Chocolate and Feminism: Exploring the Changing Role of Women in Rowntree’s Chocolate and Cocoa Advertisements, 1930-1960
Chocolate Advertisements and the Role of Women
Exploring the portrayal of women in historical advertisements can tell us a lot about how women were seen at the time. This article explores the changing role of women in Rowntree’s chocolate and cocoa advertisements between 1930 and 1960. This period is significant because the role of women in society had changed as a result of the Second World War. Many women had worked during the war and gained more independence. But, when the war ended, there was an expectation that women would return to their previous roles as housewives and mothers: the Rowntree’s advertisements reflect these contentions. They also bring to light feminist issues such as the close links made between women, chocolate, and sex, and the ways in which women are portrayed with regards to work, independence, and intelligence. This article focuses on Black Magic, Dairy Box, Aero, Kit Kat and Rowntree’s Cocoa advertisements found in both newspaper and television advertisements.
Black Magic was a chocolate assortment launched by Rowntree’s in January 1933. These advertisements associated products with people by using extracts from letters written by the women featured in the advertisements. The letters were written by women about men buying them Black Magic, thus associating chocolates with ‘heterosexual courtship’. This was a result of market research conducted by Rowntree’s which revealed that most chocolate assortments were bought by m
en as gifts for women. The association of Black Magic with courtship was apparent both before and after the Second World War.
However, post-war, the letters began to feature an increasing number of women who were dissatisfied with men. This shows that the role of women changed slightly post-war, with women gaining more independence (or at least independence of thought). For example, one advertisement features a woman teaching her boyfriend that she was ‘not to be taken for granted’ after finding out that two men were also interested in her. Post-war there was also evidence of a stretching of gender roles. This change is particularly evident in two advertisements which used the same image. In the pre-war advertisement, the woman became tired after helping her partner to ‘draw plans for the new house’ and left to eat chocolate. In comparison, the post-war advertisement explained that the woman’s ‘point of view was an enormous help’. Another advertisement depicts a man helping with the cleaning – traditionally a female role. In the pre-war advertisements, most of the women were posed, laying down on beds, perhaps as an ‘expression of sexual availability’. Interestingly, in the post-war advertisements none of the women reclined in such a way, perhaps showing more gender equality or, at least, a shift away from sexualising women. Despite this, the advertisements continued to depict women as inferior to men. A 1936 advertisement described women as “silly creatures” and another from 1955 portrayed them as “frightfully weak-minded”. The Black Magic advertisements therefore illustrate how, even though women were gaining more independence, there was only a small change in the way in which they were portrayed and the association with chocolate, women, and courtship remained.
Dairy Box was another chocolate assortment, launched in 1937. Dairy Box advertisements linked women, courtship and chocolate most significantly. Men in the advertisements throughout the period 1930 to 1960 used chocolate to control ‘wayward, reluctant or sulky women’. Both the pre-war and wartime advertisements suggested that the only reason the women in the advertisements chose to go out with the men was because they gave them Dairy Box. For example, a wartime advertisement suggested that the man ‘won’ the woman ‘easy as anything’ by giving her Dairy Box. Throughout this period, Dairy Box advertisements also contained sexual innuendo by suggesting that giving women Dairy Box could lead to sexual gratification – “For Dairy Box I’ll give you a kiss”. For example, a post-war advertisement showed a photograph of Una Stubbs embracing a man as if about to kiss him stated that she ‘says thank you in the sweetest way’. Women in the wartime advertisements were more sexualised than those in the pre-war and post-war advertisements. Emma Robertson suggests that the reason the wartime advertisements offered ‘more explicitly sexual images’ was a response to changing cultural trends during the war. For example, one advertisement features a woman kneeling on the floor, skirt scrunched up nearly to her waist, legs slightly apart, the sleeve of her barely-there dress falling down her arm, waist corseted, as she holds up a box of Dairy Box as if in worship. No other Rowntree’s advertisements studied showed such sexualisation of women. The wartime and post-war advertisements also depicted women as obsessed by chocolates. The women in the wartime advertisements were so obsessed that they were willing to leave their jobs to run away with the men providing them with Dairy Box. In the post-war advertisements featuring the character ‘Judy’, she was obsessed with chocolates – “And when I grow too tired to eat—I dream of it at night”. Those featuring Una Stubbs even linked her identity with chocolate, stating “she’s a Dairy Box girl!”. Dairy Box advertisements therefore clearly linked chocolate with women, courtship, and sex.
Launched in 1935, Aero advertisements also reinforced the association of women,
chocolate and sex by linking pictures of women eating Aero with words such as “delight” and “ecstasy”. An advertisement from 1938 is even more explicit, linking chocolate and women to sexual urges and the almost orgasmic delight one supposedly gets from eating chocolate – “It’s hard to photograph ecstasy… but it’s easy to find in Aero”. Another commands women to “Obey that urge!” by eating Aero. Robertson explains that the advertisements were suggesting that women should transfer their ‘heterosexual yearnings and fantasies’ onto eating chocolate. This changed post-war when the advertisements began to feature the ‘Aero Girls’ – oil painting portraits of elegant women. The ‘Aero Girls’, though reminiscent of the classy women of the Black Magic advertisements, were less sexualised. The pictures were ‘calculatedly demure, showing only the women’s heads and shoulders’. While this still linked chocolate with women (particularly as the advertisements stated that Aero was ‘for her’), the advertisements no longer linked Aero with sex or heterosexual relationships. Aero advertisements therefore became less sexualised after the Second World War, but remained explicitly female dominated. This perhaps reflects on the changing way in which women were seen in society.
