Friday, September 13, 2013

Grillin' and Chillin': Not just for boys anymore...

So there was just an ad on for grills and grilling accessories, featuring men grilling. No women in sight. Meat, sunshine, comraderie, smoke. Since the sound was off, I could not hear the voice-over, but I suspect it was deep, gruff, and manly, as is typical for these commercials.

But not a women in sight for the whole of 30 seconds.

This reminded me of a roommate I used to have. He and most of our friends had a code: women do not grill. They do not touch the grill. They do not touch meat on the grill. If there should be a few vegetables on the grill for some traitorous friend who believed that a meal needed more than meat and starch, they were not to touch that either. Not the tools, not the sauce, not the charcoal, not the lid. The grill was a Man Zone. On one memorable occasion when a woman picked up tongs and turned a nearly-burnt chicken breast, four voices hollered, “She’s touching the grill! She’s touching the meat!” And my roommate came bolting out of the apartment, turned the chicken back over, and told her not to touch it, that he had just turned it, and that women were not allowed to touch the grill.

For the record, I don’t care who touches the grill, as long as the food is cooked.

Since I saw that ad, I’ve been thinking about other ads I’ve seen for grilling, and cooking in general. If it involves the kitchen, common kitchen tools, family meals, desserts, good, wholesome nutrition—it’s going to feature a woman, almost every time. If it involves grilling, tailgating, campfire cooking, BBQ—it’s gonna be a man. Healthy or pretty food—women. Junk food, sloppy food—men.

Once again, thank you, advertising, for reinforcing outdated stereotypes.

Plenty of men love (or at least like) to cook and be in the kitchen, and at least some will admit it. I thank the rise of celebrity chefs for that. BAM! Plenty of women cook out, and there are more than a few female teams on the competitive BBQ circuit. Men are completely capable of cooking full meals, packing lunches, baking cookies, handling nutritional needs, pouring cereal, converting bread to toast, everything that women are seen doing in commercials.

So why don’t we see more of this in popular media?

My guess is that many of the people running the advertising are still locked into the idea that woman are the primary shoppers and decision makers in a family, and that they will mirror what their own do. That they trust their own. That they connect with their own. Ditto with men, assumed to be the primary consumers of grills, steaks, and brats. (We’ll ignore for a moment the lack of ethnic diversity in commercials.)

Maybe I’m crazy, but if a cereal or soup or a frozen-in-bag meal or a set of pans or tools looks good to a consumer,  I doubt that they would not buy it because of the gender of the person in the commercial. A company might even pick up some customers if they turned things on their heads and gave a woman some meat tongs and a ribeye and a guy a big steaming bowl of mac-and-cheese or a homemade birthday cake.

And I might be going out on a limb here, but maybe some men who are reluctant to pick up a whisk might do so if they saw more of themselves doing it. Not just one on a cooking show, but in everyday, shown-repeatedly-everywhere commercials. Let’s trade in some of the emaciated slacks and shirts modelmen in guy’s magazines and replace them with burly, bellied, bearded dudes making toaster pastries for their daughters, or a guy in coveralls using some good olive oil in his pasta. How about Mr. Shirt-and-Tie extolling the virtues of how this dish soap works great on the glass dish he baked a lasagna in, or how these are the easiest, tastiest break-and-bake-cookies ever (while a bunch of his buddies devour them).

Heck, maybe, just maybe, he pulls a Mrs. So-and-so’s apple pie out of the oven while a women hollers from outside that the burgers are ready, and could he please grab the ketchup?

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