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.
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?
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.
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.