When Women Went Grocery Shopping In Search Of Adventure


These sales-happy customer relations images from a modern food merchandising catalog (Modern Merchandising, 1939) come at an interesting time in the history of eating — or lesser yet, the history of buying food.

The pamphlet addresses the growing idea of the supermarket, a notion still new in the minds of consumers —it seemed as large to the consumer familiar with the 1920’s concept of a market as it seems tiny to the megamarket people of the present. The illustrations—all quite small, margin-inhabiting affairs, space killers, no bigger than 1×2 inches—are there to help the grocer deal with women customers and better understand “them”.

I’ll address the interesting merchandising changes here in another post; right now I’d like to focus on the marginal drawings in the bottom corners of the text. They may be small and offhanded—generally they are less than two square inches—but the messages they delivered, marginalia or not, were very strong. Over and over again these bits demand the sub-class of women, emphasizing their trivial, ephemeral interests-bits of Nothing reinforcing large bits of Something.

The messages beneath the images, collectively: “women judge meat by appearance:; “there a little bit of the monkey in all of us…we like to see and handle”; “offend not eyes , nose nor ears”; “part of the selling job”; “women like to WATCH”; “her work is monotonous”; “she goes shopping in search of adventure”; “she’s not interested in bloody meat”. They present cascading reactions: they’re somewhat funny to my eyes, and then uncomfortable, and outrageous, and then simply sad that their solemn pronouncements on the status of women would be so acceptable, their as-yet unidentified sexism and bitter “racism”a non-sequitor.

This post originally appeared on Ptak Science Books. Republished with permission.

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