“Do you have any soaps for men?”
It’s a common question that makes me secretly cringe. Rather than launch into a tirade with an unsuspecting customer, I’ve always gone the route of explaining what each soap is made from, and what smells the ingredients impart. Today, though, I want to take the time to really answer this question.
First, let’s talk sex and gender. Sex is determined by genitals, while gender is a social construct that outlines proscribed behavior, expectations of power dynamics, etc. I can assure customers that my product works effectively and a bar of soap is entirely unaffected by what you’ve got going on down there. (Side note: don’t use scented soaps on your genitals.)
If you’re asking what soaps I make for masculine identifying folks… well, that’s something else. For folks who feel affirmed in their gender identity by wearing scents that are traditionally considered masculine (woodsy, spicy) or feminine (floral, sweet), more power to you, I bow to your lived experience. But personally, I find the idea that a scent could further support social constructs of gender to be unfortunate—how limiting!
While I identify as a woman, I really don’t care for sweet or floral scents, and generally use my more woodsy-smelling soap Camp. Meanwhile, I have male-identified customers who love my sweetly citrusy Solstice and the floral, lavender smell of Moonlight. Because all of our bodies are different, individual scents “work” differently with our personal body chemistries. The same perfume won’t smell identical on different bodies for a variety of reasons including hormones, dietary differences, moisture content in the skin, temperature, etc.
Also, smell is such a deeply personal sense, and because of the way our brains are wired, it’s strongly linked to memory. A 2020 piece in The Harvard Gazette explains:
“Smells are handled by the olfactory bulb, the structure in the front of the brain that sends information to the other areas of the body’s central command for further processing. Odors take a direct route to the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions related to emotion and memory.
“…[Smell] is the only fully developed sense a fetus has in the womb, and it’s the one that is the most developed in a child through the age of around 10 when sight takes over.”(source)
It is partly because smell and emotion are so tied that I named my soaps, rather than just list the dominant scents. Camp reminds me of being deep in the woods, surrounded by trees, while Solstice smells like the peak of summer.
So rather than limit ourselves with social constructs, why not allow ourselves to truly experience the world through our senses, and allow ourselves to simply enjoy whatever scents we enjoy? I suggest exploring how scents play into your mood. For example, does lavender soothe you, while rosemary energizes you? What scents evoke powerful memories for you?
And aren’t these factors so much more important than sex and societal expectations?