The delicious history of chocolate and women

The delicious history of chocolate and women

What does chocolate mean to you? Is it a guilty pleasure, an energy hit – or a perhaps a romantic gift?

The production and marketing of the sweet treat has been transformed over the last hundred years. Despite this, one stereotype has held strong: that chocolate is inherently feminine.

Marketing seduction

Advertising has long positioned chocolate as a cure-all for feminine romance and relationships. In 1960s Australian TV commercials, chocolate company Cadbury conveyed themes of desire, seduction and mending rocky relationships.

One such advertisement, titled ‘For All the Different Women You Are’ suggested women can transform into different selves with each different chocolate flavour.

Today, constructions of chocolate as hedonistic, sensual and a source of female craving are so common that they’ve become clichéd.

Advertising chocolate as hedonistic, sensual and a source of female craving has become clichéd.

‘Women’s work’

In the early 1900s Britain and Australia, the art of making chocolate was cast as ‘women’s work,’ says La Trobe historian Dr Emma Robertson who has a PhD in the chocolate industry.

Over half of the workers at Rowntree’s British chocolate company in that period were women who worked in gendered roles and occupied female-focused spaces within the factory.

You have stories from the men that worked there about being a little bit terrified to go into these rooms full of women, who were all quite noisy, talking and maybe teasing them. The way in which the work was organised created women’s spaces, really,” says Dr Robertson in a La Trobe podcast.

In 1920s Australia, women were brought from the UK to train new female staff at Tasmania’s Cadbury chocolate factory. Women were given jobs in hand-dipping and decorating chocolate, as well as making the gift boxes for chocolate’s presentation in-store.

Women in the wrapping room of Cadbury’s chocolate factory in Claremont, Tasmania, 1925. Image credit: Archives Office of Tasmania.

Protest chocolate

Despite chocolate’s feminised marketing, women working inside the factories weren’t allowed to eat chocolate there.

“There’s a story about a supervisor who confronted one woman and said, ‘Are you eating, Mrs So-and-So?’ And the woman said, ‘Yes, do you want one?’ and just presented him with this enormous tray full of chocolates.

Lillian, one of the oldest women that I spoke to, said it was a real eye-opener to see someone doing that, to stand up to authority in that way. It does give it extra meaning as a product,” says Dr Robertson.

So, when you bite into your next block of Cadbury Dairy Milk, give some thought to the ways in which women have shaped it. Chocolate has a rich history in Australia and Britain, and women are at its centre.

Dr Emma Robertson is a senior lecturer and historian at La Trobe University. Read more stories like this one.