“When People Eat Chocolate, They are Eating My Flesh”
~Drissa, former African Slave. (Foodispower.org)
The international cacao trade has been corrupt with human exploitation and abuse including forced labor of children since its inception. Yet, by presenting women and sexual pleasure the advertisements produced by corporations offer a twisted, hyper-sexualized link between women and chocolate that not only degrades women, but also deceives consumers by diametrically opposed view of the reality of the trade.
For the hundreds of thousands (and possibly up to two million) children enslaved or sold to cacao farmers, the conditions are so brutal with malnutrition, lack of medical care, and physical harm at the hands of landowners that sometimes children lose limbs during harvesting, and also die from maltreatment, or untreated illness (Sapoznik). In many of these regions there is little to no education available for children and it is reported that they spend 9-16 hours per day in the fields (Martin). Yet, despite these notoriously harsh conditions these images are nowhere to be found in advertising media.
Instead, chocolate manufacturers take advantage of gender-biased marketing that has become a pop-culture phenomenon. For decades, companies have been using women in advertisements to promote products or socio-political messages. It has become widespread across media outlets and is so common that even women do not always recognize the messages as offensive, and thus, they have become easy targets for the ad industry and featured in ads for everything from tobacco to Presidential campaigns. In her nationally known blog article titled, Sad White Babies with Mean Feminist Mommies, women’s humorist and performer, Jessica Valenti, shares her commentary on how many corporate media advertisements uses degrading women to support their messages. Left, is an image that she says is sexist and oppressive for women, and completely backlashes against modern feminist theory with showing a highly stressed, screaming Mommy, dressed in a business suit, and carrying her baby-presumed to be neglected (Valenti). These types of images demean women who work and balance motherhood. They also set up future mothers with fears of how they may be ridiculed should they choose to have both a career and a family.
Despite the fact that the conditions of working in the cacao trade reveal a challenging and risky life for women, the stories told about women and chocolate in ad messages are a far cry from truth. In fact, the chocolate manufacturers like Nestlé, Mars, and Hershey, commonly use negative images of women being sexualized by chocolate and extremely pleasured-if not drugged by it. The results are promoting stereotypes of common women, twisted to reveal nymphomaniac tendencies and the subsequent dumbing-down of an entire gender.
Not only do the advertisers use naked, chocolaty women, but they also depict women in other demeaning and undesirable roles. Some of the common characteristics portrayed are that women: are driven to sex at the thought of chocolate (showing women in bed with chocolate-see image below), are animalistic and deserving of being treated like an animal (growling when chocolate is needed), have emotions that are easily manipulated, are easily swayed by sexual pleasure, and are mentally simple. Also conveyed, are that women’s sexual needs are better satisfied by chocolate (than by men), that women wish to escape the responsibility of children (see drawing of woman with cake, below)……
Further, the common use of debasing women in media is not only prevalent in corporate media, but has also become acceptable in social media. The image below is an example of one shared by across Facebook.
While some find it humorous or engaging to see these advertisements, it is shockingly discrepant to see these images juxtaposed against the brutal conditions of what is found in the chocolate trade. Foodispower.org claims it is the most abusive and offensive industry with regard to “conditions of slavery, human trafficking, and child labor (Food)”. It is further perplexing to know that the trade that-despite years of international legislation and consumer pressure to reign in some of the abusive methods-the torture continues. Carol Off, tells us in her book, Bitter Chocolate, that not only do farmers remain complicit in child-smuggling to the Ivory Coast, but so do corporations and the local governments (131-133).
Should there be truth in advertising about the chocolate industry, we would find images that would show neglect, abuse, isolation, and sexual exploitation, especially of children. However, until political measures or consumer pressure is applied strongly enough to effect the pockets of the producers, the exploitations in production and advertising are likely to continue.
Cool Facebook Covers. http://www.coolfbcovers.com/covers/quotes-saying-fb-covers/women-and-chocolate.html
Cosmopolitan Magazine. Blog Image: Chocolate covered woman. http://veronicawinchester.blogspot.com/. Internet. 08 Apr 2015.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: The New Press, 2006. Print.
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.” Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 25. Mar. 2015. Class Lecture.
Sapoznik, Karlee.”When People Eat Chocolate, They Are Eating My Flesh”: Slavery and the Dark Side of Chocolate.” ActiveHistory.ca. Web. 08 Apr 2015.
The Raddist Chick Around. Image. Web. Jul 2011. Internet. 04 Apr 2015. http://theraddestchickaround.blogspot.com/2011/07/dove-chocolate.html
Valenti, Jessica. JessicaVelenti.com. Website. 2012 http://jessicavalenti.com/post/25465502300/sad-white-babies-with-mean-feminist-mommies-the
World Cocoa Foundation. March 2012. “Cocoa Market Update.” Worldcocoafoundation.org. Web. 05 Apr 2015.
“Women and the big business of chocolate.” Oxfam America. Oxfamamerica.org. Web. 08 Apr 2015.
*****POST COPIED WITH PERMISSION, FROM MY OWN WORK ON HARVARD UNIVERSITY BLOG: WWW.CHOCOLATECLASS.WORDPRESS.COM RUN BY DR. CARLA MARTIN, PROFESSOR AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES PROGRAM AND CHOCOLATE HISTORIAN EXPERT*******