionally, women who used packaged foods tended to feel guilty or anxious about not doing their wifely duties. Women felt they had a “moral obligation to cook,” and tossing together cans just didn’t qualify as cooking. (Shapiro 52) Given the heavy influence on the power of cooking by prominent authorities of the time, this is not surprising; when women had been repeatedly told that their family’s health and social success depended on the quality of the food they consumed, some distress is fully rational in the face of pre-assembled ingredients. Furthermore, hastily slapping together a meal violated the definition of cooking; in other words, cooking had to involve work, and while cutting corners was acceptable, heavy use of processed foods was cheating. Women struggled to find “the balance between convenience and taste and duty” as the meaning of home cooking shifted. (Endrijonas 159)

            Cake mix in particular was a hard sell. If food was love, cakes and other desserts were sugar-infused, chocolate coated morsels of gooey affection. Two full chapters were devoted to cake recipes and another to frosting in Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, debuted in 1950. (Marks 139) Affectionately known as Big Red, the cookbook also suggests exhausted women make use of convenience foods, including General Mills’ Bisquick Biscuits, and cake mixes. (Marks 147) Betty Crocker cake mixes arrived on the market in 1947 in white, yellow, spice, and Devil’s Food flavors. Cake mix baking proved just a little too easy, and few homemakers wanted to “drop this scientific marvel into a bowl, ad water, mix, and bake.” (Marks 168) As one woman said, “the prospect of serving a cake that took no skill just wasn’t very alluring.” (Shapiro 74) Additionally, women were accustomed to viewing cakes as great creative accomplishments; “the cake was food as sculpture, frosted in living color.” A woman’s baking skills defined “motherly love and womanly competence.” (Endrijonas 160) Cake mixes did not rival the success of pancake mix or Bisquick until a psychologist suggested women might prefer if powdered eggs were left out of the mix so fresh eggs could be added. (Marks 168) Though sales improved, cake mix had still not gained mainstream popularity by the 1950s. Many women may have refrained from using cake mix due to fear of social stigma or harming their family’s health with substandard food. (Marks 170)

Television

By 1948, televisions resided in 1 million American homes, so it was only natural that Betty’s print and radio empire be extended to add a visual element. Adelaide Hawley, who had provided one of Betty’s radio voices, was selected to play Betty on-screen.  (Marks 219) From 1950 to 1958, Betty starred in several cooking shows and was a regular guest on others. By 1958 about 41 million homes had televisions; however, Betty Crocker’s TV personality never caught on. Where Betty’s radio presence served her listeners, Betty’s TV presence preached to them. The figure behind the desk, calmly describing how to make edible food without cooking skills, offered little in the way of entertainment or information. Unlike her radio audience in the 1930s and 1940s, viewers of the 1950s were less desperate for assistance. The prosperity of the 1950s offered emotional challenges for homemakers but questions of identity and happiness were much more difficult to address than Depression-era budgeting or fabricating a sugarless chocolate cake. When she first appeared in public life there was some debate about whether or not Betty was a real woman, but by the 1950s anyone could visit the Betty Crocker kitchens and see that Betty was not a single person; rather, she was composed of “many women who [worked there] under her name.” (Marks 181) Layer after layer of believability was stripped away; as she became “increasingly identified with packaged-food cuisine,” Betty existed solely to sell cake mix and everyone knew it. (Shapiro 195)

Cooking certainly did not fall from favor in the 1960s as evidenced by the rousing success of Julia Child in “The French Chef,” a cooking program which differed from Betty Crocker’s infomercials in every way imaginable. Like the early radio Betty, Child’s “point of view was always that of the woman in the kitchen, desperate to cook and dependent on having good information.” (Shapiro 222) Child also emphasized consistency and practicality, but unlike TV-Betty, “Child promised she could make the cook strong instead of making cooking fast, cheap, and convenient.” (Shapiro 228) She did the cooking herself, enthusiastically, dynamically, and with definite authority. Humorous and capable, Child explained why methods worked. Furthermore, she was a genuine woman representing good food rather than a collage of people representing Gold Medal Flour. Child gave cooks what they wanted rather than a corporate prescription, and the success of her long-running shows should be noted by marketers who wish to earn their customers’ affection.

