Monday, July 16, 2018

Food and Dieting Negotiate Hegemonic Masculinities in American Popular Culture

emilycontois |  The Dudification of Diet: Food Masculinities in Twenty-First-Century America examines how the food, advertising, and media industries have constructed masculinities through food in the twenty-first-century United States, particularly when attempting to create male consumers for products socially perceived as feminine. Employing the tools of critical discourse analysis to examine food, dieting, and cooking, I consider a diverse array of media texts—including advertising campaigns, marketing trade press, magazines, newspapers, industry reports, restaurants, menus, food criticism, blogs, and social media. Case studies include diet sodas (Coke Zero and Dr. Pepper Ten), yogurts (Oikos Triple Zero and Powerful Yogurt), weight loss programs (primarily Weight Watchers), and food television (namely Food Network star, Guy Fieri).

More than just companies jockeying for market share, these food phenomena “for men” marked a moment of heightened gender anxiety and the rise of a new gender discourse—dude masculinity. Partly created by the food marketing industry, dude masculinity sought to create socially acceptable routes into and through the feminized terrain of food and the body. As a gender discourse, it celebrates the “average guy,” while remaining complicit in hegemonic masculinity’s overall structure of social inequality.

Beyond gender performance, dude masculinity articulates apprehension for how consumption reconfigures notions of citizenship, bodily surveillance, and nationhood. Dude masculinity tells a larger story of the United States’ very recent past, one rooted in perceived social chaos, concerned with terrorism, border control, immigration, same-sex marriage, race relations, new media, and neoliberalism. Despite decades of resistance and progress toward gender equality, these recent social shifts have resulted in the reactionary shoring up of gendered categories, a complex and contradictory sociocultural process that I read through dude masculinity, food, and the body.

Previous scholarship has treated these areas of culture separately and considered food and gender largely in terms of femininity, domesticity, and care work. I synthesize feminist studies of media, food, and the body and apply them to masculinities, centering discussions of power. Bridging theory and practice, this dissertation also informs how entities like advertising campaigns, food packaging design, public health programs, and weight loss studies can rewrite gender scripts to promote equality and justice.