Last week the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory offered a spot-on observation about something funky in the world of cereal. As the brainiac crew of scientists settled into breakfast, astrophysicist Raj (played by Kunal Nayyar) began to rattle off the names of cereal mascots like Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam and Snap, Crackle and Pop. He had made a startling discovery: All of the mascots are males.
Inspired by his rant, we headed over to the neighborhood market to do a little research of our own, and we couldn't find one girl cereal mascot on any box. Instead, just as Raj pointed out, the featured characters were Count Chocula, the Trix Rabbit, Cap'n Crunch, the Lucky Charms Leprechaun, Dig'em Frog, and Buzz the Honeynut Cheerios bee, to name but a few. (Ironically, Raj will have trouble telling an actual woman about his discovery, because, in an ongoing joke, he can talk to females only when he's drunk.)
We counted more than a dozen male cereal mascots. The few cartoon female images depicted were on General Mills Chex cereals, which get props for diversity, showing anonymous guys and gals of different races. Of course, non-cartoon female athletes also appear from time-to-time on Wheaties (although not nearly as often as male athletes), and Kashi currently has a photo of two women on one of its cereal boxes. But these images don't qualify as mascots.
It seems that market researchers concluded somewhere along the way that feminine mascots don't sell cereal. (These apparently are the same folks who also decided that every ABC Bachelor must be white.)
The Big Bang cereal discussion fit nicely into an episode centered around miscommunication over unintended sexual harassment. The episode title, “The Egg Salad Equivalency,” springs from Caltech physicist Sheldon's (Jim Parsons) clueless and inappropriate attempt to get his assistant to abandon her crush on Leonard (Johnny Galecki). During his hilarious anti-flirting spiel, Sheldon lets loose this nugget he learned from his father: “A woman is like an egg salad sandwich on a warm Texas day…full of eggs and only appealing for a short time.” This lands him, and eventually the rest of the gang, in the human resources office, where things become even more complicated.
The episode got us wondering if every grocery store aisle is as much a guy's club as is cereal. Turns out, packaged food in general is represented by a lot of dudes, such as Charlie the Tuna, the Jolly Green Giant, the Pillsbury Dough Boy, Chester Cheetah, the Keebler Elves and the Vlasic Pickle Stork, who The New York Times reported, had a makeover in 2010.
But, unlike cereal, other foods do have some lady representatives, such as Mrs. Butterworth, Aunt Jemima, Miss Chiquita, and the Chicken of the Sea Mermaid, who turned 60 last year and still looks great, making us suspect she's had work done. (A sexist comment; no one ever says that about Cap'n Crunch.)
Only one animated girl character, Dora the Explorer, has a presence on a whole bunch of food products, including canned soup, pasta, popsicles, yogurt, processed fruit snacks and even frozen edamame. There actually once was a General Mills Dora the Explorer cereal, but it seems to have disappeared. The product is listed, however, on Amazon, with a disclaimer: “Sign up to be notified when this item becomes available.” Will Dora ever find her way back to a cereal box? Stay tuned.
The Big Bang Theory airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. (PST) on CBS.
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