American women have had the right to vote since 1920, laws that prohibited us from owning property or signing contracts without our fathers’ or husbands’ permission have been repealed, and women have outnumbered men in getting college degrees (including graduate and doctoral degrees), so you might think things are going fairly well for us. But here comes Slate to let us know that we are still suffering from systemic patriarchal oppression, specifically from the deodorant and antiperspirant industry.
[It feels obligatory to provide the music video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as a soundtrack to this article. Humor my Generation X music preferences, if you don’t mind.]
Slate contributor Shannon Palus writes a regular column called “Well, Actually,” which is described as “test[ing] health and wellness products to help readers figure out what they should try, what they should skip, and why.” This week’s column focused on “natural” deodorants, which are aluminum-free.
Aluminum is the ingredient in antiperspirants that stops you from actually sweating, and Palus takes a few paragraphs to clear up an urban legend that aluminum causes cancer or Alzheimer’s. Good news! Your baby powder scented Dove isn’t going to kill you.
What your deodorant might be doing, according to Palus, is sacrificing your feminine independence to the patriarchy. She reviews the advertising history of deodorant products, which she described as “a made-up solution to a made-up problem,” noting how the ads portrayed the idea of women perspiring as negative and disgusting.
“Early marketing campaigns,” wrote Palus, “were designed to make women—and they were first marketed just to women—embarrassed about the entire concept of perspiration,” mentioning specific ads that described sweaty women as unappealing to male potential suitors.
“Nowadays,” she continued, “it’s practically expected that women aren’t supposed to sweat through their armpits, which is why I’ve been using antiperspirants since I was in middle school.” Shaking off the advertiser-fueled patriarchal oppression, Palus tried a Clean Queen natural deodorant stick, which retails around $14 to $20.
Palus’ review of the product noted that it did seem to manage to control body odor but didn’t stop her from sweating.
Then, after about a dozen paragraphs telling women that we don’t need to submit to Big Deodorant just to satisfy men, she writes that the “best part” about her experiment is that she texted her new boyfriend to ask if he had noticed any difference during the time she had switched from regular antiperspirant to the Clean Queen, and he replied with “[a] firm ‘nope.'”
Never mind that her last paragraph knocks the legs out from under her argument in the rest of her article — she actually was worried about what the man in her life thought about her sweatiness if she describes his positive response as “the best part” — this is not an issue where women need protection.
I’m not wearing antiperspirant because the patriarchy demands it. I’m wearing it for me and everyone around me. I live in Florida. It’s warm enough in a lot of the state to go swimming year round, and the humidity has conquered many weaker-blooded Northern visitors. The “Sunshine State” nickname isn’t just a tourism department slogan. It is hot and sweaty here pretty much year round. I prefer not to stink.
Nearly everyone has had the unpleasant experience of being around someone who eschews modern hygienic habits, whether while traveling overseas, on crowded public transportation, or just being around teenagers who haven’t quite figured it out yet, and it’s not enjoyable.
It’s not the patriarchy bullying us into trying to prevent sweating. It’s just plain good manners to not terrorize the fellow humans in your vicinity with your stench.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.