A new product has David Segal of the Washington Post a little nervous.
It’s chocolate that is specially formulated to help women alleviate the symptoms of PMS.
Would you like a moment to process that?
It’s a hunk of chocolate, designed specifically to alleviate the effects of premenstrual syndrome. (More than, say, a Snickers bar already does.) The irritability, the anxiety, the moodiness — all of it is allegedly soothed by the Wonder Bar, at $3.69 a pop. As it says on the wrapper, “Take sweet revenge on PMS, menopause & everyday cravings with this delicious Swiss chocolate, rose oil, herbs and soy.”
Sounds good to me.
Your first reaction to the Wonder Bar is probably something like, “Now, that is a great idea.” Among women, that might be the second and third reaction, too. But fellas, mull this one for a moment. Think about the concept of craving. Now consider a rather different concept: impunity.
Are you starting to see the terrible genius here?
You will after we call Adrienna Kramer, Ecco Bella’s general manager. Let’s get straight to the point, shall we?
At this point, you have to click “next” on the Washington Post website to see where David is going with this. And I’ll admit, I had no idea. Craving? Impunity? Terrible genius? I tried to guess what horrible flaw lay in this PMS-treating chocolate bar. My own theory was that the silly thing probably just doesn’t work, like so many other ailment-allieving “natural” products. But given David’s scare-tactic language, that couldn’t possibly be his concern. What, exactly, could be the terrible consequences of this chocolate bar?
It’s so obvious that I can’t believe I didn’t guess: If you give women chocolate and allow them to eat it to cure PMS, they will turn into fat cows.
It’s pretty clear that what you’ve created here is a candy bar that gives women license to pig out to their hearts’ content.
The horror! You mean we’ve created a type of delicious food that also has health benefits, and we’ve given women permission to eat it? And to eat as much of it as they want? Clearly, every thin woman in the world will use this as an excuse to get fat, and then your chances of ever getting laid again will disappear.
If your wife or your girlfriend is on her fifth bar of the day and gobbling her way to a couple saddlebags’ worth of extra poundage, she can say, “Honey, I’m doing this for you. Either I eat another Wonder Bar or I berate you irrationally and then burst into tears. Take your pick.”
Checkmate! A man will have no choice but to sit back and gawk in horror as the little missus turns into a Greyhound bus.
And ain’t nothin worse than dating a fat chick, let me tell you — except a fat chick with PMS. Because that’ll make her completely crazed and irrational. Or, more crazed and irrational than women usually are.
“It’s nothing like that,” says Kramer, without a pause. “You won’t find women sitting down and eating fistfuls of Wonder Bars.” She adds: “You don’t gain weight from eating chocolate. You gain weight from eating too much fat and junk food.”
This is true. And maybe it’s a little . . . uh, unseemly for men to nitpick anything that brings relief to women suffering with PMS. You can hear the ladies now: Dudes, go score us a few cartons of Wonder Bars and shut your yaps.
This is true, but I’ll still use the Wonder Bar as an excuse to complain about my wife gaining weight. Because when we signed that marital contract, I was clear that my growing beer gut is no excuse for her to not fit into her prom dress when she’s 40.
And I wish David would shut his yap. Until he’s had cramps so bad that he’s vomiting and has to go home from work or school to lay curled up in the fetal position with a heating pad on his abdomen, I don’t really have patience to hear his heartfelt concerns that eating chocolate will make me less fuckable.
So maybe this is really about fun instead of good health. Nothing wrong with fun, right? But if Ecco Bella is going to sell a delicacy that lets women indulge a craving and fob it off as a benefit to themselves and their mates, why not do the same for men?
How about, for instance, marketing a beer that supposedly fights baldness?
“Okay, I don’t know what to do with that,” says Kramer, laughing.
Hmmm. How about a cigar that allegedly freshens the breath and makes you pick up the underwear on the floor?
“I appreciate where you’re trying to go with this, but I don’t seem to have anything I can respond to with these things.”
Heh. Well, one major difference is that generally, men don’t have to justify or apologize for food indulgence. Most men don’t worry about looking piggish if they go to a steakhouse and order the Porterhouse. Most men don’t justify eating something other than a salad by telling themselves, “I ran three miles today. I deserve it” or “Ok, you can eat this now, but only if you skip dinner later.” Most men don’t know the guilt of finishing a large meal and then kicking yourself for not ordering a starter salad instead.
Now, fat men are certainly shamed in our culture as well. But this is an across-the-board issue for women, no matter what you look like. And next time you see a fat woman eating in public, look around and check out how other people are looking at her.
How does the Wonder Bar taste? Well, it’s dark chocolate with just enough medicinal flavor to make you think that it’s good for you. No guy will trade in his Chunky for one of these things. But judging from the reaction at the Ecco Bella booth on Tuesday, brace yourself for some terrible news, lads:
The ladies think it’s delicious.
