Curled up on the sofa after what can only be described as an epic Saturday night dinner, I switched on the TV and prepared to numb my mind with the latest talent show - Simon Cowell with his signature scowl, or Will.i.am repeating the word dope until it becomes marginally funny. Ultimately, I wanted TV that I could simply enjoy without offence - but instead, I was greeted by a 10 second advert that has made me angry enough to write 800 words (and believe me, I could go on).
The advert in question initially seemed like a harmless promotion for Co-op's latest steak dinner deal. Fine, I thought. I have no qualms with steak. However, what I do have qualms with is the supposition that men are 'allowed' fried foods like chips, whilst women must delicately munch away at leaves - presumably with a measuring tape wrapped around their thighs and weighing scales waiting in the wings to ensure that the damage is minimal. Okay, so this may seem like something of an exaggeration, but there's a reason Co-op chose to present their plates in this way, and it represents a much wider, damaging attitude than their 10-second clip can possibly convey.
Nutritional facts are facts. Men are allocated 500 calories a day more than women in their recommended daily allowances. But a simple meal of steak, chips, tomatoes and peas could easily fit within the 2000 calories that an average, healthy woman needs to consume to maintain her weight. The woman in Co-op's advert is headless, faceless, nameless - we have no idea whether she's overweight or not - but the implication is that because she's a woman she should be restricting herself regardless. Even without presenting a real image of a woman, the advert is effective - but my concern is the effect that it's having.
In a culture where a seven year old thinks she needs to go on a "diyet" and eat nothing but "yoget", "appals" and "kewee froots", where more than 1,500 under 15s are admitted to hospital with eating disorders every year, responsible advertisers simply cannot continue to produce promotions that display this gender biased attitude in such a blatant manner. Co-op are not alone - just think of common household brands that you probably eat every day. Women are targeted by health conscious brands like Special K and Activia - men are encouraged to eat Yorkies (not for girls) and Snickers bars (which, apparently, enable you to 'get some nuts'). To many, these adverts seem like harmless fun, but these messages affect you from childhood, and in my experience they never go away.
As women, adverts like this teach us to diet before we learn to spell, before we can even know enough simple maths to count calories. I remember reading the 'issues' books in my secondary school library and hoping that by learning enough about eating disorders, I could develop one. Several friends have since confessed to doing that same. We were eleven, and reading books we hoped would harm us were more important to us than books we could learn from ever good be. Even now, in my early twenties, the most beautiful women I know have secret food rules, certain guidelines that must be abided by. A close friend recently lost two stone, is well within her healthy weight range, and still restricts herself to 1,000 calories a day.
Don't get me wrong, I totally advocate healthy eating, but nutritious food is what everyone should be putting into their bodies, regardless of gender. Weight is just as much of a man's issues as a woman's - everyone deserves the right to live happily and healthily in a body that they treat in the best possible way. And supermarkets, as the providers of these nutritious bounties, should be doing everything they can to promote this balanced, unbiased attitude - not telling women that they're not entitled to the same food as men.
I had hoped that by 2013, in a world where the Everyday Sexism movement just celebrated its hugely successful first birthday and proud feminist Caitlin Moran has topped bestseller lists across the globe, that this type of negative stereotype would soon be dying a death, but this ad simply reinforces just how common and pervasive these divisive attitudes really are. Lets just hope the big bosses at Co-op have just been watching too much Mad Men, and don't really mean everything that their sexist advertisement conveys.
On that note, I'm going to cook dinner. And yes, I will be having chips.