Woman, Make Me a Sammich

Last weekend, I was out with some friends when I was approached by a guy in his late twenties. We started chatting, and came to a point in the conversation when I felt it appropriate to drop the ‘F bomb.’

“I’m a feminist,” I said. After a brief silence, he replied, “Okay, that’s cool, I guess. As long as you would still make me a sandwich when I told you to.” Maybe he meant it as a joke, but the fact that I couldn’t tell was slightly off-putting, and after talking to him for a few more seconds, I decided I didn’t want to stick around long enough to find out, and made a quick escape.

This interaction got me thinking. When did making a sandwich become so fraught with meaning, so representative of prescriptive gender roles? I’ve made lots of sandwiches for guys  — from brothers to boyfriends — but always felt doing so was a sign of love or affection, not subservience. What is it that makes the act symbolically degrading? I decided to investigate, and turned up some vintage ads that look as though they may have played a part in shaping — or, at the very least, reinforcing —  a simple sandwich’s larger social significance.

The above Wonderbread ad (circa 1968) is particularly striking, because it presents sandwich-making (with Wonderbread, of course) as a form of empowerment. This women’s lib-era ad wants us to believe that this young woman is the one in charge when it states, “Wonder’s the neatest way to trap a boy since…well, since apples. Try tempting him with his favorite Wonder sandwich. He’ll bite.” At the same time it alludes to the “fallen” biblical figure, Eve, this ad depicts the woman with her mouth covered, and could be interpreted as an act of silencing.

The ad for Underwood Deviled Ham makes a similar appeal, promising that “devilicious whole ham flavor is the surest way to your man’s heart.”

The adjacent Heinz ad is not for sandwich making supplies, per se, but since soup often goes with a sandwich, and because this ad uses tactics similar to those in the others, I decided to include it here. It reads, “most husbands, nowadays, have stopped beating their wives, but what can be more agonizing to a sensitive soul is a man’s boredom at meals.” Indeed. What could be worse?

What do you think, ModLovers? When is making a sandwich for someone else a healthy way to express love and affection? When does doing so become indicative of unbalanced power dynamics? Can it be both at the same time?

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53 Responses to Woman, Make Me a Sammich

  1. Elli 05/25/2010 at 6:24 pm #

    Funny, we talked about this in my Intro to Women’s Studies class on a discussion day! Most people agreed that it’s fine to make a guy a sandwiche, the problem is when he doesn’t think to do the same for you sometimes! Women tend to be socialized to take care of feeding people, especially when say, your boyfriend is running late to work and needs lunch. But would he think to do the same thing for ou?

  2. Brittany 05/25/2010 at 6:34 pm #

    I think it depends on the person I’d be making the sandwich for. My father and brother might ask me to make them a sandwich and I know if I make it for them they will be thankful and see it as a expression of love I have for them.
    But If someone ordered me to make them a sandwich I will not hesitate to say no family or not.
    As far as the rest of society I think it does come down to manners especially when asking or ordering someone to make you a sandwich. Then there is these advertisements insinuating that if you don’t make your man a sandwich he will be bored with your efforts? Gee can’t say I feel the love.
    Also Right on about walking away from that guy my bets are that he wasn’t joking.

  3. Modlover 05/25/2010 at 6:58 pm #

    This seems a bit feminist for a retailers blog. Especially since these ads were made in the 60′s, 70′s maybe even the 50′s when the culture was considerably different. Most women did not look at these ads this way, nor was it considered taboo to talk about. You don’t see these ads today because society has progressed as such but there have been several extreme feministic articles written lately that I feel are a bit out of merit for the decades they are referring to.

    • Ocean 11/28/2011 at 1:53 pm #

      In my opinion, it is a smart woman who looks at these ads, and sees them for the propaganda that they are. Even today, there are still ads like this, and not surprisingly it’s the same companies as in the 50s and 60s. Watch a Total commercial. It’s subtle psychology. And of course they didn’t view these ads the way we do now…..We went through a feminist movement since then.

    • Moddy 12/17/2011 at 11:53 am #

      I agree completely. It’s all rather off-putting, frankly.

  4. Alison Rowley 05/25/2010 at 7:30 pm #

    My husband makes himself sandwiches. He’ll ask me first usually but if I say he should go make his own because i may be busy with something else at that moment, then he doesn’t make a big deal about it. He makes dinner sometimes, too. And he’s a good cook!

