The wonderful thing about seeing all social and political conventions as expressions of gender bias is that there are endless number of subjects for academic exploration. University of Tulsa’s Emily J.H. Contois, for example, has found toxic masculinity served by the platter in programs like the popular YouTube show Hot Ones. Contois suggests that the host of the show, Sean Evans, has a “white, heterosexual, cisgendered, everyman brand of masculinity.”
Contois’ latest research in Feminist Media Studies looks at the show and how these men eat hot wings “dressed with hot sauces of increasing intensity.” She adds that “My analysis of Hot Ones informs feminist media studies, as it reveals how this YouTube show creates, maintains, and manipulates inequitable gender hierarchies through the interrelated performances of gender, food consumption, and celebrity.”
My kids have made me watch the show and Benjamin has actually begun to make his own hot sauce. I grew up watching my Sicilian grandfather share his own hot peppers with other Sicilian men in an annual tasting. They would have tears flowing down their faces as they gave Italian expressions of admiration to the one with the most lethally hot peppers. It is certainly true that it was an all male exercise, but that does not mean that such preferences are the result of purely binary social constructs and male hegemony.
She notes that few women appear on the show which reaffirms dietary stereotypes in the “media representations of food, cooking, and dieting construct and negotiate masculinities in our current historical moment.” and Contois’s paper in Feminist Media Studies sees dark forces at work in the three-year-old web series produced by First We Feast:
In all that time, only eleven women had been solo guests on the show, a stark underrepresentation that piqued my academic interest. … My analysis of Hot Ones informs feminist media studies, as it reveals how this YouTube show creates, maintains, and manipulates inequitable gender hierarchies through the interrelated performances of gender, food consumption, and celebrity.
Contois explains how “real men” feed on such images and how these shows serve to reinforce gender binaries and “power hierarchies.” In this way, women are limited to feminized foods with “dainty, light, and sweet flavors.”
It often seems like these articles advance as many gender stereotypes as they purportedly identify. There seems a virtual cottage industry in finding new power hierarchies and gender binaries in society. I have previously criticized some of this work for its markedly jingoistic and conclusory analysis.
Contois previously taught at Brown University on gender elements in areas ranging from “macho” movies to dieting. This includes Toned Tummies and Bloated Bellies: Activia Yogurt and Gendered Digestion. CuiZine: The Journal of Canadian Food Cultures 5, no. 1 (2014) and “The Dudification of Dieting: Marketing Weight Loss Programs to Men in the Twenty-First Century,” Association for the Study of Food and Society Conference, Michigan State University, 2013. Her prior course work includes a class on “Global Macho: Race, Gender, and Action Movies,” Department of American Studies, Brown University (Teaching Assistant: fall 2014).