How to Lose Your Wife on Valentine’s Day
Jaslyne Loh Jia Ling
Disclaimer: This blog post is the perfect guide on what to do on Valentine’s Day if you wish to be kicked out by your wife, as we embark on a story of a husband taking his wife out on a romantic dinner date that did not exactly lead to a happily ever after, delving into topics such as food advertising, vocabulary of Valentine’s Day menu, food policing and gendered food choices, food metaphors, and food-based double entendre. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
INT. IN A MODERN FRENCH STYLE LIVING ROOM – MORNING 10 AM
Liam lounges comfortably on his couch, flipping through channels on a television as an advertisement catches his attention.
LIAM (WHISPERING UNDER HIS BREATH IN EXCITEMENT)
A romantic Valentine’s Day dinner at La Madeleine that will blow my mind away?! Leanne had better love me to pieces!
As the camera zooms in on a slim-figured model sinking her teeth into a slab of steak, she seductively teases viewers: it’ll blow your mind away. Such sexual imagery and suggestive words, actions or gestures in advertisement often overuse gender role clichés and stereotyping to integrate appetite and sensual passions into food (Mac Rury, 2008). As the primary goal of the advertisement is to gain attraction, advertisers have been tinkering with the fact that verbal representations of sexual gratification coupled with gestures are fundamental forms of human appetites, where pleasure acts as a game plan to draw attention toward fantasy fulfilment (Ewen, 1988). Researchers have proved both the effectiveness and salience of sexual appeals in consumer advertising, where the utilisation of sexual elements plays a part to increase consumer brand recall and positive attitudes toward the brand (Poon, 2016). When it comes to food advertising, sex has proven its appeal as a mainstream gender discourse with staying power.
INT. IN A POSH PARISIAN RESTAURANT – EVENING 7 PM
As Liam and Leanne browse through the Valentine’s Day menu of La Madeleine, Liam begins licking his lips and gives his lady a sexy wink. Before you jump to conclusion that Liam is a perverted psychopath, the restaurant may have a part to play in this! Since food plays a key role on Valentine’s Day, most Parisian restaurants create a special menu for this special day by naming the items on the menu in relation to love (Faivre, 2010). Research on the corpus of approximately 30 menus present words that are explicitly related to the concept of love, particularly in the area of eroticism, where the vocabulary of food is used to speak of sex (Faivre, 2010).
Ranging from sensuality to passion to sexuality, it is no surprise that Valentine’s Day dishes in Paris are named after erotic references such as amuse bouche or mise en bouche, which refers to small amounts of food served before the starter for the stimulation of appetite. Simply translates to tickle the mouth, this erotic reference suggests physical love starts with foreplay like how a meal begins with starters: both meant to titillate the mouth before the real action takes place (Faivre, 2010). With food and sex intimately connected, strongly evocative words like melting and runny appear more frequent on a Valentine’s Day menu than on an average one, leaving diners to see the obvious double-entendre (Faivre, 2010). Interestingly, there is a pair of popular homophones: la chère and la chair for the fare and the flesh, constituting an anticipation of the night to come (Faivre, 2010). The vocabulary used ranges from simple sexual connotations that express desire, orgasm or sensuality to explicit pornographic references such as sexy movie 37.2 le matin and sex position cravate de notaire (Faivre, 2010).
LIAM (SPEAKING FLIRTATIOUSLY)
I’d like to be blown away by a melt-in-your-mouth wagyu steak in medium rare from your Valentine’s Day special! For the lady, perhaps a salad?
Perhaps not, Liam! Men commenting on women’s meal choices is one of the disturbing ways to exercise control over women’s bodies, and we often wonder when are they going to stop ‘food policing’ and allow us to eat in peace! In this 21st century, it is shocking how society pressures us in making gendered food choices and that research has shown oversimplified representations of women and men eating habits persist for many of us (Chan, 2016).
There are some differences between masculinity and femininity in eating behaviour where a masculine man will eat anything to fulfil his hunger and have a preference to eat very fast and in large quantities (Monge-Rojas et al., 2015). Contrastingly, a feminine woman will eat lesser amount and slowly as they take more bites compared to their male counterparts. Additionally, for a woman who eats a lot without caring about what she eats is considered manly or unfeminine (Hill & McCutcheon, 1984). In view of the above, this explains the gendered food choices on why it is feminine to eat like a bird and dine on salad while it is masculine to eat in large portions and plenty of red meat. The message is crystal clear: as a woman, your body is public property and fair game for comment, where instruction and policing for a women’s physical form exists simply to titillate men (Chan, 2016). The belief that men possess an automatic ‘right’ over any women’s body in a public space is worryingly ingrained as it deeply damages societal norms about women’s bodies. Unfortunately, the presence of realistic and objectified images of women are bound to create a massive impact on their body image and self-esteem. So I say, fire the food police and eat what you want!
INT. IN A POSH PARISIAN RESTAURANT – EVENING 9 PM
LIAM (SPEAKING IN HUSHED TONES)
Wow, that was such a splendid meal! Sweetie pie, do you think you can cook this marvellous wagyu steak? As you know, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!
