Victorian Food advertisement
Victorian product posters were not only gender biased but also class orientated. Class was a major factor in food advertisements as food posters were clearly separated into the upper, middle and working classes.
Genders are stereotyped through these advertisements, with men used especially for coffee campaigns. Men are always working hard and so need something to keep themselves awake and alert. Yet women are ironically placed as the faces of caffeinated drinks such a coca cola. These images are also of men in uniforms, portraying them as the complete embodiment of hard work. They are not only the head of the household, but also the face of a nation. Whilst the upper-class females are illustrated as idle, static housewives, the men are out fighting for their country. Food advertisement is therefore not only used to find the products target audience, but to remind the audience of the power and nobility of men.
Interestingly, what I observed from my trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum was their display of food posters was predominantly of males. Having only one poster with a female as the face of food products. The woman was the face of a branded soup, whilst the men of various goods such as Coleman’s mustard and coffee. The use of men in uniform, especially soldiers is an ingenious advertising strategy; women see the posters and believe that these are the foods men not only wanted but also needed to survive. However, men are also the ‘bread-makers’ and so are literally representing themselves, they put the food on the table and so are the face of food.
Isabella Beeton’s first recipe after her ‘introduction to cooking’ in Mrs Beeton’s book of Household Management is ‘General directions for making soup’. Perhaps Beeton is making a statement due to the blatantly feminine soup adverts. However, I believe that these adverts are so cleverly gendered that women feel the need to adopt the attitudes the posters portray. As Beeton herself was not a middle or upper class woman, she especially would fall into the category of women trying to obtain the social dominance of the upper class. Beeton recognises the class difference in her book, stating; ‘middle class identity was absolutely dependant on the ability to draw a firm line between themselves and the working classes’ (xxvii, introduction). Classes are clearly defined not only by their actions and companions, but their food. To make such a large statement in a book predominantly focused on cooking suggests the important connection between food and class.
Household management was overtly a woman’s job. Mrs Isabella Beeton herself became an advertising aspect; her book Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management is completely constructed and implies that she is someone of a different class. This highlights the importance of advertisement. Women want to be the ladies in the branded posters and Mrs Beeton gives them these opportunities. The Victorian era was a time in which ‘performance’ was key. Women were expected to act a certain way. Their lives revolved around acting like the perfect housewife. Being static and calm, whilst running the house.
The importance of a woman’s knowledge of household management is clear in English Homes and Housekeeping 1700-1960; ‘often, she knew little or nothing about the running of the home of which she was head and servants sometimes took advantage of their mistress’s ignorance’ (Page 34). Barbara Megson observes the prominence women have over their home; a woman must be aware and dominant of her household. Megson uses Beeton’s images and diagrams on page 41 and in the acknowledgements, highlighting Mrs Beeton as an advertisement for the perfect home.
Women as the 'essential'
The images of women changed between class and country. The flour advertisement suggests the fun and companionship with cooking. Reinforcing Beeton’s idea that ‘the choice of acquaintances is very important’ (page 9) and ‘friendships should not be hastily formed’ (page 9). These are three women who have formed a companionship through their cookery; they do not necessarily cook the food, as some adverts would have you believe. They merely enjoy themselves. Middle class women are the faces of well-known products such as flour and soup, the everyday essentials. Women therefore are being portrayed as an essential part to life, they may not be the bread makers, but they definitely create the home. The image explains ‘is the best. This flour always on top’, the women have almost been illustrated as a cake, but it also connotes that a woman in control of her cooking is a woman on top of her house.
Using slogans such as ‘the ideal brain tonic’ reinforces the idleness of the buyer. Food imagery of the Victorian period uses class to ingeniously focus their brands onto the correct buyer. The female models of brands are always seen to be relaxed, static women, the ideal housewife. The image ironically uses ‘king of beverages’ when using a woman to advertise their products. Gender is clearly a huge part to Victorian food advertisement. The posters place genders into their patriarchal roles. Men represent work, through their wearing of uniforms and embodying coffee, whilst women are the face of household essentials. Therefore, reinforcing Isabella Beeton’s ideas on household management, and her immense focus on cooking outlines the importance of food not only to their homes but also to their class.
- Beeton, Isabella. The Book of Household Management. Unite States, New York; Oxford University Press Inc. 200. Print.
- Megson, Barbara. English Homes and Housekeeping 1700-1960, The History and How to Study it. London; Routledge and Kegan Paul Limited. 1968. Print.