This sunny, almost-warm Sunday morning, CBS put together a cheerful little slideshow featuring the most eccentric and, dare we say, demented breakfast cereal mascots. The slideshow featured retro iterations of Tony the Tiger, the homoerotic trio of rice-puffing elves, Snap, Crackle and Pop, Franken Berry, the Quaker Oatmeal dude Larry, King Vitamin, Toucan Sam, and Captain Crunch. Even Urkel and C-3P0, two of the universe's most annoying nerds, were included. Notably absent were any female breakfast cereal mascots. Is that because the slideshow compilers at CBS are sexist assholes? No, of course not — there simply aren't any female breakfast cereal mascots.
Maybe it's not the greatest of patriarchal injustices that cockeyed the toucans, skateboarding frogs, and vaguely pedophilic white rabbits hawking sugar-blasted cereal to children are all male. Then again, kids love sugary breakfast cereal, and if their first experience of every morning in their young, bleary-eyed lives is to cozy up to a bowl of glazed cornmeal with their good pal Tony, they're going to be conditioned to 1) not take nutritional advice from women, 2) expect tigers to not be bloodthirsty land mammals with a taste for child blood. Those are the lessons the cereal conglomerates of America have been teaching kids since merchandizing gave every pop culture icon a cereal, and every cereal an endearing mascot.
The Sneeze noticed the conspicuous exclusion of women from cereal boxes years ago, and searched vainly for some examples of lady cereal mascots (the best were Kellogg's Disney Princess Cereal and a box of Kashi Cinna-Raisin Crunch that featured two nearly post menopausal women sharing a smile after their morning bowel movement). Even Fruity Pebbles, a cereal that actually includes the name of a Flintstones character, decided not to put Pebbles on its box.
The cereal aisle is one big, festering example of a seemingly innocuous strain of gender inequality, where kids are pandered to by male cartoon characters whose unblinking eyes follow them through the grocery store like the eyes of creepy portraits in a haunted house. It's an easy boy's club to ignore because it seems so goofy and insignificant. So what if only male mascots hawk shitty cereal to kids? Who cares about shitty cereal? More importantly, who cares about kids?
Breakfast cereal mascots carry a kind of cultural authority, just the same as athletes, pop singers, or Saturday morning cartoon characters. They tell kids what to eat, embedding themselves so deeply in a child's consciousness that "breakfast" becomes synonymous with Captain Crunch mouth abrasions. The trouble with a boys' club of cereal pitchmen is that they accustom kids to only ever seeing men in positions of authority. Maybe that authority doesn't carry a lot of weight (after all, everyone just ignores the creepy Trix rabbit), but it contributes to creating an adult world where men are seen as the only true authority figures.
Think about that the next time you see some unsupervised child standing on his tippy-toes to reach a box of Count Chocula. Then approach the child and ask in a friendly voice, "Need help, little guy?" Invariably the child will nod shyly, which is your cue to knock the entire shelf of Count Chocula to the floor and walk away. Don't feel bad — you're doing your part, however small, to erode the patriarchy's power. It's just like Pavlov's dogs, only with people.