Sense of a woman

A rather gruff, pragmatic friend of mine surprised me recently when he mentioned that when he was a child, his mother died of cancer and he subsequently began to follow women around supermarkets who smelt like his mum.

"My older brothers would yell at me 'Where the f--- you going?' as I wandered off down an aisle and I'd say 'she's wearing mum's perfume!'"

I'll pause here a second to let your heart break, like mine did. In fact, next time I see this guy I'll give him a hug on behalf of all of us because, despite his surliness, relentless political incorrectness and partiality to bar fights, you can still see that little boy in his eyes when he smiles.

We'd been chatting about whale vomit and how it was sought-after by perfumers to make fragrances and every guy at the table was able to name a distant teenage love and the usually atrocious, cheap scent she used.

White Diamonds by Elizabeth Arden. 4711. Rive Gauche by Yves Saint Laurent.

"It doesn't matter where or when I smell it, who's wearing it, I think of my ex and my throat closes up and I'm in love again for about three seconds," said one gentleman.

Now I'm a grown-up, I find the whole concept of perfume kind of ridiculous, particularly the implied notion women need to daub themselves with a fragrance to "smell nice". It echoes the same cheerful hostility as make-up and high heels, which we chatted about on this blog six years ago.

As the redoubtable Helen Razer said in one of the better rants of the year: "Here in Australia as in much of the developed world, it is the crucial work of middle-class women to consume. It then falls to sensible editors to romance ladies with the money to buy things such as scented candles and face cream and fair-trade lube" ... and perfume. 

If that's your thing, good luck to you. There's so many screwed up aspects about the world, should we be surprised women pay $500 for a thimble of alcohol devised by a gay man to make them "feel more feminine"?

My mother loves Chanel No.5. I buy it for her duty-free whenever I go overseas and it makes her briefly feel good when she uses it on special occasions. I could instead buy her a voucher for a full body massage but she wouldn't use it.

There's a knot of cultural coercion in those two sentences I'm still trying to untie as I watch my daughter grow. However, I am teaching her to kidney punch anyone who suggests smells can be characterised as "masculine" and "feminine". 

Aaaaanyway, I thought a little too much about my gruff friend's story and couldn't help juxtaposing it with one my ex-girlfriend told me many years ago.

Her then-fiancé had died a few years earlier in an air crash, trying to pilot a cargo plane during a thunderstorm and, as she flagellated herself deciding whether to keep their unborn child, she'd bury her head in his dirty t-shirts and sniff.

His odour. His oils. His sweat.

Not his aftershave because, like many men, "he didn't wear it". 

This was one of her most powerful memories of him, not something boiled up in lab and squirted out of a fancy bottle at fifty bucks a millilitre.

There's a very old joke that goes:

Q: "Why do women wear perfume and make-up?"

A: "Because they stink and they're ugly".

It's offensive, sure, but not really a patch on the fact so many women believe it's true.  

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Please don't take it personally if I do not reply to your email as they come in thick and fast depending on the topic. Please know, I appreciate you taking the time to write and comment and offer mummy hugs to all.