Cultural Fragrance Differences – The Gender Spectrum
Earlier I talked a bit about the history of gender stereotypes in fragrance. To continue this discussion on fragrance and gender, let’s now look at “Running with the Boys,” written last year by Victoria Frolova of Bois de Jasmin. This article highlights two other key factors in the fragrance-gender conversation.
The World Sees Gender (and Fragrance) Differently
Based on the way fragrance is developed and sold in America, one might think that these gendered stereotypes were universally accepted around the world. Turns out (and not surprisingly so) that nothing could be further from the truth. The first key point to be made in “Running with the Boys” is that gender-based fragrance preferences and associations are based on cultural differences. Victoria writes:
During my travels in the Middle East I have been offered an array of scents to perfume myself after meals that sometimes included Polo and Old Spice. At the Indian attar shop I once asked whether there is a difference between scents worn by men and women. The elderly owner thought about it for a moment, pulled on his thick moustache and replied, “if it smells good, they wear them all.”
She then goes on to discuss the love of the smell of rose by men in the Middle East. For another example of cultural difference, look to Brazil, where women have been known to gravitate more towards fresher, greener fragrances over the fruity-floral types popular in North America. A masculine fragrance in one country is not necessarily still read as masculine in another. The same goes for feminine types. There are noted cultural variations based on a multitude of reasons (i.e. access to ingredients, environmental factors, historical significance, etc). These differences are solidified through societal acceptance and repetition.
Over and Over and Over Again
The second point the article makes involves the psychological effects experienced due to this repeated exposure to segregated fragrance/gender types over our lifetimes. In other words, the more you are told by society that fougére is for men and white floral is for women (kind of like “blue is for boys” and “pink is for girls”), the less likely you are to question why.
As much as I want to be open minded about disregarding gendered divisions, some smells seem too masculine to be comfortable for me.
Gender-based scent associations, especially when left unquestioned, start forming at an early age. Maybe you watched on as your mother sprayed Chanel No. 5, or as your father splashed on Brut. Over time, you begin to associate these smells not only with your parents as people (“my mom’s signature scent”), but also with what they represent to you in your life. This idea is then reinforced by offerings at fragrance counters, further emphasizing the split-gender myth.
Ask yourself, why do I associate certain smells with women, and others with men? When did these opinions form? Was it because someone said so early on in life? Does a fragrance really smell “masculine” or “feminine,” or does it simply trigger memories of men and women from our past?
Find the complete “Running with the Boys” article here.