What Do Butches Smell Like?

It started when I ran out of shampoo. I walked over to Molton Brown to get a new bottle. Molton Brown makes liquid soap, shampoo, and body wash products. They are all scented. Very British. I used to shop for personal care products in the health food store. I got turned on to Molton Brown in a bed and breakfast we stayed at in Bath, England, in 2002. Donna could not get me out of the shower because I was sudsing up with the comps. I got hooked.

what-do-butch-lesbians-smell-like

I like Brooklyn Brewery beer, but I don’t want to wear it.

I hadn’t used strongly scented products before. My Dad smelled of Brylcreem, Dutch Masters cigars, and Miller High Life. I didn’t want to smell like him. I wanted to smell good, but I didn’t know how.

It was a B&B that catered to gay men. This gave the products a masculine, or at least metrosexual, cachet. Good enough for a butch. I fell for the “Vitalizing Vitamin AB+C.” It is a citrusy scent that makes me imagine that I am a large clean lemony fish swimming in the Mediterranean. I know this is an awkward metaphor; usually the lemon doesn’t get on the fish until the fish is dead and on the grill. I just like how the stuff smells.

The salesman tells me that the shampoo and conditioner I use were discontinued and are no longer available. I walked around the small shop looking at the wares. They recently rearranged the shelves by gender and product type. I was testing a green Eucalyptus body wash when the salesman said to me “A lot of women won’t try a product that is in our men’s line.” I was busted. We both knew I wouldn’t try a product in their women’s line.

What makes a soap or a shampoo gendered or androgynous? The color? The fragrance? The name? Is it all marketing? Why would I consider the Black Peppercorn body wash but not the Pink Pepperpod? Which would I buy for Donna? How do I separate what I like from which side of the store it is on and how does that change my perception of what it smells like? Does pink have a scent? Is it good on butches?

butch-or-femme?

President Roosevelt, age 2 1/2, in 1884. This type of outfit was considered normal for a boy.

Why should I hesitate to buy a pink body wash if I like how it smells? How did pink and blue get so charged? According to Jo Paoletti, the author of Pink and Blue, before 1900, in the United States, babies wore white (easy to bleach) and all infants/young children wore dresses (see FDR on the left). In the early 1900’s there was an effort to gender pastel colors, but it wasn’t until 1940 that pink and blue became binary colors. Starting around 1985, color coding for children’s clothing became increasingly binary and inflexible. Color coding has spread to almost every product marketed to children.

Why color code your soaps along the gender binary? Why make me have a Riley like rant just because I want to buy some shampoo? In the end, I bought a bottle of amber “Cleanshine Quillaja Hairwash” and a bottle of bright yellow “Fresh Bushukan Citrus Body Wash.” From the men’s side. Next time I’m in Integral Yoga, I’ll pick up some gender-neutral unscented deodorant, cinnamon toothpaste, and white dental floss.  I’m not going to try either the Barbie or the Spiderman toothpaste anytime soon.gender-binary-toothpaste

Notes: I am in the middle of Jo Paoletti’s “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America”. It is a fascinating and informative book about the history of children’s clothing. I also like her blog. I found out about the Riley rant while I was telling Donna about the book. We were sharing a smoked tofu panini at ‘sNice Cafe and the guy sitting next to us interrupted our conversation to show us the video on You Tube.

24 thoughts on “What Do Butches Smell Like?

  1. amediablogger

    Brilliant post. I’m a Molton Brown fan. I love their products but I’d say I use the neutrals. My thing is mens deodorant which I’ve been using for years you know the hunky sports man type ha and I’m femme. I don’t like those girly scents either. I also use mens shower gel. Those smells are so fresh and clean I love them. I just don’t understand why they’re marketed in the way they are.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think they are concerned that men won’t buy it if it isn’t identified as being for men. Some irrational fear of using the wrong product (like walking into the wrong restroom). There are very few scents that are considered neutral – I’ve never understood why leather was considered masculine.

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  2. Georgeann

    Liked this so much! I get so fed up with girly fragrances and the color pink! Gag… I have found that many androgynous and masculine products are more appealing because they tend to have fewer chemicals that bother me and they also don’t smell so “pukey”. If you have never tried the brand Malin + Goetz, it is packaged plainly and it smells so great on everyone! I love the Vitamin b5 body moisturizer. Another favorite of mine is the Zum line from Indigo Wild. A great company with amazing products that are super versatile and transcend genders. I highly recommend that you try these if you haven’t already. I loved how you discussed the packaging and marketing aspects and how it affects you personally. I find marketing a bit fascinating because people will react to it differently, and I often turn down a great smell because I hate how girly the packaging looks. I think you could really delve into an awesome case study on this…

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for your comments and recommendations. It bothered me because when I started shopping at Molton Brown they didn’t have their products on shelves with gender labels on them – everything was sorted by product type and there was a wide variety of scents. The gendering also went along with a sexualizing of the brand that seems foreign and alienating. And I bet they paid a fortune to some marketing firm to develop the idea.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It makes perfect sense until you put Denali in a different bottle, call it “Mermaid’s Mist” and watch both of us refuse to buy it. I had read about some fragrances that were marketed under different names for men and women, but I couldn’t find a valid citation for it. I tend to like citrus, mint, and woodsy scents – but to be honest I don’t know if I really like them or if I just associate them with masculine.