  5. Jayme 05/25/2010 at 8:03 pm #

    This is absolutely fascinating! And if we’re going to understand how the sandwich has become this symbol of servitude and gendered power imbalances, we need to look at its place in the cultural consciousness over time, which is what this post does. Keep the “extreme” feminist posts coming!

  6. shmonka 05/25/2010 at 9:09 pm #

    “…when i told you to” is a sign of an unbalanced power dynamic in a relationship, regardless of gender roles. sandwich making is a definite sign of affection when made following a polite request… or love when made unrequested.

  7. Mel O. Dee 05/25/2010 at 10:07 pm #

    My ‘sensitive soul’ finds it amusing to bark equally gender-biased commands back to such small minded men… I feel you should too- just for kicks!
    Try these: “Take out the trash!”, “Go build something!” or a personal favorite, “Fix my car!”.
    Now, keep in mind: many women, including myself, can do all of these things on their own… but then again, couldn’t he make himself a ‘sammich’ on his own? Some men are kinda slow to the news of women’s liberties and rights… we’ll need to hold their hands while crossing that street a little bit longer. I promise it’ll be worth it. :)

  8. Meg 05/25/2010 at 10:09 pm #

    Anybody can interpret anything to be as offensive as they’d like it to be. If you wish to be offended at ages old advertisements and old-age minded men, feel free. But I will continue to be a strong woman without extreme feminist views.

  9. Jacob 05/25/2010 at 10:45 pm #

    I “wish” to be offended by the assumption that we choose to be offended. Heck, we can choose to do anything! Because feminism has done its job and can go away now, right?* We’re free to choose whatever we want, which usually ends up being consumer products marketed using anti-feminist (sorry, POST-feminist; we’re so above all that now*) messages to reinforce the economic systems that keep misogyny thriving.
    *SARCASM.
    Also, the ads themselves may be old (we are looking at the HISTORY and ORIGINS of this meme, remember?), but the attitudes espoused within them are still going strong. I dare you to watch a Swiffer, Bud Light, Axe, GoDaddy, Wal-Mart, Snickers, Dentyne, Schick, DeBeers, or pretty much any steakhouse or alcohol commercial and continue pretending these are attitudes solely expressed in ages-old ads by old-age-minded men.

  10. Elissa of Spandexpony 05/25/2010 at 11:18 pm #

    A sure fire way to get ANY guy to stop demanding you make a sandwich is to season your spam and wonderbread with some ground up lightbulbs. Sayinz all.
    But the bottom line is, making someone food is an act of love, it is not your job (unless they are your children) and if someone starts acting like it’s your job to provide them with the affection that making a sandwich implies, then baby, I got news for you! I love you by choice, not by job description.

  11. jill 05/25/2010 at 11:35 pm #

    You are having serious comment issues, wordpress!

  12. Kristina 05/26/2010 at 1:10 am #

    My boyfriend makes a great sandwich. And we are both feminists!

  13. Alison Rowley 05/26/2010 at 2:18 am #

    Kristina, is your boyfriend male or female? I am not being disrespectful, nosy, rude or anything like that. I just want to know… Is there actually a GUY out there that is feminist, or am I to give up hope!!? Please don’t take it wrong, and if it’s too personal, I apologize–I was just wondering….

  14. Brianna 05/26/2010 at 2:51 am #

    Dropping the “f-bomb” can be hard.I’m personally a feminist, but I have no problems buying a beer or making a sandwich for a boy, it’s definitely a sign of affection so long as the token of appreciation is returned. I’ll do any “domestic” task so long as he’s willing to do the same.

  15. Jessica 05/26/2010 at 3:09 am #

    I don’t understand why he or she who wants a sandwich doesn’t go and make one. It’s ok to make a sandwich if you are already doing one for yourself. But really, your boyfriend sits in front of the computer/tv and asks you to make a sandwich?
    Maybe there are cultural differences between Sweden, where I live and the US? Very interesting discussion!

  16. Emily 05/26/2010 at 6:17 am #

    Honestly I think making a sandwhich for someone and it being a healthy way to show love is if you make it without them asking. And not that IM bragging or anuthing but I mean a wicked awsome steak sandwich. :p
    Its funny the advert that mentions building a man trap, my father is always on about how he fell into a ‘mantrap’ all lies of course, hes a kidder. though hes not that old fashioned, very young at heart I jsut wonder where he got it from originally. Great post .
    p.s! I had some issues with the comment box, it wouldnt scroll and I am currently writing on jsut a gray space hoping that all my words come out.