Kit Kat was first sold in 1935 and is now one of the world’s most popular chocolate bars, with hundreds of different varieties of the chocolate wafer bar sold worldwide. The Kit Kat advertisements, unusually, showed more gender equality pre-war than post-war, being much more gender neutral than any of the other Rowntree’s advertisements studied. For example, a series of advertisements featured lone images of both men and women, rather than predominantly women (such as in the Aero advertisements). Strikingly, the pre-war Kit Kat advertisements featured women at work. Robertson suggests that this was because Kit Kat was ‘popular with female office workers’. While the jobs were still gender specific (such as a woman as a typist working in an office and a man as an aeroplane pilot), this was certainly a more realistic version of the lives of many women at the time than the Black Magic advertisements. Interestingly, post-war the gender roles presented in the advertisements became more traditional. Rather than taking a break from their jobs, women were shown to be taking a break from the housework. For example, two television advertisements from the 1950s showed women either in the home or serving male workers rather than as workers themselves. The representations of women seem to have reversed following the Second World War. This may be reflective of wider issues around the role of women in Britain and of a movement towards putting women back in the home. As Judy Giles points out, following the Second World War there was demand for the ‘private sphere of motherhood and housework [to] be reconstructed’. Jose Harris agrees that there was an expectation for women to “return to husbands, hearth and home”. Kit Kat advertisements can therefore be seen to reflect wider trends around the role of women.
Throughout the period 1930-1960, cocoa advertisements had a strong emphasis on the role of women as ‘the devoted mother… and the savvy housewife’, a theme typical of many advertisements at the time. While working women started to be featured closer to the end of the period, the emphasis was very much on keeping women at home. In the pre-war advertisements women were portrayed only as wives and mothers with ‘testimonials from housewives’ used to promote the product. In one advertisement, the woman is praised for giving her family Rowntree’s Cocoa. She states that choosing cocoa is “part of a woman’s job” and the advertisement claims that “every woman with a family” should buy Rowntree’s Cocoa. The role of women as mothers continued into wartime advertisements. They implored mothers to buy Rowntree’s, claiming that the vitamins in the cocoa would protect their children. Post-war, women were still portrayed as mothers and wives. The ‘My Wife’s a…’ advertising campaign took the role of wife to a whole new level. The advertisements included taglines such as ‘My Wife’s an Angel’ and ‘My Wife’s a Fairy’ and described women using terms such as ‘comforting’, and ‘grateful’, portraying women as inferior to men. One advertisement even likens the woman to a dog – “she’s a pet” – and praises her as a “Clever girl!”. Towards the end of the war as well as post-war, working women began to feature in the cocoa advertisements. However, their jobs fitted within typical gender roles, for example a stage school principle or a prima ballerina. It was also stressed that working was not good for women – “it tells on her nerves”. These advertisements made sure to include the importance of the work of housewives as well as working women – “Many a hard-pressed housewife will agree with her”. Rowntree’s Cocoa advertisements therefore give us an insight into the pressures on women to return to their roles as housewives following the war and the ways in which society viewed working women.
Conclusion and a Glimpse into the Present
The role of the women seen in the Rowntree’s advertisements discussed is important as it is indicative of how society viewed women during the period 1930-1960. Following the Second World War, there was little change in the representations of women in Rowntree’s chocolate and cocoa advertisements. Women were depicted as either housewives or had gender suitable jobs. They were also portrayed as ‘silly’ and obsessed with chocolate. The association of chocolate assortments with ‘aphrodisiacs, romance and the wooing of women’ continued throughout. However, despite this, women in the advertisements did become ‘increasingly independent and outspoken’. What is surprising is how little the role of women in chocolate advertisements has changed since these advertisements were produced. Many of the advertisements for major chocolate brands today still predominantly link chocolate with women. For example, the majority of Galaxy and Lindt advertisements show women as the consumers of chocolate. While many of Cadbury’s advertisements now feature a mixture of men and women (and the odd drum-playing gorilla), Cadbury recently re-introduced the ‘Milk Tray Man’ advertisements, which first appeared in 1968. These feature a man dressed in black completing a dangerous task in order to deliver a box of Milk Tray to a waiting woman – “all because the lady loves Milk Tray”. This is an explicit link to chocolate and heterosexual relationships, as well as suggesting that it is mainly women eating chocolate. This shows that little has changed with regards to the role of women in chocolate advertisements since the Rowntree’s advertisements of 1930 to 1960. While women may no longer be portrayed as housewives, chocolate, women, and sex are still heavily linked.
Written by Eleanor Oliver
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