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Nuts and Nougat

Bean over at Alas, a blog discusses some fascinating ad campaigns that play on gender stereotypes to sell chocolate bars. Playing on weird ideas about sex is, of course, nothing new for advertisers, but this gendered chocolate campaign caught my eye. Both Coors’ twins campaign and the pair of chocolate campaigns play on stereotypical men’s ideas about women.

It strikes me that while the Coors campaign takes advantage of men’s boob-driven sex maximization—for Salon’s Shari Waxman it’s “four boobs for the price of two,” in which two women become indistinguishable from one, making matters of identity and intimacy much simpler—the chocolate bar ads prey more strongly on the idea that women really are frail, hysterical, and inhibited only by the “numbing” effects of chocolate. Similarly, the Nestle campaign plays up the sex difference by invoking a sort of laundry list of reasons men are stronger than women—the relative frailty of women is confirmed by the assertion that, although chocolate keeps them from outright violence, they still can’t handle the whole realm of mens’ candy.

Having discussed some issues of gender at length yesterday in my sociology of medicine course, the latter campaign seems far more threatening. This may naturally be due to the “everything looks like a nail” corollary of being relatively uninformed about gender scholarship; but the assignment of hysteria and frailty to women has a rather long tradition in medicine, where medicalization of health problems served both to marginalize women as objects of health care and to reduce the severity of their health complaints. Further, the medical specialities continue to be overwhelmingly male-dominated. In areas such as surgery, women frequently report being trapped between their feminine identities and the necessity of being perceived as “ballsy,” like their male counterparts.

This sort of sublimation of identity is certainly implied in the good-ol’ twins fantasy, and as Waxman argues in Salon, men are oblivious to the complications: ”[A]sking men to analyze the biological relationship between Diane and Elaine Klimaszewski would be like asking a 7-year-old to analyze the time frame for Santa’s worldwide toy delivery schedule.”

Nonetheless, it seems to me that it’s easier for women to resist this kind of objectification, because at some point they have to become participants in order for the fantasy to be realized. As Waxman notes, we men know full well that we’re pigs. Not so for the chemistry- and muscle-driven weaknesses portrayed by the chocolate advertisements, in which behaviors are attributed to fundamental differences in the intellects and self-control of men and women. The humor and attractiveness of the chocolate ads requires women to be active participants—to laugh at the suggestion that PMS is only barely controlled by cocoa, for example—because the candy is targeted at women. On the other hand, the Coors twins practically invite derision from women, but it matters less to them because men are the ones buying the beer.

Update: Thanks to Ampersand and Bean for the comment that Bean is, in fact, the post’s author. Correction made above.