A Strongly Worded Letter

What could be the cataclysmic events that cause this woman, while catching her own reflection in a window, to clutch her sweatshirt around her and pull the hood up tightly around her face? Both shame and the need for more physical coverage occurring simultaneously are unusual partners in the vulnerability of this unfortunate young woman. Is she the victim of a sudden and brutal cold front blowing through town, just as she ponders the devastation unfolding because of her torrid affair with her sister’s husband? And what about that other young lady who, even though she just showered, suddenly realizes that she isn’t clean and fresh at all? How awful. Did she just shit herself while drying off because of a few too many bites of Aunt Nina’s bad potato salad? The viewer only needs to hang in there past the first seven seconds of each of these television commercials to find out what these two tortured women have in common, what the real problem is, what horrifying realization they have both come to. They have vaginas, and their vaginas most certainly smell foul….because, after all, they are vaginas, and vaginas smell bad, right? Thank God these feminine products are available to combat whatever odor is wafting from our vaginas. Yeah, right. I find these commercials offensive and degrading, but I feel even more so about the very existence of these products.”

I decided to tell the people responsible for these products how I felt.

Dear (insert proper noun that represents the product makers who believe it’s okay to make money by using archaic myths about women’s bodies in order to hemorrhage their self-esteem and passive aggressively feed patriarchal superiority views. Hint: they rhyme with Fagisil and Bummer’s Sleeve),

On behalf of all the women I know and love, our vaginas don’t stink. If our Vaginas begin to smell bad, we will seek medical attention from a health care professional immediately. Your advertisements seem to insinuate that vaginas just smell funny, and we should be ashamed enough of that odor, to run out and buy a product to make our vaginas smell like flowers, soap, or clean sheets.

Women’s bodies are made to be self cleaning, and maintain a natural balance. Use of your products actually disrupts the natural chemical balance of the vagina, and therefore causes the very problems your product is made to overcome…not a coincidence. Our normal, healthy vaginas smell like sex. This is a far more attractive and stimulating scent than flowers, soap, or clean sheets. Our normal, healthy vaginas taste like sex and honey, a far more savory taste than flowers, soap, or clean sheets.

I realize that women make for easy targets when it comes to convincing someone they could be better, smell better. I’m asking you not to take the easy way out anymore. Especially for all the young women out there, please leave us and our vaginal self-image alone. Perhaps you could take all your laboratory technology and create a potent strawberry elixir for men to drink so their cum doesn’t taste like salty lotion.

Most sincerely, Kristi

Okay, let me digress just a moment to explain that last line about the taste of cum. That might have been a cheap shot, but, I figured there are probably a fair number of men at these companies, and I wanted them to know how it felt to have someone criticize their sexual output. Saying that male cum isn’t the best tasting stuff in the world isn’t exactly unfair. A refreshingly honest, female friend of mine told me that during her young, sexually curious period, she thought that she must be a lesbian because, in her personal assessment of sexual fluids, women tasted sweet and delicious, and men tasted salty and bitter. She went on to say, that a few years and several relationships later, she realized that this taste preference for women in itself didn’t mean she was a lesbian, it only meant her taste buds worked.

Obviously, there are situations where a vagina can get pretty rank. Those are medical conditions which require a medical solution. At no point, should that solution include trying to “perfume up” the vagina. When we’re rearing our little girls, we have to make a special point of teaching them not to get soap in their potty hole or vagina when bathing. We explain in easy terms that this will hurt and it’s not good for any of their girl parts to get covered in soap. What doesn’t help, is when they see television commercials that tell them the exact opposite. The afore-mentioned humiliated woman appears on the screen, and the crystal clear message is, drown that vagina in clean smelling chemicals to clean that dirty vagina. My dream is to create a public service message to run immediately after these commercials. Something that says; Your vagina smells exactly as it should, lovely, sexual, intoxicating, alluring, natural, and individual. And while I’m at it, I’m tempted to add; and so does your pubic hair, so before shaving it all off, you might think twice about succumbing to the ideal of looking like a seven year old.

Advertisements

About Kristi

Photo by Alan Tarin
This entry was posted in Advertising, Body image, Consumerism, Feminism, Gender, Sexuality. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to A Strongly Worded Letter

  1. David K says:

    Have you ever heard of this novel, Wetlands?
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/mpd/permalink/mW5PWYS68PCDG
    It’s a good bad book if ever I read one….

  2. ballgame says:

    The bulk of your post seems pretty sound, Kristi. The notion that everything needs to be scrubbed to within an inch of its life seems to be a particularly American tendency, and I suspect you’re quite right that a lot of it is driven by the syndrome of creating insecurities through marketing in order to sell needless products.

    I take strong exception to the way your wrap up your post, though. You imply that there’s something deeply wrong with people for whom ‘less is more’ when it comes to pubic hair. This is an extraordinarily offensive notion that I’ve seen batted around the gynocentric blogosphere a number of different times. It’s also a strongly sexist notion: I’ve yet to see a gynocentric feminist make the same implication about women who prefer their men to be (facially) clean shaven.

