America: Once we start to sexualize our M&Ms, we know something’s wrong.

Most everyone loves M&Ms. They’re delicious, colorful, melt-in-your-mouth goodness… Right? That was my opinion, until I realized just how sexist the characterization of America’s favorite candy really is.

Sexism comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be as prominent as the wage gap or as subtle as the words “manmade” or “mankind.” It’s important to recognize that subtle sexism is no less dangerous than sexism that is unmistakable. Sometimes, we have to focus on the tiny manifestations of sexism in order to understand how it becomes a larger, more systematic problem.

This week’s culprit? M&Ms.

Shocking, I know. How can that familiar, delicious morsel of chocolate encased in a shiny candy shell be harmful to gender equality? I had this epiphany last week as I toured M&M World in New York City. Suddenly confronted with an (arguably unhealthy) abundance of M&M merch, I realized that the M&M characters are — gasp! — mostly men. 1 of the 5 original M&M characters is a woman. That’s only 20%.

For the record, this is only slightly better than women’s representation in Congress — 17% in the Senate, 16.8% in the House. My sister argued that the brown M&M is, in fact, a woman. However, I encourage you to do a Google Image search for “M&M Characters.” You’ll notice that the entire first page of hits has no mention of the Brown M&M — she is not granted the celebrity status of the Red, Yellow, Orange, Green, and Blue M&Ms.

Suddenly, the Green M&M can’t have a character. She’s not allowed to be the Alpha Red, Doofy Yellow, Confused Orange, or Suave Blue. Why? Because she’s the token woman, and therefore her only characteristics are those which represent her “womanhood.” Her lips are constantly pursed in a “kissing” gesture. She poses seductively, with high-heeled boots, luscious lips, and long, accentuated eyelashes. She is a symbol of sex appeal, plain and simple. Most of the merchandise at M&M World that featured the Green M&M also had the inscriptions “diva” or “beauty queen” upon them.

Sorry, America, but once we start to sexualize our candy, we know something’s wrong.

My sister thought my anger was trivial. “It’s just M&Ms!” she said to me. But is it just M&Ms?

The answer to that is an overwhelming NO. It’s not just candy. The underrepresentation of women is an enormous problem in every single aspect of our lives. Congress. Business. Arts. Media. You name it! And when women are represented, they’re stereotypically beautiful and sexualized beyond belief. Their sole purpose is to serve their male counterparts.

Think about it: There have been hundreds of commercials which feature only Red and Yellow M&M. The plots of these commercials are clever, funny, and rarely sexual. But commercials with Green or Brown M&M are of an entirely sexual nature, and always involve the “male” M&Ms as recipients of this sexuality. The “Sexy and I Know It” commercial released at the 2012 Superbowl is a perfect example of this dichotomy.


So, is it just M&Ms?

The sexualization of female characters is not an isolated incident. It’s not just M&Ms. It’s not just Barbie or just that one song or one movie. This is a systemic problem, and in order to fix it, we have to work our way up from the bottom. We can start with M&Ms by raising awareness and opening the eyes of our peers and children to this one example of the sexualization of womanhood. Next time, we can focus on women in music. From there, women in film. Eventually, women in Congress. In order to change our culture, we have to change every aspect that is harmful to women, regardless of how “trivial” that aspect may seem.


10 thoughts on “America: Once we start to sexualize our M&Ms, we know something’s wrong.

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  1. I really enjoyed this article, and you’re right – we have to be targeting all sexism in order to eradicate it. Obviously no one’s suggesting that M&Ms advertisements are as important as violence against women (for example), but it is an example of how pervasive sexism is in Western society/globally. They normalise how women are perceived (in this instance, as a token and a sexualised one at that) and if we have any hope of ridding the world of oppression, we can’t leave any examples of it just lying about!

  2. I really liked in the beginning where you pointed out about sexism: “It can be as prominent as the wage gap or as subtle as the words ‘manmade’ or ‘mankind.'” Quite true. And while I think it’s important to combat every aspect of sexism, large and small, I don’t think it has to be in any particular order. I think we can combat all this stuff simultaneously. We can write letters to congress while blogging about the sexualization of the green m&m. 🙂 Great blog. Thanks for sharing! 😀

  3. Intensely relieved that someone else found the green M and M just as insulting and downright creepy as I did! A friend of a friend works at the M&M World store in London, UK. He told us that store workers (male or female) who wear the Green M suit have to face ‘customers’ constantly smacking their butt and making derogatory comments.

  4. Careful, now. I’m not sure that denouncing heels and makeup as demeaning is an effective way to argue against sexism. It seems to me to reinforce the idea that femininity is inferior.

    Take another look at the commercial, this time without assuming that her heels means she exists for the pleasure of the male gaze. The bespectacled M&M woman is explaining, with a tone of disdain, that she brushed off the advances of “the prime minister,” establishing herself as a professional. She resists being reduced to sexual object, and when the green M&M tries to sexualize her, she resists that, too: “Only a fool would actually think I’d show up naked.” She’s wearing heels, she’s got the eyelashes, she’s confident, and she’s self-assured. She’s not accepting male attention as validation; she doesn’t need it.

    I think you’re absolutely right to explore the way the M&M characters represent women, but I think you’re neglecting some pretty significant nuances, here.

  5. @Sam

    So it’s positive that a female character is shown being sexually harrassed, and simply looking bored by it?

    Frankly, if an actual human did that you should call the police. But little cartoons like this are part of the insidious trickle effect – don’t complain, don’t “over-react”, hey can’t we laugh about this, culture. That’s the ‘nuance” I am getting.

    Yes, brown M&M as a character gets to start the commercial telling a story from her ‘professional’ life, she starts out poised and confident and coded as conventionally attractive. She ends up harassed by a human male and another M&M, and the whole thing hinges on the titillation factor of her ‘clothes’ being flesh coloured.

    Way to go with positive female imagery….

  6. I agree with bringing awareness to these characters.
    I was thinking about this today and wish there was some kind of letter or something we could sign and send.

    Yes, the green m&m has been “the female” for years. It’s 2012 and the creators are only smart enough now to make the exact opposite girl? How smart do you really have to be to think of different archetypes?
    I know there are only a few main colors but why is it so hard to think of several types of women? Like: the purple emo/adventure …anything type of girl. Or maybe make a painter character then a white m&m with specked colors (like for easter?)
    I don’t even care as long as it’s more than just two simple opposites.

  7. “Careful, now. I’m not sure that denouncing heels and makeup as demeaning is an effective way to argue against sexism. It seems to me to reinforce the idea that femininity is inferior.”

    Only if you buy the idea that make-up and heels are somehow a natural component of being female as opposed to yet another ridiculous beauty mandate that women are expected to labour under for their entire lives.

  8. On TV I keep seeing an M & M commercial with a Chocolate M & M lady and a very handsome man, but for the life of me I can’t think of his name. At the end of the commercial, she says to him, “God you’re Handsome”.

  9. I completely agree. It’s depressing that people aren’t really doing too much about it. The objectification/sexualization of women is so ingrained in our society that we don’t realize it when it happens. Or at least most people don’t. If kids were actually taught this in school, we’d have a much better society.

  10. Hello, Stacey or Hailey (blog creator/writer)

    I commented here once before, about not just having polarized female characters. Over the winter break I decided -why not see if others think the same? I created a petition on change.com and would like you and your friends to sign.
    Please email back, because the link doesn’t work right here. I promise I’m legit.

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