Friends, it's that time of year again. Summer advertising already isn't great to women -- are you bikini-ready? Do you have a summer hair strategy? -- but there's a niche focus in the seasonal marketing that I always find especially amusing, and it reached our inboxes Tuesday morning: Female Grilling Phobia.
The sales pitch came in the form of a press release from Land O Lakes Deli Cheese, which informed us that, according to a study commissioned by the dairy company, "more than 84 percent of women would be at least a little nervous or afraid to use a barbecue grill on their own."
There was no mention of how many women were surveyed, how old they were, where they were from, how they were recruited, how the questions were asked, or if, say, 80 of that 84 percent answered "a little nervous" -- the way you get a little nervous that you may have used the conditioner before the shampoo -- and only 4 percent said they were nervous or very nervous.
To ease our nerves and those of our readers, Land O Lakes invited us to a "Women of the Grill" event where blogger Robyn Medlin Lindars of the blog Grill Grrrrl will give us "recipes that give women the confidence to man the grill."
I don't doubt that Lindars offers excellent grilling advice. The problem here is positioning even something as random as a method of cooking meat as an aspirational activity for women, another way to be more desirable, more wanted, closer to enough. If you take a look at the "About Me" page on Lindars' blog, you get a sense of exactly how Land O Lakes and heavily sponsored Lindars are promising grilling will transform you. Here's the proposition:
Grill to be rebellious! Advertisers and marketers have sold this backyard sport as inherently masculine since the '50s, so it is oh so transgressive to fire up some outdoor cookware as a woman. The "Grrrl" in the blog title is also supposed to accentuate this, making you feel renegade and progressive without really knowing why (see Riot Grrrls, remove activism).
Grill to be seductive! This is a direct quote from Lindars' "About Me" page: "While I focus on hot and fast 'grilling', I do appreciate 'low and slow' methods."
Grill to reinvent/improve yourself! Lindars says she started her grilling clinics "as a way to encourage women to not be intimidated by the grill," and then of course there are the helpful results of the Land O Lakes study suggesting that you have a LOT of nervousness and intimidation to overcome. You think you're empowered? Not if you can't grill.
Grill Grrrl, Land O Lakes and advertising in general aren't the only culprits -- media's right up there. Prevention has published a "Girls Guide to Grilling" that begins, "Don't be intimidated." In May 2012 The Stir published a list called "5 Grills Women Won't Be Scared to Cook On." And stock photo services, which many media outlets rely on to illustrate those types of stories, do a laughably bad job of providing realistic images of a woman anywhere near a grill.
Here's an idea: If you want to sell more grills to women or teach more women how to grill, make ads and write articles that depict grilling as gender neutral. Don't make a big deal about women participating. Summer is a big deal. Barbecue, in some circles, is a very big deal. Women cooking food over an open flame? Age old, and not a big deal.
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