Race and Gender Stereotypes are Everywhere—Including on Your Cereal Box

How about some race and gender stereotypes with that morning bowl of cereal?

After 80-plus years on the market, Wheaties has put more muscle in its brand by launching Wheaties Fuel. Billed as a cereal “By Champions. For Champions,” the re-branded carbfest has the distinction of being the first cereal aimed intentionally at men.

Each serving contains 210 calories and 5 grams of fiber, but General Mills left out folic acid—which was deemed too girly because it is used as a common pregnancy supplement. At the same time, General Mills touts Fuel’s five B vitamins for their key role in those gender-loaded nouns endurance and stamina.

Now look at the faces on the new Wheaties boxes and you’ll find more than your recommended daily allowance of race and gender stereotypes. There’s only one woman—a Sports Illustrated bikini model and, oh yeah, Olympic ski champion Lindsay Vonn—and the rest are men.

There’s Shaun White, the white, titian-haired snowboarding champ with a harmless, likeable grin.

There’s white football great Peyton Manning, posing with his chin up, looking solid but not overtly aggressive.

Wheaties Fuel cereal box featuring National Football League player Peyton Manning.

Dominican-born baseball star Albert Pujols rates lower on the friendliness scale, with a semi-glaring visage that is more “I dare you” than “Tell me your tender secrets.”


And finally, here comes the box featuring African American Boston Celtics basketball star Kevin Garnett. He straight-up glares in a don’t-mess-with-me pose, appearing menacing, unapproachable and threatening. This stereotypical image of black masculinity serves nobody well.


OK, it’s just breakfast cereal, right? But picture Garnett’s Wheaties box on the grocery store shelves, nestled among Fruit Loops mascot Toucan Sam, the goofy (and white) Cap’n Crunch, or the innocent (and also white) Snap, Crackle and Pop of Rice Krispies fame.


Imagine a child wheeled down the aisles gripping the sticky handle of a grocery-store cart, skimming by at eye level with so many shiny products and images designed to grab her allegiance. That child’s brain soaks up her surroundings like a sponge. The buy-me message is wrapped in powerful messages about gender and race.

Some people wonder where we learn race and gender stereotypes—which contribute to racism, sexism and narrow images of black masculinity. We learn them everywhere, including the seemingly innocuous cereal aisle. 

With its repurposed Breakfast of Champions, Wheaties Fuel may as well be called the Breakfast of Stereotypes.

CORRECTION: This post originally identified Albert Pujols as Cuban-born; he is in fact from the the Dominican Republic; post updated to reflect.


Shira Tarrant is an unconventional feminist redefining gender rights. She is the author of Men and Feminism (Seal Press), When Sex Became Gender (Routledge), and editor of the provocative anthology Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex and Power (Routledge). Her newest book, Fashion Talks: Undressing the Power of Style (SUNY Press, with Marjorie Jolles), will be published in 2012. Shira Tarrant's writing appears in Bitch Magazine, BUST, Ms. Magazine, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Huffington Post, and in various anthologies, blogs, and encyclopedias. Shira Tarrant is a popular speaker at college campuses and public venues across the country and she is quoted widely in print, radio, television, and online media. Shira Tarrant received her doctorate in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles. She is an associate professor in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department at California State University, Long Beach. Read more at http://shiratarrant.com.