Sweet smell of ‘swagger:’ gendered products are useless

By Channing Kaiser / Columnist

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You are a man with a smelly apartment. Do you:

A. Ignore it. This is college. Your mom’s not here. Who cares?

B. Spray Febreze everywhere and light a vanilla-scented candle, letting your masculinity take a hit.

C. Order a “mandle” with a scent like “kegger” or “stripper’s mouth,” and let your apartment smell less like moldy pizza crusts while still retaining your masculinity.

Man candles, or candles made for men, are a perfect example of a uselessly gendered product sold online and in some retail stores. Why is a coconut-scented candle feminine, while a wood shop-scented candle is masculine? 

There shouldn’t be any pressure to adopt items or behaviors simply because they’re considered to be masculine or feminine. Gendered items, like candles, push for an even greater division.

The division between masculine and feminine hasn’t always looked this way. For example, pink used to be associated with boys and blue with girls — one theory for this change is that, during World War II, Hitler assigned pink triangles to mark homosexuals, so men ditched their association with the color and adopted blue in its place.

But stores and marketing institutions funnel us toward more modern and specified gender roles with their products. Walk into any toy store and it is easy to distinguish which aisles sell toys aimed at girls and which aim their products toward boys. Gendered marketing becomes more subtle when we are older but still exists.

Women’s deodorant comes in pastel blue and lavender containers with scents like “fresh linen” and “tropical mist,” whereas men’s deodorant comes in bright red, gray or black containers, and men can choose between smelling like “Denali” or “swagger.”

Besides color, companies target men or women using wording. According to Mandleco.com, the candle called “stripper’s mouth” supposedly smells like peppermint, but, somehow, titling it “peppermint” isn’t manly enough. After all, why name a candle after a basic scent when you can use a sexualized woman instead?

On the other end of the spectrum, a female-oriented candle might not be titled “peppermint,” either, but instead called something cutesy like “snow bunny” or “winter wonderland.” I have a lotion called “Enchanted Forest” in a shiny pink tube and I have no idea what it is supposed to smell like (wood sprites? Magical elm trees?). 

The title can be vague as long as it vastly generalizes what the targeted gender is supposed to like.

The list of uselessly gendered products is endless: razors, body wash, ski jackets, even leprechaun costumes. Sometimes it makes sense to have gendered items — women often have larger hips and butts than men, and guys’ jeans are not as accommodating in those areas as women’s jeans are. Nonetheless, companies make it obscenely hard to even venture into the other gender’s realm. 

If I wanted to try on men’s pants, for example, I would not only have to walk to the opposite side of the store, but I would also have to know my hip measurement in inches —  U.S. women’s pant sizes are arbitrary numbers whose only correlation with measurement is the wider the hips, the larger the number. Sizes can differ from store to store, though. A size eight pant at Abercrombie & Fitch is not the same size as a size eight pant at Old Navy. 

Sometimes gendered products are sneaky about creating differences. All women’s button-ups have their buttons on the left side while men’s have theirs on the right. What’s the point in that?

With minimal exceptions, gendered products are useless. Besides grossly stereotyping the female and male genders — women apparently like all things cute, pink and with six-pack abs, while men only like breasts, beer and football — they also run into the problem that there are more than two genders. What about all those individuals who identify as neither male nor female, but somewhere in between? Which candle are they supposed to buy?

It puts a lot of pressure on ascribing to traditional forms of masculinity and femininity where there shouldn’t be any. It shouldn’t be “unmanly” for a guy to like gingerbread-scented candles or for a girl to want to smell like “swagger” instead of a rose bush.

We need to ditch pointlessly gendered items and simply buy what we like. If we, the consumer, show companies through our purchasing power that we’re not willing to be confined by gendered marketing, then maybe they’ll loosen up the rigid boundaries.

So if you identify as male and your apartment smells bad, I recommend choosing D: clean up the source of the smell and then light whatever candle you want. Just make sure your smoke detector is working.

Write Channing at clk87@pitt.edu

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