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  3. RonaFraser

    I cannot stand how “people” (aka marketers) have genderized everything. One of my favourite toys growing up was Lego. Bad enough that they mainly sell Lego now that is supposed to make specific things (instead of using your imagination), but now a lot is either pink girly things or tough black/blue boyish things. Just because I am a girl, that feels like a girl, and is attracted to boys, does NOT mean I only like pink frilly toys!!! Ok, so I am 46 and don’t play with a lot of toys (well, um… you know what I mean). It still drives me nuts! Ok, I guess you touched a nerve there 🙂

    As for scents, they used to all make me nauseous. I first noticed it maybe in university, when my friend was trying to select a cologne to buy for her boyfriend and made me smell them all. Ever since then… not a fan of any type of perfumey smell. I go for citrus or lavender (probably girly, is it?). I can’t stand the whole marketing thing and simply the whole thing of “you should buy THIS product if you want to be liked”. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I quit my well-paying job at a marketing research firm. Great place to work, great people, but couldn’t lose that feeling that I was helping big poisonous conglomerates stamp out the little guy and figure out the best way to con the average person into spending their money on things they don’t need.

    🙂 Rant over. Good topic.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      You should definitely look at Jo Paoletti’s blog http://www.pinkisforboys.org‎, she has a great piece on how American Apparel markets to women.
      As I kid I loved all kinds of building and construction toys – hence the Civil Engineering degrees. I thought of them as neutral – neither dolls nor guns, and none of them were color coded at the time.

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  4. rmiles

    I actually started making our own products (deodorant, soft soap, facial wash – okay, that last one is mainly my gal pal’s) about 6 months ago. Best thing about it is you can make it smell like whatever you want and it’s all natural. Peace.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I cook and I do some pickling and jamming, but I’ve never made soap. Somehow I manage to butch up cooking, but I steer clear of anything that feels vaguely Martha Stewart ish. Not sure how I’d transform making soap but it is an interesting idea.

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      1. rmiles

        Being in the kitchen is relaxing to me and my gal pal has sensitive skin. . . so I’m the short dyke version of Martha. I can think of a lot worse things in life. Cheers.

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  5. micah

    So it’s not my imagination that products (especially those for children) have become more gendered compared to when I was a kid…
    Crossing the gender divide for personal hygiene (esp scented) products is similar to the one for underwear, very personal but also very meaningful.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I spent most of my adult life trying to avoid women’s products, but not necessarily moving over to men’s (hence white Jockey for Women hipsters until the boxer brief break through).

      The basic care products were an easy place to stay neutral; it was only when I upscaled that I ran into problems. I think that the increase in sexual content in marketing (mostly heteronormative although sometimes homoerotic) contributes to companies having to genderize products that used to be androgynous.

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  6. tracy

    It isn’t just kids either. You go into Banana Republic and all the women’s ware is pastels – well – I don’t like pastels, I like deep, vibrant colors. And I really like the patterns that men’s shirts come in. They always have great patterns. But of course, the men’s shirts don’t fit me. Then there are shoes – men have some really cool shoes. Women’s shoes are so often heels – I don’t like heels. It is frustrating to say the least.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for stopping to read and comment. I agree that it is frustrating. Too many clothes with darts, princess seams, super low waists, and spandex. I guess sex really does sell (to someone else not me).

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  7. noelyreese

    Ever since discovering the whole genderqueer thing for myself and beginning to experience it I have found myself drawn more and more to the “girls” isles of stores. It always causes my heart to race because people stare or laugh or become aggressive, but what should it matter what conditioner I want to use or if I want to buy some Nair? I don’t know, but it seems to make some people uncomfortable which in turn makes me uncomfortable… This is capitalism right? Shouldn’t the goal be consumers that are consuming… well, everything?

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I do not understand it at all. Pink and Blue offers some theories, one of which is that companies make more of a profit by having separate clothing and toys for boys and girls – it cuts down on hand-me-downs and makes parents by a second item if their second child is not the same sex as their first! Maybe this rolls over to men’s and women’s products. I find the heteronormativity of it really annoying.

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      1. noelyreese

        You too, huh? Maybe once this genderqueer/trans thing really takes off they will move everything back to being gender neutral or unisex? I don’t know. Did you know that pillows were originally only used by pregnant women and “fancy” boys?

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  8. Chronically Femme

    My butch has sensitive skin so she doesn’t use scented products. She smells divine because all I can smell is her!!!

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