    Emily

  17. Michelle 05/26/2010 at 7:37 am #

    hahahahahahahaha, that first add is hilarious, in my opinion! And I know several guys who would say the same thing about the making-me-a-sandwich-when-i-want-it, but for them its a joke. And I have to say, maybe that guy was trying to be funny, he just didn’t say it with the right tone of voice. Or maybe he was just saying that just to irritate you! Either way, I love how you researched these ads…. :)

  18. vicki 05/26/2010 at 8:42 am #

    ive never thought about making a sandwich for a man in so much detail before..i think there is nothing wrong with making a sandwich for someone anyone..as long as it does not become expected. my friends husband gets in a huff if his dinner is not ready for him every night!? he is 27!! how can our generation be so old fashioned, but ive realised that this is hwat he has come to expect because when they were first married she alwasy cooked and now its what he use too.. in a way we are to blame for their perspective.. in some ways its their laziness!!

  19. Katie 05/26/2010 at 9:32 am #

    Oh, Meg. Call yourself what you want, but “feminism” isn’t a dirty word! If you choose to reject gender stereotypes and inequality… A “strong woman” you are! And maybe a feminist too?

    Jacob, you’re awesome. I’m right there with you!

    I love these posts! My favorite series on the blog. :) I don’t find anything wrong with the fact that this is a “retailers blog” – why can’t you be a retailer and still talk about feminism? As far as I’m concerned, I am a feminist, AND I like to dress nice and look cute. No, not for men, but because it makes me feel good. I don’t see anything wrong with that!

  20. Cate 05/26/2010 at 9:46 am #

    I’m in college and all the time my guy friends joke and say “You’re a woman! Make me a sandwich!” I know they are joking, but it seems really off-putting. There is even a Facebook group that is about women making sandwiches for men and even a “National Women Make Men Sandwiches Day”. I’m not an ultra feminist (due in part by the fact that I live in conservative Texas and acts of feminism are looked down upon). But it seems that things like this are demonstrating a backwards trend for our gender. I hope I’m proven wrong in the future…

  21. Amanda 05/26/2010 at 10:41 am #

    How timely this article is! I just read a news article this morning about a man that burned down their house because his wife didn’t have dinner ready when he got home.

    And “ModLover:” You don’t seem very “loving” of Modcloth; the point of this post (as explained) was to examine the ORIGINS of the stigma behind the demand of a man to a woman for a sandwich. We know these ads are out-of-date and that’s the point: we are all discussing why such old fashioned gender biases are still rampant in today’s society that is supposed to be so progressive and advanced. And frankly, the fact that this “retailer” is so different is precesly why I keep coming back again and again. Not to mention, right now ModCloth is showing a trend of 1960s clothes and wouldn’t you know it, this ad is about the culture of the sixties- clever, clever and completely appropriate. No one makes clothes – or is anything even like – Modcloth ANYWHERE. Rock on!

  22. Denny 05/26/2010 at 12:35 pm #

    During college I lived with guys and worked mainly with guys on school projects and at my job. None of them ever mentioned the sandwich bit to me. Though, if they had, I would’ve told them that they have two hands and can make their own sandwich! It’s annoying to me that this kind of thing is becoming more popular by hiding in the guise of ironic humor. They don’t really mean it, putting women in their place. Lighten up feminists and maybe if you increase your sandwich making skills you’ll catch a man!

  23. Amanda 05/26/2010 at 1:16 pm #

    Unfortunately, Denny, I’ve come across more than one situation where they DO mean it (simply refer to the news story I mentioned at the beginning of my first comment). And the sad fact is if you were correct and it was no longer an issue, then people wouldn’t still be talking about it again and again…

    In fact, even though you most likely meant it “ironically,” your last sentence is a perfect example of the issue at hand. There are plenty of men out there today who look for cooking skills in potential mates and if they are not good cooks, it’s assumed that something is wrong with hem. Gender bias is still loudly prominent in today’s society- from both sides (not just attacking men here, out of turn).

    • Moddy 12/17/2011 at 12:00 pm #

      Whoa – is it supposed to be a bad thing for a guy to look for the traits he wants in a mate, when searching for a mate? If you want to marry someone who will cook for you and do it well, you look to date a good cook. How on earth could that be any kind of bad thing? Is it just because he’s a guy? I’m trying to be openminded, but I can’t see how you meant this in any way other than an extremely sexist way.