Luckily for him, femininity in this culture is still defined largely by self-denial. We aren’t supposed to enjoy food too much, lest we become fat and offend the sensitive retinas of those around us. And so we are shamed out of eating, and held up against an unrealistic ideal of a female body. We aren’t supposed to enjoy sex, and so sexually powerful women are shamed, and conservative politicians attempt to limit all the things that make female sexual freedom possible.
Attitudes about food and sex, as far as I can tell, are deeply intertwined. This has been written about many times before, in books like The Sexual Politics of Meat and in studies of anorexia. Women’s denial of food is done under the same moral framework that the denial of sex is. The thin woman, the chaste woman, is the morally virtuous woman. She has self-control. She puts others before herself. She is not that mythical, voracious, consuming woman-creature that apparently scares the bejesus out of men everywhere.
I’m of the belief that denial-based attitudes toward both food and sex are inherently unhealthy. So are purely consumptive attitudes. Food and sex are two primary areas where human beings find pleasure, and ideally we would be able to indulge in both without guilt, and with the responbilities that pleasure brings — that is, taking care to be healthy and respectful. The attitude that food = fat = sin and therefore food is bad is not a healthy one; neither is the attitude that you have to eat, so you’ll eat whatever simply to consume something, without taking any pleasure in what you’re doing. I think that this comsumption mentality is a big problem in the United States in terms of both food and sex, but the food issue has become more obvious to me after living outside of the country in places where food is a central part of the culture, Italy being the most obvious example. Eating is a social affair, and food is highly valued. Quality is valued over quantity. The idea of Starbucks is ridiculous — why do you need that giant cup of mediocre coffee when this little cup of perfect espresso is so much better? Further, there are institutional controls which make sure that the food in that country is of higher quality — I didn’t know until last summer that much of the Parmesan cheese we eat in the United States isn’t allowed to be sold under the name “parmigiano” in Italy, and instead has to be marketed under the name “table cheese” or something similar. Why? Because the Italian government keeps tight control over the name and content of its food products. Parmigiano, to Italians, means a very specific type of hard cheese, made in Parma with a very specific method — the milk has to be heated to a certain degree, and the cheese has to age for a certain number of years before it can be properly called Parmigiano. Kraft simply cannot call its chemically-modified cheese parmigiano in Italy the way they can call it parmesan here. There are a million other examples of how food production is purified: The fruit isn’t genetically modified; if restaurants are using frozen seafood, they are required to disclose it on the menu; Italian-made products are labelled as such. All of this both reflects the importance of food in that culture and makes it easier for people of all income levels to access healthier foods with fewer preservatives and chemicals in them. It demonstrates a belief that food is worth something more than simple consumption, and that its role in society is more important than simply filling your stomach.
The parallel to sex, objectification, prostitution and pornography should be fairly obvious.
Now, these are obviously ideals that are only available to certain segments and populations around the world — not everyone has access to the kind of food that is pleasurable to eat, and a lot of people have to eat whatever they have to for simple survival. Same thing with sex — not every woman is in a situation where she gets to choose her sexual partners or plan her own sexual life, and many women make sexual trade-offs for greater freedom in other areas. An example of those sexual trade-offs, borrowed from a book I’m currently reading: A young woman who agrees to be circumcised in exchange for her family allowing her to go to school. And there are cultures, like ours, where (in my opinion) unhealthy attitudes about food and sex seem to be battling it out, with our Puritanical self-denying roots going head to head with our bigger-faster-more comsumptive desires. And it creates quite a strange dynamic for all of us trying to wade through it. It’s part of the reason why, I think, we see women’s bodies used as walking representations of sex while you hear those same women talking about their virginity or their conservative sexual beliefs. It’s part of the reason why the anorexic body is idealized in American movies, television, fashion and advertising, and yet Americans are apparently part of a growing “obesity epidemic” (there are plenty of people who argue that this epidemic is over-blown, but I think we can all agree that there are a lot of overweight people in this country).
It’s all much more complicated than this, obviously. Weight doesn’t necessarily correlate with food intake, and I would also point a big finger at the sedentary lifestyle that many Americans lead — driving to work, sitting at a desk all day, driving home, sitting on the couch, etc — as one of the reasons that Americans are generally fatter than people elsewhere in the world. Obesity does have economic influences as well, and our institutions in this country haven’t really stepped up to the plate on health and poverty issues.
But as a general rule, I think that unhealthy attitdues about food correlate to similarly unhealthy attitudes about sex. Both of these things are highly gendered, and self-denial of sex and food confer similar social benefits on the woman doing the denying.
And with asshats like David here to remind the little ladies that indulgence will make us entirely unattractive to men, the woman who puts her own needs and desires last and who routinely denies herself pleasure will be around for a long time.
Thanks to Yurie for the link.
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