Sweetie pie? Is Liam’s wife ‘a dessert’? Before you call the cops on him for cannibalism, let us first explore a variety of food metaphors (particularly on the ‘woman as dessert’ metaphors) that structure our concept of sexual identity. According to Lakoff (1987), the theme ‘(sexual) desire is appetite’ where the object of the appetite is a person, portrays that human is food. In this schema, humans are frequently characterised as the food that will satisfy this appetite, where females are disproportionately used in metaphors that construct humans as sexually desirable (Goatly, 2007). What features from the schema of eating do these metaphor themes transfer to the schema for sex? To equate sex with eating simply indicates the importance of sex in life, and therefore we are entitled to obtain it even through violence or illegal means. By applying these metaphors predominantly to women, men imply they are entitled to have sex with them regardless (Goatly, 2007). Additionally, they propose that fulfilling the sexual appetites of men is the primary purpose of women, similar to the concept that food production is for the primary purpose of eating, with women, like food, passive in this process (Hiraga, 1991).
The following are some metaphors of food equating women-as-sex-objects with desserts for male consumption: cheesecake, cookie, tart (Hiraga, 1991). It is distasteful that the ‘woman as dessert’ metaphor reduces women to the status of objects with implications of inanimacy and powerlessness (Hines, 2000). As desserts, they can be bought, sold, shared, sliced and eaten, totally at men’s disposal (Hines, 2000). Indeed, the male dominant role over his sexual partner is reinforced by conceptualising women in the guise of appetising food.
INT. IN A MODERN FRENCH STYLE DINING ROOM – MORNING 8 AM
Perched on a stool at the breakfast bar, Leanne sips on her latte with ‘Simply Nigella’ in the background.
LEANNE (EXCLAIMING IN DELIGHT)
That’s it! Maybe Nigella can help keep my man happy!
In her latest series, ‘Simply Nigella’, the undisputed queen of the food-based double entendre is back with some of her best innuendos! Often exchanging knowing glances with the camera coupled with slow-motion kneading and whisking for added effect, viewers love sharing Nigella Lawson’s best innuendos on Twitter, adding humour to her simple recipes. For the record, here are some of Nigella’s best innuendos: on filling potato skins, my empty vessels are ready to be loaded, on mince pies, these are my guiltless pleasures, they really are bulging (Charles, 2015), and you get the idea.
In recent years, television cooks and celebrity chefs have been ‘sexing up’ food and cooking, with cooking programmes emerging as acceptable forms of ‘gastro-pornography’ (Meah, 2013). Nigella, specifically, has blurred the lines between bedroom and kitchen in domestic spaces by relying heavily on sexual innuendos to convey ‘food orgasm’ during her cooking programmes. Unfortunately, it seems that the phenomena of ‘sexing up’ food has emerged because it is food, rather than sex, which is no longer highly interesting on its own (Meah, 2013). The sensual engagement with food in its ‘natural’ form has been replaced by an industrialised food system of packet-opening, rehydrating, defrosting, microwaving, and coupled with conventional family cooking in advanced industrialised nations, these can all become rather dull and routine (Meah, 2013). But all is not lost! It seems that keeping it spicy and saucy by infusing food with sexiness could be the best way to revive the sexual imaginary of food and cooking.
LEANNE (WHISPERING UNDER HER BREATH AS SHE PENS DOWN A GROCERY LIST)
SALT AND PEPPER, COOKING OIL, 500G OF WAGYU STEAK… I BETTER GET GOING TO THE GROCERY STORE!
As Leanne puts on her coat, a fleeting thought passes through her mind, ‘Sweetie pie, do you think you can cook this marvellous wagyu steak? As you know, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!’ Liam, oh, Liam, how could you have said that? Once again, this generations-old stereotype indicates gender power imbalance, suggesting women’s desirability and sexual appeal are connected to their cooking prowess (Inness, 2006). Thankfully, women are now allowed to go against this stereotype, where even a noncook can still be attractive as a potential partner and find a mate without having to worry about cooking at all (duh!).
Feeling like an empowered woman, Leanne shrugs off her coat, takes a deep breath and speed-dials Liam.
LEANNE (SPEAKING WITH POISE AND CONFIDENCE)
LIAM, I’M GOING SHOPPING WITH MY GIRLFRIENDS. SETTLE YOUR OWN DINNER, BYE!
Chan, S. W. (2016). Gender differences in eating behaviour. International Journal of Accounting and Business Management, 4(2), 116-121.
Charles, M. (2015). Nigella Lawson Gets Saucy: Her Best Innuendos. [cited 2018 15 March]; Available from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/features/nigella-lawson-gets-saucy-her-best-innuendos/.
Ewen, S. (1988). All Consuming Images: The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Faivre, C. (2010). Sex, Food, and Valentine’s Day: Language of Food – Language of Love: A Linguistic Analysis of Valentine’s Day Menus in a Selection of Parisian Restaurants at Present, in: Food and Language: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking 2009, 105-113. Great Britain: Prospect Books.
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