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Milling through the ages: 19th and 20th century 

Women in advertising Part 3

(Credit: Jake Banyard, Garfield Weston Foundation intern at the Mills Archive)

The effective selling and marketing of bread and flour became not just a desirable goal, but a market in itself. This advertisement promotes a booklet presenting the results of a ‘Nationwide consumer survey’ containing ‘information of vital importance’ about opinion towards bread. What is interesting is the sample of people used by the study. The text refers explicitly to the ‘Thousands of women from coast to coast’ who were interviewed and participated in the research done by Fleischmann. Again, there is an assumption here that it is women who hold ‘The true consumer reaction towards Bread’ as it is women, and only women, whose opinions are asked. Perhaps then, it could even be argued that women, whilst distanced from the physical milling of flour and baking of bread, still have a marked impact on the process, as it is to them that the industry is trying to sell its products.

This advertisement approaches what seems to be a source of anxiety in the industry; that is the competition with the housewife that the baker faces, which affects the whole milling industry. Campaigns before the one seen above have already encouraged women not to bake themselves, but to buy from their baker. This advert continues the theme. The women in the cartoon, representing the idealised housewife, discuss how they have to bake their own chocolate cake because their ‘family just won’t eat “Bought” chocolate cake’. This is remedied by the supposedly improved chocolate cake, the ‘Covo home-type chocolate cake’, good enough for the family, and good enough for the housewife to buy it from her baker.

Once again women are presented as the judges of quality, it is they who decide what products to buy, and it is to them that flour and bread must appeal. However, this advert also contains a different approach to women. Whilst women are a potential market, they are also a potential competitor for the baker and commercialised flour milling. By baking in the home they deprive the baker of the sale, affecting the baker directly but also the flour milling industry which ‘can prosper only as the baker prospers’, as posited by General Mills inc.

What has emerged then is a multi-faceted representation of women in relation to the milling industry. Women in the Raymond’s paper bag advert and toast, consumer research and chocolate cake campaigns, are depicted in the position of arbiters of quality. Although the conceptions of women presented by these adverts confines them to domesticity and idealised images of the housewife, women are afforded some agency within the flour milling industry through their perceived control over which products are successful. They are thus seen as a potential source of information for the industry, as Fleischmann attempts to tap into, but equally as a potential threat to the industry as home bakers.

Up until this point, the adverts seen have been published during the inter-war period. However, our collection of the Northwestern Miller, and to some extent Milling, extends beyond this period and contain Second World War and post-war editions.

An example of this can be found in the image above. This is part of a wartime campaign to promote the eating of enriched bread. The depiction of women is different to what has been seen before, the young woman in the image is pictured stood in front of Uncle Sam, a humanised representation of the US government, doing her patriotic duty by eating bread. In this example, ideas of women’s intrinsic domestic qualities are less relevant, what is emphasised more is contribution to the war effort.

Women’s role in the war effort is once again referenced in this Larabee advertisement. The mythical image of the idealised housewife is ripped away by the opening line, ‘Three million women, gone into war time industry, now eagerly buy your bakers cakes and sweet goods.’ Indeed, the position of women in wartime USA, alongside the UK, had changed significantly as a result of the war. Women became a far greater part of industrial production and filled many a role in factories across both countries, as well as in flour mills.
A slightly more familiar representation of women can be found in this Atkinson Milling Co. advert.

Published in 1944, it is once again playing on the role of women as the judge of quality. Women, in their presumed role as the domestic carer and primary purchaser of domestic goods are identified as ‘in charge of your post war plan’, you being the baker who must buy Atkinson’s flour or face a loss of business. Whilst the basic assumptions of the advert remain similar to those that have come before, this example is not exactly alike. The tone and depiction of women in the advert is different. It is explicit in its placement of women as the arbiters of quality and as an essential market to whom to appeal. Women are explicitly granted a level of authority and control over the baker that is only implied in earlier adverts which use the same base idea, such as in the Covo home-type chocolate cake advert (Figure 9). Indeed, the woman in the image is unsmiling and is staring directly at the reader, unlike the idealised versions of the housewife portrayed in the chocolate cake advert. Furthermore, authoritative vocabulary, such as ‘in charge’ is used to emphasise the controlling position of women. Whilst it would be an over-reading, and ahistorical, to argue that this advert shows us that women directly and explicitly decided which bakeries and flour mills found success in the post-war period, it does show a marked change in how women were viewed in their relation to flour milling and within society in general. Women are given more of an active role in matters that may have been seen before as masculine affairs, such as the success of a business.

Indeed, women are increasingly pictured entering into the traditionally masculine domains. In this advert selling machinery parts to mills, a woman is pictured next to the product. This association of femininity to machinery represents a difference in attitude towards women. In previous years, women were largely confined to the domestic sphere as housewives and mothers. But these rigid ideas are challenged by women’s participation in the war time economies, blurring the line of the gendered division of society. The result is advertisements like this, ones that adapt to changing conceptions of women’s position in society and their place in the flour milling industry.

Conceptions of women and their relation to flour milling are thus complex and nuanced, affected by wider societal attitudes and historic events. These representations of women in advertising are also changing, they are not static and reflect changing opinions and gender roles in the UK and the US.

The adverts used in this article have all been taken from The Northwestern Miller, a US publication. To apply these conclusions directly to the UK without further thought would likely be a mistake. Indeed, Milling is sparse in its references to women and the adverts included are largely for machinery or milling related services. However, by considering and comparing the differences between the two magazines, perhaps some conclusions can be made applicable to the UK.

In The Northwestern Miller, advertising has a focus on selling the products of milling, such as flour and bread. In Milling, the emphasis is on the process of milling, selling things such as machine parts or repair services. Furthermore, Milling does contain depictions of gender, but these depictions are masculine in nature. These representations of masculinity associated with the process of milling is in line with the gendered division seen in the US. Machinery and industrial production reside in the professional, masculine domain and are therefore advertised alongside representations of men and masculinity.
In the absence of the representation of women in advertising in Milling it would be too great an assumption to apply the same conclusions made of US advertising to the UK with absolute certainty. However, a cautious recognition of the similarities of gender division in the magazines means that an understanding of advertising in the US and UK can contribute to a clearer picture of women’s position regarding the flour milling industry.

Women in advertising Part 3

Figure 8) The Northwestern Miller, 6th November 1935.

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