When pop culture marketing company Funko recently launched the novelty “Golden Girls” cereal for Target, my first reaction was a shrug.
By some odd default I never watched the old sitcom, and I generally don’t care for nutri-gimmicks. But I understand how some people might get a kick out of buying a box or two. I have been guilty of nabbing Star Wars-cloaked food products for my sons when they were little.
But my second reaction to the limited “Golden Girls” cereal debut took less than five seconds. I stared at the box (online, because it wasn’t at my nearest Target). It featured cartoon images of the four comedic talents, including America’s beloved Betty White. Something snapped, crackled and popped in my head. I realized I was looking at a rare configuration of ink on cardboard:
There were actual female characters on a cereal box.
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A lifetime of consuming and purchasing breakfast cereals flashed before my eyes. Since childhood, most, if not all, of the oatsy-ricey-wheaty pitchmen I’ve known have been dudes.
Tony the Tiger, the Lucky Charms Leprechaun, the Rice Krispies bros, Count Chocula, Toucan Sam. I could go on, because even the Raisin Bran sun gives me guy vibes. The bias has been clear. It appears only male characters can sell cereal.
But wait, you say, what about Fruity Pebbles? Isn’t Pebbles Fred and Wilma’s sweet daughter? I checked a bowling-alley-length cereal aisle and guess who’s manspreading on the Pebbles box: Mr. Flintstone and his pal Mr. Rubble.
It would take an army to invade the marketing battlegrounds if we really wanted to find out what became of Pebbles, and all the brief, token appearances of female breakfast cereal mascots. Paging Cap’n Crunch, you finally have a real mission.
Props to the healthier stores and organic brands, which are normally gender neutral in their presentations. Here’s to looking at you, Peanut Butter Panda Puffs.
Is this complaint about conventional cereal brand icons trivial? Perhaps, but likely no. Sugary breakfast pitchmen are indeed hawking mostly junk, but at least these mechanically extruded squares and O’s are vitamin sprinkled and whimsical. Part of our pop culture, like it or not.
Doesn’t this signal to all young girls that only male mascots should dominate the most fun and colorful grocery store aisle? That their gender can’t symbolically participate in selling products for a multibillion dollar industry?
Does this mean marketers think all boys sitting down to breakfast would refuse to consume a brand of oats sold by Cap’n Crunch’s boss, a woman named Major Munch? I just made that up, but I would buy that brand. There’s some subliminal stuff going on here, some weird stuff, and I’m sure sociologists would have a field day researching the issue.
Beyond breakfast, beyond boxes plastered with cartoonish dudes, I know my whole life I’ve been tired of looking at sweeping shots of the Senate and Congress and seeing mostly suits and ties. Though women made inroads in the 2018 midterms, mostly in the House of Representatives, a clear-eyed look at the numbers can make a gal cry in her bowl of manly Frankenberries. In 2019 only about 23 percent of the House members will be women. Same for the Senate.
It would be “Golden” to see more gender balance everywhere, from the silliness of the cereal aisle to both sides of that other more important one.
Reach Denise Snodell at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DeniseSnodell