  24. Amanda 05/26/2010 at 1:18 pm #

    ALSO, if this were in fact a dead topic, then why has this blog gotten more comments than many other ModCloth posts??? There is a lively discussion going here, with several POVs on both sides of the issue.

  25. Alison Rowley 05/26/2010 at 1:39 pm #

    Well! We should all just become GI Janes’!!!!!! NOT! I hate stereotypes, God knows I hate them more than anything! i believe in the impossible–for women. I love being a woman, I just don’t want to be treated like a doormat because I am one. Girls, if it become expected of your man, brother, father, uncle, whoever is in your life thats male…if it becomes expected of you to make them sandwiches and other things, when they are perfectly capable of getting their butts up and doing it themselves, then you need to stop altogether. Let them tend to their needs for awhile. And then it won’t become custom, expected, over looked. I love serving people, making sandwiches, doing laundry for them…whatever the case may be. But if anyone ever demanded my serves I would probably punch them in the jugular. :) lol That’s just rude altogether, and disrespectful and shows amateurism and an ungrateful attitude.

  26. Courtney 05/26/2010 at 2:44 pm #

    It’s one thing coming from a guy, but I’ve found women these days are totally freaked out by FEMINISM, too. It’s heinous, especially given what feminism has done for everyone. I recently wrote about that, too. It’s infuriating and scary! Then again, 50% of Americans reject the notion of evolution… http://adventuresinfunemploymen.blogspot.com/2010/05/whos-afraid-of-virginia-woolf.html

  27. Erin 05/26/2010 at 5:16 pm #

    I don’t think it’s about the sandwich. The guy said he would TELL YOU to make him a sandwich – that’s the problem. He could have said any kind of food, he could have said “dinner.” The other problem I see here is that you judged him for judging you.

  28. V 05/26/2010 at 5:23 pm #

    Proud to say my boyfriend of 7 years is a feminist!

  29. Liesje 05/26/2010 at 8:50 pm #

    My ‘guy’ (used only because I dislike terms like boyfriend, etc. – he is, in fact male) more often than not, kicks me out of the kitchen. I ask to help, he tells me I can help by keeping him updated on the show we’re watching, game score, etc. I don’t call myself a feminist. I just expect to be treated with respect and am sure to reciprocate. I think there is a big difference in wording – the man you spoke with wanted to ‘tell you’ to make him a sandwich. No one ‘tells’ me to do anything except for my boss and, occasionally, my parents. Now if he ‘asked you’ for a sandwich with the understanding that you might turn him down politely because you’re busy, etc., that’s a different story. Plus, no modern woman wants to be any man’s ‘mother’.

  30. Sydney 05/27/2010 at 11:47 am #

    Lol, my fiance and I just made some amazing sandwiches yesterday–and we made them together.

  31. KG 05/27/2010 at 3:20 pm #

    hmmm…. possibly a little dated topic. For me, the sandwich (in this context– I don’t think about this every time somebody mentions one) is more a symbol of the infantile man than the subjugated woman. I am guilty of saying more than once –”She does everything for him. He can’t even make himself a sandwich!”– most of the time referring to men of my dad or grandfather’s generation. It works in this context because a sandwich is so easy to make. Sandwiches rarely even involves cooking; you pick the ingredients and stack them together. Making a man a sandwich is no big deal. I wouldn’t think twice about it. The sandwich becomes more serious, I think, if you meet a guy who has never made himself one.

  32. Katie 05/28/2010 at 1:45 pm #

    I generally offer to make one if I’m having one… hey, maybe if I lived in the ’60s it would explain why I’m single?!

  33. Sequoia 05/28/2010 at 5:48 pm #

    My make my husband sandwiches, quite often in fact, and it’s not really a huge deal. He’s not really one to make me a sandwich, though he would were I to ask it of him on a good day. He returns more in the way of running out to the store to buy me something, or coming home with a coffee for me, even though I didn’t ask for one. It’s not exact reciprocation, but it’s perfect for us.

  34. hannah 05/29/2010 at 12:12 pm #

    Sadly this article is very relevant, even today. It seems at least twice a week, my BROTHER (19yrs) orders a sandwich (or other basic foods, like Mac-n-cheese, hot pocket ect.) from ME (his sixteen year old sister). It infuriates me!!! But i guess i should be more upset with my mother, who ENCOURAGES it!!! Even though she has climbed the corporate ladder far above most men, my mother, being raised in the Midwest United States, still willingly submits to demeaning demands of males for food and drink. These requests really bug me, especially when I hear them coming from her boy-friend!!! Yes, he has!!! Just like my brother, my mom encourages it and laughingly says “Hannah, you could use some better kitchen skills anyways, go make Scott that bagel.” Ugh!!! It’s so FRUSTRATING!!

