Friday, February 18, 2011

Sexing the Sandwich

Like many feminists, I am all too aware of the ways in which everyday objects and spaces are gendered in unhelpful and oftentimes offensive ways. Try finding a pair of female running shoes in green or buying a bicycle without wondering why the placement of that middle bar is gender significant and you'll know what I'm talking about. Repeatedly coming into contact with theses objects and spaces is one way in which we become gendered subjects and how masculinity comes to be privileged as objects are designed for stereotypically male bodies. Of course, these processes are also racialized (I'm thinking about the color of bandaids here) and imbued with other social differences. And marketing is a practice focused on elaborating these differences and upholding highly problematic notions of gender, race, class, ability et al in order to sell more bikes. So, you say. What else is new?

Well, imagine my curiosity when the gendered world of objects took a bizarre turn during my Friday lunch break. It seems that one enterprising Argentinean establishment has taken it all to a new level -- that of the sandwich. In the menu above, you will see "group sandwiches" (sandwiches grupales) and below the words "for the boys" (para ellos) and "for the girls" (para ellas). Obviously, men get ham, cheese, bacon and green onion. Girls get smoked salmon, sour cream, greens and asparagus. Not only I am generally appalled by the gendered implications for cardiovascular disease and thinness that this implies -- the latter for which Argentina is so notorious, they had to pass a law mandating that clothing stores actually carry more than the smallest sizes -- but I'm also annoyed that ingredients in the "women's" sandwiches are slightly more expensive. Not only do I have to eat a certain way to maintain my femininity but I also probably have to shell out more money to do so -- a very tired truism for anyone with experience in attempting feminine appearances.

So maybe I shouldn't be surprised that the culinary arts are not exempt from the processes of gendering so evident in more straightforward cases of design and advertising. It's just that I was thinking that friday lunches represented this brief little respite from the rest of the day, one space where I could enjoy the company of friends and indulge in some earthly delights. But it seems I was sadly mistaken. The next time I order that smoked salmon sandwich or quinoa salad or any other 'healthy' treat on a cafe menu with my three best girlfriends, I'll wonder if I'm losing the battle for gender equality with every bite.