Commentary: My aftershave is ever so manly. Here - take a gruff, confident sniff!
Endowing the universal routine of removing unwanted body hair with gender distinctions is well-worn territory, but this mania continues no matter how much it is critiqued, analyzed, or mocked on social media. What makes a man’s skin so different than a woman’s – or, what makes masculine identity so fragile - that the identical razor blade must, in a woman’s hand, be held by a curvaceous pink handle whereas the male hand grips it by a straight shaft wrapped in steel grey?
Advertisers and designers aim less for beauty than finding the vulnerability that leads a consumer to seek one product over another. On some level, most people know this and even joke about it. Gender roles evolve but there is always money to be made from people who think buying something is a means of self-expression. Advertisers and marketers know we are pliant to their manipulations. It is how they make their living.
Thus, I hold in my hand this bottle of aftershave lotion manufactured by a company named “Soap Commander.” This is a family-owned company based in Alabama. This columnist doesn’t do product endorsements, but they make good stuff. Their logo is a ship’s wheel with the slogan, “Take charge.” It should be noted the company’s founder is a Navy veteran, but they explicitly market their website as “a bold, masculine place for men to shop” while offering skin-care products to men and women alike. Men and women can buy soap together, I suppose, provided the environment is sufficiently “bold.”
Their various scents, which are generally delightful to my nose, have names paying tribute to virtues such as vision, fortitude, endurance. Well, they need names – and who is going to dispute the Soap Commander? My selection this morning is “Courage.” Reportedly this is what courage smells like: slightly sweet and woody. The black bottle features a textured grip so it can be squeezed vigorously even in wet conditions. Let me attest: this is one of the manliest squeeze bottles I have ever grasped. All it is missing is a picture of G.I. Joe on a horse with Miss America riding on his shoulders. It makes me giggle every time – No! It elicits a manly guffaw! - but I reach for this bottle frequently because the gloopy, genderless stuff inside feels good on my skin and I enjoy how it smells. It could be in a lavender bottle and named “Princess Bunny Kissing Flowers” and I would still use it.
“Advertising is now literally everywhere,” Jerry Mander wrote, “Interrupting our lives at every turn, requiring that we deal with it. We walk through life as a kind of moving target; hawked at by media, hawked at by signs on the street —blinking, flowing, five stories high. Even clothes have ads on them, and we wear them proudly. Corporations have become like ‘community’ for us.”
Once that ‘community” establishes a base in our consciousness, merchandisers hook us and pull us around the marketplace, which is no longer any further away than our mobile phones.
This is not to say they always get the gender signals right – especially when it comes to smell. Another aftershave in my man-cave is named “Unconditional Surrender,” with a smell its manufacturer claims is a tribute to the manly Ulysses S. Grant, with notes of tobacco, black tea, and cedar.
I had to quit using that stuff. My wife says it smells like “old lady.”
Algernon D’Ammassa writes the “Desert Sage” column for the Deming Headlight and Sun News papers. Share your thoughts firstname.lastname@example.org.