Consuming the family and the meal: representations of the family meal in women's magazines over 60 years

Teresa Davis, David Marshall, Margaret K Hogg, Tanja Schneider, Alan Robert Petersen

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Costa (2013) describes how Talcott Parsons normalised the idea of the ‘nuclear family’ as the ideal form that fitted post-Second World War American society. This particular ideal worked with that era’s post-war affluence, suburbanisation of homes and the growth of new consumer goods being manufactured. She suggests that while these idealised forms persist in popular culture, there has been much media writing around the demise of the (nuclear) family. She suggests that while the nuclear family may now seem an ephemeral ideal, the family in newer forms is being celebrated through practice and ritual. Her focus on time-space and emotion as anchors that ‘construct’ new sociological forms of family is an important one. In the data we present in this chapter, we attempt to identify these changes in the period of 1950s to 2010s as seen in magazine advertising in two magazines in Australia and the UK. While Costa’s work focuses on ‘family rituals’ in a particular way, we examine family food rituals as depicted in the magazine advertising of this period. In particular we examine the role of women in maintaining the ‘happiness’ of the family through their emotional labour and food work. This chapter focuses on the depiction of ‘emotion work’ (Chambers, 2001; DeVault, 1991) by women in ‘producing family’ through their care practices as seen in magazine advertising over the past 60 years. In particular it focuses on the ‘ordinary and continuous exchange of daily existence’ (Bourdieu, 1996: 22) that is, what is involved in preparing and consuming the familymeal. It draws on a dataset of advertisements from two key popular magazines from Australia and the UK, covering the period 1950-2010. DeVault (1991) dissects the complex organisation, negotiation and planning involved in the production of family mealtimes and reveals women’s efforts as creative and persistent in this context. Much of this effort centres on creative use of food to materialise the idyllic ‘happy’ nuclear family. Cook (1995; see also Feder, 2007) suggests that mothers are expected to consume responsibly to keep the family happy and healthy. In this chapter we focus on the ‘producer mother’ who consumes to produce the family. She is the emotion manager, who uses a variety of tools for cleaning, cooking, and creating in order to keep the family smiling. This production of happy families is not an easy process, but is often presented as effortless in popular media (Tincknell, 2005). This chapter examines the particular depiction of women’s constant efforts, attention and ‘emotion maintenance work’ through food, in order to materialise the emotions that reinforce the idea of family (see Molander, Chapter 11). We situate our work in the context of the family as a site of discourse and practice. Within this field, we study how the gendered practices of feeding and care as affective work are integral to producing the family (Marshall, Davis, Hogg, Petersen, & Schneider 2014; Marshall, Hogg, Davis, Schneider, & Petersen 2014; see also Cappellini, Marilli, & Parsons, Chapter 4). We build on the work of scholars such as Murcott (1982), DeVault (1991), Sheridan (2000), Martens and Scott (2005), Chambers (2001), and Jackson (2009), and we examine how the emotion work of every day food is used to materialise the emotional links within an ‘ideal/happy family’. Women’s magazines have long been considered an important cultural intermediary and implicated in actively producing particular feminine subjectivities. Anna Gough-Yates (2003: 5), taking a cultural perspective, suggests that she views ‘the processes of production and systems of organisation of the magazine and advertising industries as discursive. These industries carry meanings about how such sites should be thought about and responded to by others.’ Since Betty Friedan (1963) and her seminal critique of women’s magazines in The Feminine Mystique, these magazines have been seen as spaces where femininity is produced and where women are called upon to consume ideal images of body, family, sexuality and food. The advertising within these magazines is not merely a fantasy world separated from the reality of everyday life. Schroeder and Borgerson explain: ‘Advertising images are a central part of the experienced visual world. Reality and advertising do not constitute two separate spheres acting upon one another; advertising and the mass media contribute to the visual landscape that constructs reality’ (1998: 161). Thus we focus on advertising images as a rich source of discourses about family and its forms.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Practice of the Meal
Subtitle of host publicationFood, Families and the Market Place
EditorsBenedetta Cappellini, David Marshall, Elizabeth Parsons
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9781317595649
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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