CONCLUSION

The Betty Crockers of the past century, each one an attempted duplicate of a fabricated character, are beautiful examples of simulacra. The Betties could be compared to each other but certainly not to the real Betty Crocker as she was a compilation of ideas without a single origin. General Mills home economists tested her recipes, responded to her mail, and signed her name, but they did not claim to be Betty’s body. Perhaps Marjorie Child Husted could make up part of Betty’s body and mind, while the actresses who read Husted’s words to scores of listeners represent a portion of her voice.  Adelaide Hawley, the most memorable on-screen Betty Crocker, has as much right as anyone to represent Betty’s body.

Today the Betty Crocker logo is a signature across a red spoon; a woman has been replaced by a box, a splash of water, an egg or two, and a mixing spoon wielded by even the most inept hands. As the woman left the Betty Crocker image, the humanitarian aspect was removed from General Mills advertising. Historical evidence shows customers appreciate the ability to leave feedback, feeling they have some say in the operations of the modern world’s vast corporate family. Unsurprisingly, Betty Crocker first touched her public by freely sharing relevant information they requested and earned nationwide loyalty by devoting her expertise and corporate resources to making sense of cooking during the Great Depression and WWII.  However, when her readers’, listeners’, and viewers’ needs changed to more individual concerns of finding happiness in unpaid domestic labor or juggling formal employment while feeding their families, Betty spoke up with cheery verses about the ease of using her products.  Despite increasing distribution through the mass media, Betty Crocker betrayed her readers and listeners when she blatantly revealed her purpose to be selling more cake mix in the name of corporate consumerism; by ignoring her public’s concerns, Betty Crocker transformed from a venerable source of kitchen wisdom into a corporate facade, and her audience never forgave her for implying that a woman, complete with love and carefully developed skills, was no longer needed in the kitchen.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Endrijonas, Erika. “Processed Foods from Scratch: Cooking for a Family in the 1950s.” Kitchen Culture in America. Ed. Sherrie A. Inness. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. 157-173.

Frederick, Christine. Selling Mrs. Consumer. New York: Business Bourse, 1929.

Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising’s Image of Women. Dir. Sut Jhaly. Prod. Media Education Foundation. Created by Jean Kilbourne. Viewed on GoogleVideo. <http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1993368502337678412&q=killing+us+softly&gt;

Marks, Susan. Finding Betty Crocker. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Parkin, Katherine. Food is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.  Dir. Jane Anderson.  Perf. Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson.  Revolution Erie Productions Ltd, 2005.

Schor, Juliet. “The New Politics of Consumption.” Boston Review Summer 1999. <http://bostonreview.net/BR24.3/schor.html&gt;

Shapiro, Laura. Something from the Oven. New York: Viking, 2004.

Smith, Christopher Holmes. “Freeze Frames: Frozen Foods and Memories of the Postwar American Family.” Kitchen Culture in America. Ed. Sherrie A. Inness. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. 175-209.

Discuss!

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I’ve had a rather busy week, so haven’t caught up on comments and/or posting and/or my feed reader. But I did get this gem in my inbox today, so wanted to pass it along in case you all missed it. And, please do take note of the asswipe in the comment section who can’t help but pull out the big guns with a “what about the menz?” commentary. I’m so sick to death of feminist arguments being purposely misread and strawmanned. Complete asshattery.

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ah, shit. It was yesterday, and I missed it. Thanks to Ren for organizing.

So,  sex ed. I certainly remember my very few classes devoted to this subject. My fourth-grade teacher was completely red-faced the whole time. Mortified, he appeared to us to be, which only made us embarrassed that we wanted to learn about sex and our own bodies. One teacher (whose son later became my prom date) refused to teach sex ed and left the school. Later, in juniour high, the best we could do to get through was try to make up questions that would embarrass the teacher the most. The one teacher who actually dealt with sex ed in a pretty decent way, with no shame or embarrassment, was a woman, a quite feminist woman, who threw condoms at us, taught us how to put them on a banana, and passed around IUDs and diaphragms and spermicide and sponges so we could actually see what kinds of devices were available to us. Hurray for Miss West!

