So the feminist world has been rocked by this Summer's Eve ad which ran in Women's Day magazine. Of course, the misogyny is obvious. They've tied your vaginal smell and "not so fresh feeling" to a woman's ability to ask for a raise. That sucks. And it's incredibly stupid.
But as the awesome title of this blog tells you, I have a few further things to mention about why it's really not cool to constantly tell women their vaginas smell. Let me back up---do companies really constantly tell us that our vaginas smell?
This sounds weird, but when you think about it, a whole industry has been built on the premise that vaginas are inherently gross, smelly, and not fresh. Here are just a few of the products built on this premise:
1) Douches: The biggest offender of these such products, douches are meant to "clean" the vagina. Here's the truth. Vaginas are self cleansing (pic on page NSFW) organs that generally don't require anything other than basic warm water cleansing. In fact, douching is horrible for a healthy, normal vagina. They strip away the healthy bacteria that maintain a balance against yeast microbes which cause infections. And guess what you buy when you get a yeast infection?
2) Yeast infection treatments: Hmm...interesting racket they've got going. While these treatments are often necessary for actual infections, much more often than not, women use these treatments when they are not really needed. Besides, there is much more than just the treatments--wipes, "satin" anti-itch creams, and screening kits, just to name a few. The problem being that they're based on the shaming of a totally normal vaginal condition. (Around 70% of women experience at least 1 yeast infection.)
3) FDS: I can hardly believe this is real, but it is. There is an entire market for deodorants for women's vaginas. Come on. If that doesn't show that we're told our vagina's smell, what does?
4) Scented menstrual products: Just in case you think your vagina 3 weeks of the month smells fine, but that "not so fresh" feeling creeps in during your period, never fear, you can buy deodorized tampons and pads. (For the record...deodorants of any type are NOT GOOD for the natural balance of your vagina.)
Ok, so I think I've pretty clearly demonstrated that there is a multi-billion dollar market built upon convincing us that our vaginas' natural state is nasty, gross stuff. So why is this so problematic?
Pretty simple. If you convince woman that something so fundamental as their vaginas are a source of shame and embarrassment, you undermine everything it means to be female.* And then you exploit them by marketing them products designed to capitalize on the insecurities you implanted in them. If you constantly teach women and girls that their natual female parts are disgusting, you can erode sexual self-esteem, making coercion more simple. And you create a nice little distraction in the world for women to be preoccupied with.
Like I said, it's stupid. Worrying about your vaginal smell (beyond legitimate infections) is stupid. Douching is stupid. FDS is stupid. Deodorized tampons are stupid. I'm not a "let's all go natural and be naked best friends running in a field of flowers singing Aquarius" kind of girl, but there is a certain point where I say: Just. Be. Natural.
*I should note that this is written from a cis woman perspective, and is not intended to erase the voices of transwomen or to equate a vagina as the only definition of women, but it is a vaginal centric discussion.