    • Allyce 11/19/2010 at 3:43 am #

      Oh my gosh Hannah, that would make me so mad!! I feel so angry just reading about it. The fact that your family encourages it just makes me want to break something. I don’t know what it’s like in your house (like if it’s okay to speak your mind) but if I were you I would say no freaking way!!!! DO NOT STAND FOR THIS. It’s a free country. Let them catch up with the times!!! Stay strong sweetie!!

  35. bookwench 05/29/2010 at 1:12 pm #

    I think the sandwich as a metaphor for power struggles between the genders is both absurd and perfect.

    If a woman feels she’s trapping a man, seducing him, she has power.

    If a man feels he’s exercising authority by requiring a meal from his woman, hehas power too.

    Either can be true, depending on the internal emotional state of both parties. Power fluctuates wildly between couples in a relationship based on their bearing and confidence.

  36. Catherine 05/29/2010 at 10:35 pm #

    I must say, the “make men sandwiches” jokes irritate me, but sometimes they’re taken overboard… such as the ones involving domestic abuse as a result of leaving the kitchen. Really? That doesn’t make you more of a man or anything – it just makes you seem like an insensitive asshole.

  37. Charon 05/30/2010 at 8:45 pm #

    Look for the one who will make a veggie sandwich and slice it neatly in two and offer you half when you look hungry. Keep up the fine writing.

  38. Lissa 06/02/2010 at 10:25 am #

    Not quite sure why it’s even necessary to label yourself as feminist? I find it funny to think that by making or doing something for someone else is derogatory. If a girl friend was over would you offer to make her lunch but not a male friend?
    I think being a feminist is actually embracing being a woman, and not dressing or acting like a man!

    • Moddy 12/17/2011 at 12:03 pm #

      I think I love you :)

  39. drbillmackin 06/11/2010 at 9:19 pm #

    I really interested in your post. Actually I posted a similar related article in my blog regarding this issue. What is your opinion about it?
    http://www.healthgrounds.net

    Bill

  40. jennifer 06/18/2010 at 10:50 am #

    i thought everyone on this site wanted to be “retro”… well, making a sandwich for your man IS retro!

  41. Carolina 08/01/2010 at 11:41 am #

    We look at these ads from 20 – 30 years ago and laugh because they are so obvious! Advertisers are doing the same thing today – playing on people’s fears of being smelly, or different, or ugly, or fat, or not being able to find a man – just in a slicker more sublte format – and we are all falling for it!

    These posts have made me more critical of today’s advertising -Imagine how people will view todays advertisements in the future – while giving perspective on how far we have come.

    • Ocean 11/28/2011 at 2:48 pm #

      Very well said, mdear!!

  42. Jimbob 08/31/2010 at 3:32 pm #

    This is all well and good, but this still isn’t going to get me my sandwich. Hop to it!

  43. Jennifer 10/08/2010 at 10:21 am #

    Personally, I despise feminism. I mean. It’s not like I’m all “yay let’s let men walk all over women.” No that’s not how it is. But… Men always have, and always will play a dominant role is society.

    On the contrary, I don’t understand why the making of a sandwich symbolizes male dominance. i too have always done it out of affection or just plain politeness. I guess it’s just because of the stereotype that women “belong in the kitchen.”

    • Allyce 11/19/2010 at 3:47 am #

      We aren’t saying it’s bad to make someone a sandwich, we are saying that when it is demanded that women will do it it when we have a problem. Feminism isn’t about not having control over men, it’s about having the choice to choose for yourself!

  44. Julia 10/24/2010 at 10:58 pm #

    I’m seventeen, and not a week passes that a guy friend of mine says something along the lines of “Make me a sandwich, woman!” Now, I know that they’re kidding, but many times I find myself wondering if they really are just joking, or if the funny part, to them, is that they shouldn’t have to tell me to get in the kitchen. I think this article is completely relevant today; it’s rare that the boys at school don’t tense up when they hear the word “feminism”. It’s ridiculous, disturbing, and incredibly disappointing, especially to see that many women are perfectly comfortable with the stereotype.

  45. michelle 12/29/2010 at 7:48 pm #

    feminists suck

  46. Karla 06/16/2011 at 10:28 am #

    will you make me a sandwich?

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