Kids have a right to know about their bodies, and a right to know unbiased information about sex and reproduction. They have a right to discuss bodies, sex and reproduction in an open and frank way with someone who isn’t embarrassed by it, who doesn’t have any anti-whatever agenda. They have a right to have THEIR sexuality discussed, no matter what sexual orientation they have/are, with legitimacy and sensitivity. They have a right to know the dangers of sex, yes, but also the pleasures of sex. They have a right to know that masturbation is healthy and normal and that everyone does it. They have a right to not be scared about sex, but also to know how to be responsible about sex. They have a right to know that sex should be mutually desired, and mutually enjoyed, and how to see to it that both of these things happen in a sexual encounter. They have a right to know that they can say no to sex, and that when they hear that word from their partner, it means stop. Kids have a right to know that pregnancy can happen, and that there are a variety of options available to girls who get pregnant by accident, and the multitude of ways to protect against getting pregnant. Kids have the right to know that sex can make you sick, and that condoms are the only way to have sex and not get sick, but also that condoms break sometimes and they have to be worn properly. Kids have the right to know that the more partners you have the greater your chances are of getting sick if you’re not careful and use condoms. Kids have a right to have a space that they can talk about all of this, ask whatever questions they have, and get honest and unbiased answers from someone who actually knows what they are talking about. They have a right to know.

And if they don’t know, then how can we expect them to be responsible? How can we expect them to be healthy and express themselves in ways that are safe?

All I know is, all that red-faced embarrassment and hemming and hawing from my sex ed teachers made me both freaked out, and curious as hell. I’m quite certain I wasn’t the only one. Do we really want kids to be freaked out, curious as hell, and NOT have any reliable information about sex? I think not.

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summer CD

You know how every year, there’s a summer CD? A CD that you play non-stop, and it kind of becomes the soundtrack for your life that summer? (Last year mine was Stadium Arcadium by RHCP, for example) Well, I found this summer’s summer CD. It’s the new Maroon 5.

It doesn’t hurt that Adam Levine is my music boyfriend. He’s ridiculously intense – kind of like my new movie boyfriend, Ryan Gosling. And, when I saw them live a couple years ago, he was totally singing to me. I swear!

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the other day, I received an email from a long-lost friend. Actually, this friend and I had  broken up so to speak, and have been out of touch for two years, nearly. It was a difficult time, and in lots of ways, it continues to be difficult not to have her in my life. I’ve struggled a lot with why I felt I couldn’t be there for her, and what kind of person that made me, what kind of friend. I have also struggled with whether or not I judged my friend, too harshly… or misjudged her… and what kind of person that made me, what kind of friend. Was it my place to judge her actions by my code, my ethics? Was that really what I did? I know that I have continued to love her and wish her the very best in life, from afar. I know that I am not angry with her. And I have gathered myself up, and with the help of my best-sister-friend, have moved into a new place.

So, lately my friend and I have been in contact. I am about to move to her city, and to go to school to do a degree that she herself has done. She knew it was around the time I should be getting offers, and she emailed me to wish me luck, which opened the door to a new kind of conversation. The past month or so we’ve not been in contact, but the other day I heard from her. She seemed to be in a bit of a dark place, rock bottom if you like. She felt alienated and alone, and singly responsible for both.

And in reading what she had written, I began to understand something. I think that we lead the lives we believe we deserve. I don’t like to put it “the lives we WANT” – because I don’t think anyone WANTS to feel alone and small and afraid. BUT, I do think we live the lives that we believe we should lead, that we deserve, that we are worthy of – and this is how we attract things and people and events into our lives. We can never have the life we want without believing that we truly deserve it. These two things – our desires, and our belief that we deserve that which we desire – must be in alignment for a happy and successful life.

I believe that we are the architects of our own lives, in many ways. And I think that when we don’t believe that we deserve to have the things we want, even when we have worked really hard for those things, even when we already have what we want – we will end up sabotaging our efforts to have that which we desire, consciously or unconsciously.

I remember a couple years ago I took a course about the philosophy of religion. Something the prof said on the very first day of class really stuck in my craw, and I still think he’s dead wrong. He said, “We cannot change what we believe. We can only come to realize what we believe, and live accordingly.” (Actually, I don’t think he put it so eloquently as I just did! 😛 ) I heartily disagreed with him, then and now. I think we absolutely CAN change our beliefs. And in fact, I think for some people, they MUST change their beliefs in order to live the life they want to lead.

And so, I guess the questions become NOT, “What do you want?” BUT RATHER, “What do you believe you deserve? Why? Why do you believe you deserve the life that you are already living? How can you come to a place where your belief in what you deserve and your desires are aligned?”

What do YOU think?

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found a new site that I quite like: Objectify This, a site dedicated to calling out objectification of women in popular culture. Also, I wrote another post over at Slant Truth this week that I forgot to provide a link to here. Also, my friend Matthew, as well as Jill over at Feministe, weigh in on the season finale of LOST.

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