Wednesday, May 26, 2010

ModLife: Woman, Make Me a Sammich

Woman, Make Me a Sammich: "

Last weekend, I was out with some friends when I was approached by a guy in his late twenties. We started chatting, and came to a point in the conversation when I felt it appropriate to drop the ‘F bomb.’

“I’m a feminist,” I said. After a brief silence, he replied, “Okay, that’s cool, I guess. As long as you would still make me a sandwich when I told you to.” Maybe he meant it as a joke, but the fact that I couldn’t tell was slightly off-putting, and after talking to him for a few more seconds, I decided I didn’t want to stick around long enough to find out, and made a quick escape.

This interaction got me thinking. When did making a sandwich become so fraught with meaning, so representative of prescriptive gender roles? I’ve made lots of sandwiches for guys — from brothers to boyfriends — but always felt doing so was a sign of love or affection, not subservience. What is it that makes the act symbolically degrading? I decided to investigate, and turned up some vintage ads that look as though they may have played a part in shaping — or, at the very least, reinforcing — a simple sandwich’s larger social significance.

The above Wonderbread ad (circa 1968) is particularly striking, because it presents sandwich-making (with Wonderbread, of course) as a form of empowerment. This women’s lib-era ad wants us to believe that this young woman is the one in charge when it states, “Wonder’s the neatest way to trap a boy since…well, since apples. Try tempting him with his favorite Wonder sandwich. He’ll bite.” At the same time it alludes to the “fallen” biblical figure, Eve, this ad depicts the woman with her mouth covered, and could be interpreted as an act of silencing.

The ad for Underwood Deviled Ham makes a similar appeal, promising that “devilicious whole ham flavor is the surest way to your man’s heart.”

The adjacent Heinz ad is not for sandwich making supplies, per se, but since soup often goes with a sandwich, and because this ad uses tactics similar to those in the others, I decided to include it here. It reads, “most husbands, nowadays, have stopped beating their wives, but what can be more agonizing to a sensitive soul is a man’s boredom at meals.” Indeed. What could be worse?

What do you think, ModLovers? When is making a sandwich for someone else a healthy way to express love and affection? When does doing so become indicative of unbalanced power dynamics? Can it be both at the same time?


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