Sexist smells

While I am most definitely a feminist, I don’t often speak out about the issues.  I usually leave it to others to point out inherently misogynistic behavior, while I just mumble “Yeah, girl power” into a corner.  But this time I just can’t stay quiet.  This is big.

Here’s what I have to talk about: sexist smells.  Why is it that in books, women are always associated with a flowery or sweet scent?  Here are three examples that come to mind:

In Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Harry can’t quite place the flowery smell that is emanating from a nearby vat of love potion.  Turns out, it’s because Ginny smells flowery.  Do they have wizarding perfume or is this just her natural scent?

In Paper Towns by John Green, a boy chases an elusive girl pretty much across the country.  He can tell where she’s been because of her smell of “lilacs and almonds.” Who smells like that when they’re hiding out in abandoned and dilapidated malls and barns?

In the lesser-known Named series by Marianne Curley (great premise, terrible writing), a villain is unmasked because the good guys recognize her flowery scent. If you’re trying to stay undercover, shouldn’t you make an effort to not smell distinguishable?

Yeah, okay, maybe it’s not such a huge deal.  After all, flowers do smell good. But in all seriousness, I think that while we’re trying to promote positive body image, we shouldn’t be telling girls that they always need to smell like roses. (Or telling guys they need to smell spicy or like leather or musky or whatever).  Like, sometimes I smell like stale BO and cheese, and that’s okay.  Or sometimes people don’t have a distinctive scent and that’s okay too.

Also I hate perfume, so I’d rather not live in a society where that is a requirement for being accepted as a female.  So go out there and smell your worst! (But I still encourage hygiene).  Happy Thursday!



4 thoughts on “Sexist smells

  1. allthoughtswork says:

    I’m with you on the perfume thing. Feeling clean and fresh while frolicking outdoors AROUND flowers is far superior to spraying their chemical imitation on my flesh.

    But I confess, Old Spice does something to me when it’s on the right guy.

  2. codeinfig says:

    “we shouldn’t be telling girls that they always need to smell like roses.”

    people often try to be attractive to each other– this involves senses. (also, writers use the description of senses to bring the reader into the story.) you dont have to smell like roses, but flowers have some of the most complex fragrances known and detectable to our species– lavender for example, will calm a person who smells it and help them trust you.

    vanilla will definitely help attract people to you. these are biological reactions that dont happen at the conscious level, so as a species weve been exploiting that forever. its difficult to pin this one on humanity or patriarchy– too many species, too many men and women do it, and theyre not convinced to by books– its art imitating life for tens of thousands of years, not life following literature.

    we used to produce natural pheremones to attract each other, although that ability may have genetically diminished as other senses evolved. try sniffing some lavender the next time youre stressed– you may be surprised.

    doctors used to wear a mask containing flowers to help them cope with the stench of disease and rotting flesh.

  3. seasaltandvinegar says:

    Interesting about vanilla and lavender–I never knew about them. You have a good point–it makes sense that we as a species have put stock in smells. Flower-y powers aside, our sense of smell also made sure that we didn’t eat things that were rotten or inedible.

    While I agree you can’t necessarily “pin it on humanity or the patriarchy,” I don’t think we can discount the patriarchy’s role in perpetuating it. You can easily liken it to all the other crusades against body image issues. I.e. sure, we have inherent preferences for certain features and body types (evolution-wise these preferences were helpful to indicate healthy development, ability to have healthy offspring, etc.)–but those are exactly the things that feminist campaigns are trying to address. Their goal is to stop the media from encouraging these biases, since you no longer need to be conventionally beautiful to survive. I just thought I’d throw out another thing of which (maybe) we should question the media’s continued portrayal.

    I don’t mean to be argumentative about this. Honesty, “sexist smells” really aren’t that important to me…I just thought it would be a fun topic to address. I really do appreciate your thoughts and hope that you’ll continue to challenge my views.

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