The other day I went to the store to buy some deodorant and a new toothbrush. I do not buy these sorts of things often because 1) tooth brushes do not wear out that often and 2) like many people in Hawai’i I but things like deodorant, razors, rice, toilet paper etc. in bulk because of how much they cost. All of which is to say that I basically had little to no agenda re: the style and substance of the items I would be buying except that they would be cheap and make sure I held to the standards of first-world academic hygiene.
When I got to the store I was a little surprised to see how the market in scented men’s deodorant had changed since the last time I had purchased a shrink-wrapped twelve pack at Costco: all of the edgy body sprays with the “buy and wear this product and women will want you to rape them” ad campaigns had gained a scary amount of market share. They were also incredibly expensive. Since I was not looking to spend a lot of money to reinforce my sense of my sexual potency I gave them a pass.
The other options were what got me. Marketers have, somewhere, somehow, decided what men want to smell like. That smell, apparently, is ‘arctic’. There were various scents ranging from ‘artic blast’ to ‘avalanche’ to ‘blizzard’ — all having to do with unstoppable, low-temperature movement.
But that’s not all. The toothbrushes were also divided along gendered lines, with various pink and pastel colors for women and for men a variety of light blues. Was this the typical pink-blue gendering of infants expanded to oral hygeine? No, the packaging around the toothbrush informed me, it was not a powder-blue toothbrush, it was an arctic toothbrush.
Clearly we are dealing with specific system of meaning that comprehends the visible spectrum, gender performances, and scent. The system is clearly arbitrary and conventional: how did that chemical deodorant smell come to be associated with a geographical area? And how can a toothbrush, which has little to no scent, be ‘arctic’ at all? Is this simply the pink-blue distinction updated and reframed to be acceptably masculine? Is there something about nurturance/hygiene that goes back to the American male childhood which is still coded blue? I’d be interested in hearing what other people think about this.