“Seattle Sweeties” Campaign Predictably Compares Women to Food, Detracts from Cause

I desperately wanted to like “Seattle Sweeties,” Cupcake Royale’s line of cupcakes benefiting Runway to Freedom and Mary’s Place, NPOs that work with homeless women and survivors of domestic violence to help. I love cupcakes almost as much as I love overthrowing the patriarchy. Yet the campaign’s language, in trying to empower women, only manages to reduce them to food terms, objects for consumption.

Seattle Sweeties Cupcakes, including Choco latte, caramel delight, chai cinnamon, vanilla dream, lemon blossom, and banana cream. Copyright Cupcake Royale.
Seattle Sweeties Cupcakes, including Choco latte, caramel delight, chai cinnamon, vanilla dream, lemon blossom, and banana cream. Copyright Cupcake Royale.

Angela Garbes nailed it in The Stranger with “Cupcake Royale’s ‘Seattle Sweeties’ Series Benefits a Great Cause, But Its Marketing Campaign Is a Very Bad Idea”:

To promote the cupcakes, Cupcake Royale has teamed up with local community-minded rapper Draze, whose song “Seattle Sweeties” provided the inspiration for the series. In his new anthem “for the ladies,” Draze manages to completely objectify women as he celebrates them….

Last year, Draze thoughtfully and effectively explored issues of gentrification in the Central District and South End in his song “The Hood Ain’t the Same.” “They asked mama to sell her home, she said no / but then we had to shake when them property taxes rose,” he rapped. Unfortunately, he fails to bring that same level of social critique when it comes to the issue of violence against women.

It’s hard to watch this very moving video with survivors telling their stories and Draze, Kerbs, and Grinnell speaking about their shared goals to help women and then have to listen to and read this gendered bullshit.

Song lyrics:

Sample the many sweetie flavors I have touched
My Caramel Delight
Choco latte sensation…
I love the LA women
I crave the Georgia peaches
with the carmel skin tones…

I got a thing for these Seattle Sweeties (I’m a Seattle Sweetie… I know you can’t get enough of the Seattle Sweeties)

Candy-coated women dipped in pure cane sugar
Soft as vanilla….my chai cinnamon butter skin with those hazel eyes
Just tryin’ to pick your brain, not slide between your thighs…

Ain’t nothing like the town when the sun’s out
These ladies showing skin and I got my ones out

All this side candy can fool with your boy’s focus….
But you class in a world of ratchets that’s why they look at you strange.

Instead of celebrating the “diversity of women in the Pacific Northwest,” Seattle Sweeties celebrates the male gaze. I don’t care if Draze wants to take it slow and get to know women (“pickin’ your brain”), because a woman’s worth is not defined by her attractiveness to men, regardless of whether he likes her for her body or her mind. More importantly, what Draze thinks is attractive in women has nothing at all to do with helping homeless women and their families. The aim of the charities is to get women and their families off the streets and/or away from abusive partners so they can lead secure, healthy lives in their own homes, not so you can chat them up. (Which isn’t to negate the importance of a stable romantic relationships to those for whom romantic attachments are important and of positive relationships of all kinds. But financial independence, a job, healthcare, and feeling a sense of self worth that abusive relationships often destroy are all more important than being attractive to men.)

Furthermore, instead of tearing down the Eurocentric standards of beauty, Draze compares skin tones to food. The song is actually just a list of food-themed women. Writing With Color had an amazing breakdown of the problematic elements of writing about women of color as food:

The Food Thing: So what’s the big deal?

So exactly what is the problem with comparing POC skin tone to cocoa, coffee, caramel, brown sugar and other sweets and goods? Well, there’s several potential problems you come across when you pull out the old Hershey’s bar comparison for your dark-skinned character, even if offense is not your intention.

It’s Fetishizing.

In an attempt of seduction, a White guy once told me that my skin was like “the bite into a Reese’s.”

Needless to say, I was not seduced.

It can get extremely uncomfortable, being or witnessing Black people and other POC being compared to food, even as a “compliment.”

“I love me some chocolate men.”

“Your skin’s like mocha latte.”

“I wanna piece of that chocolate.”

See how often these comparisons are connected to some sensual desire? As if people of Color are food to consume?

This frequent comparison to cocoa and such just in time to highlight some kinky craving is not just grounds of a fetish, it’s dehumanizing.

Read the whole post, and the Buzzfeed piece “If White Characters Were Described Like People Of Color In Literature.”

Equating women’s bodies, especially their skin tone, with food is demeaning. This type of gendered language reduces women to food–again, objects literally to be consumed.

It’s surprising and disappointing that Cupcake Royale, a company owned and operated by women, signed off on this clueless marketing campaign, which reduces women to Choco-latte and Caramel Delight “Sweeties.” The flavors purport to capture the “diversity of beauty, style and culture of the women in the Pacific Northwest,” but instead reflect only a smattering of skin tones, seeming to equate a woman’s identity with her physical appearance.

Nicki Kerbs, Cupcake Royale’s Chief Operating Officer, said she doesn’t think the marketing campaign is problematic. “With this specific series, we didn’t even think about it like that,” she said. “We hadn’t thought about it at all. [emphasis mine] For us, it’s not a conversation that a cupcake is representing a type of woman. It’s more that we want to create this thing that is just for women. When women come into our shop, they want beautiful, flavorful, epic cupcakes.”

But, again, the press release announcing Seattle Sweeties says that the flavors are “representing the diversity of beauty, style, and culture of the women in the Pacific Northwest.”

Of course you didn’t even think about it like that, as you can see from the promotional materials, which are also weirdly gendered.

“Feel even better about indulging!” (Caramel Delight text)

STOP EQUATING DESSERT WITH INDULGENCE FOR WOMEN. It’s so dull, it almost trumps sexism in beer.

 “Feel good about your decision to treat yourself!” What is this even? How is this “empowering” the customer to enjoy the food? I’ll treat myself and that’s enough.
Finally, what about the gender and orientation diversity of Seattle’s women in this campaign? Queer folks, especially queer and trans youth, are disproportionally homeless. Abuse happens in queer relationships, especially with the partners of bi and trans people.
Obvious monetary charitable contributions to good causes aside, how exactly does a song comparing women’s skin to dessert and a bunch of desserts made to “represent PNW women” help end about the sexist attitudes that contribute to the systematic abuse of women, including homeless and abused queer and trans women? Why not just cut the “sweeties” crap and offer a selection of purple cupcakes for Domestic Violence Awareness Month?
Just make some cupcakes and donate directly to the charities yourself.

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