Cheese is great—we all know that. But is there anything that, if added to cheese, could make people love it even more? The Fromages de Terroirs Association appears to have asked that question, and the answer they came up with is more than a little problematic: pinup girls.
The Association recently released their eleventh edition of the “From Girls” calendar, which features scantily clad models provocatively chilling with cheese. This year’s theme is contemporary art, so each page is done in a collage-style with the model as the focal point. We gave you the lowdown on these controversial calendars last year: French cheesemakers generally support the calendar, as it bumps up sales of the cheeses featured, but others call out the sexism.
Veronique Richez-Lerouge, the president of the Association, admits there are some issues with the calendar’s content.
“It is true that the association between woman and products isn’t original in itself,” she said in 2009. “But cheese and pin-ups is a bit better, because we are relatively limited in our clichés of regional products in France.” I’m not quite sure why they have to work within the realm of clichés at all.
While supporters claim the calendar fights the frumpy French farmwife stereotype, I have a hard time justifying them. I have nothing against women eating cheese and wearing whatever amount of clothing they desire, but these women are clearly dressed and positioned for the male gaze. Objectifying women to make a product sexier is not simply an overdone marketing tactic—it influences how men and women perceive and engage with one another and themselves. Intentional or not, it sends girls the message that their role in life is to please men, and it sends guys the message that women owe them this pleasure.
I know—it’s just a calendar that’s supposed to be fun and promote cheese, and that in itself is pretty harmless. But with countless sexist representations of gender in advertisements, movies, television, politics, and more, it all works together to reinforce unhealthy gender roles. Something as lovable and gender-neutral as cheese shouldn’t need to rely on and contribute to the sexual objectification of women to sell itself.
I’m sure the 2016 From Girls calendar will be just as successful as past editions, and at least that will mean good things for local cheesemakers. But as it becomes more commonplace to call out sexist advertising, I’m hoping we continue to see positive changes. Maybe next year the Fromages de Terroirs Association will find a more creative and inclusive way to get delicious cheese into the hands and hearts of cheese lovers everywhere.
Images from L’est Républican