    There’s nothing wrong with having a beard, or having a hairy pubic region. There are tactile advantages to hairlessness in both cases, however, and people shouldn’t be made to feel bad if they have such a preference for themselves or their partners. Implying they somehow inhabit the same category as the most reviled human beings on the planet strikes me as a pretty toxic thing to do.

    • April says:

      There’s nothing wrong with having a beard, or having a hairy pubic region. There are tactile advantages to hairlessness in both cases, however, and people shouldn’t be made to feel bad if they have such a preference for themselves or their partners.

      The underlying message given in porn, centerfolds, etc. that are rampant in the mainstream, adult-centered world, and available to most young and old men alike, though, show completely hairless women. While I know plenty of feminist-identified women who get regular Brazillians, I think the idea is that, as far as mainstream beauty standards are concerned, completely hairless “lady bits” is the expectation– not that choosing or preferring to be hairless should be demonized. The hairless expectation, rather than the freedom for it to be merely a preference, is the problem– and it’s made creepier when you consider the prepubescent connotations of hairless genitalia.

      (edited because it read unclearly)

    • ballgame says:

      I have no problem with objecting to the ‘expectation of hairlessness’; that is, objecting to the notion that there’s something wrong with someone who doesn’t shave their pubic hair. I have a big problem with the implication that there’s the slightest thing creepy about preferring partners who do (or at least, it’s no more ‘creepy’ than women wanting their men to be clean shaven, which I personally don’t think is creepy). As long as consenting adults are involved, I don’t think we should demonize people’s sexual preferences. And frankly, what could be more demonizing than raising the specter of ‘pre-pubescence’?

    • April says:

      Raising the specter of “pre-pubescence” wouldn’t even be an issue if other societal expectations for women weren’t also reminiscent of pre-pubescence. For example, supermodels and the fact that the majority of their figures resemble those of pre-menstrual girls, or continuing to call women “girls,” to name a few All innocuous and usually quite excusable and innocent by themselves, but once it’s clear just how childlike women are expected to look and act, it becomes a larger issue that is really quite… gross. And worth noting.

      Again, though, a preference for hairlessness, a petite frame, etc. in a partner isn’t the problem; it’s the expectation that they look that way. And that expectation is one of the ways in which negative, unfair, and inaccurate gender-based stereotypes hurt women. But you know that already, as you’ve demonstrated in your last comment. Another problem is that it’s easy to call anything a “preference,” without knowing where the preference comes from. Did a random guy’s preference for hairless women come from personal aesthetic preferences (or even practicality when discussing sexual relations), or the media and commercialization? Did my “preference” for tall, bearded guys come from an authentic attraction to that appearance, or was it socialization in expecting that that’s what a “real man” looks like? Who really knows; ultimately, I think that if one is aware that those biases are real, one is in a better position to judge whether or not the “preference” is a problematic one… or even a real one.

      I may have gone on a bit of a tangent there, but I think it’s mostly relevant. I shall thank the several beers I just drank tomorrow if it’s not.

    • Melissa says:

      Seconded on the very blurry line between personal preference and societal mandate.

      I’m sure the majority of straight men would swear up and down that a hairless vulva is just what they “personally” like. I’d bet the majority of them believe it, too. But 100, 1000…heck, even 20 years ago, you would NOT have heard the same thing. Is it a coincidence that a generation of men who all just happened to prefer waxed women all just happened to be born at the exact same time, and all just happened to come of age around the same time that society started insisting that hair on a vulva is dirty and gross? It’s not particularly likely, now is it?
      Sure, there were probably a small minority of men in every generation who wanted something like that. And there’s probably a small minority of men currently in their 20s/early 30s who would want it even if it weren’t for society’s messages. But I think it would be very difficult for any individual man to tell whether his “preference” is really his own choice or not.

      It’s the same for women. Me? Yes, I get regular Brazillians, and yes, I do feel dirty and gross when the hair starts to grow back. But that feeling isn’t “natural.” It isn’t a personal preference. In fact, I came to sexual activity late and never saw any porn, so for the decade or so when I had pubic hair but had never been told to be ashamed of it, it never once even OCCURRED to me that there was anything remotely “dirty” about it. I started getting regular Brazillians, when my first few years of sexual partners made it abundantly clear that it was a requirement if I expected to be sexually active–unless you have an unusually kind partner, the only options for women who like to have sex with men in our society today are wax it all off or be celibate. It wasn’t until I’d been getting those regular Brazillians for a couple of years that my own feelings about pubic hair shifted. So yeah, I’m a woman, and I have the same visceral “ew” reaction when it comes to pubic hair. But I don’t claim for a second that that reaction is natural. It’s totally clear to me that, if it weren’t for society’s bikini wax mandate, I wouldn’t have that reaction. I suspect most people wouldn’t. I just suspect the forming of that opinion is clearer in my history than most people’s, since I stayed celibate much later than most people do. If you’ve been watching porn and/or being sexually active since puberty, how would you have any idea whether your preference was your own or society’s?

    • Hannah says:

      Here from Feministe, and just wanted to weigh in and say that this was the most incisive and honest comment on the lady-hair debate that I’ve read in a long time. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid the public-hair-is-icky thing – maybe it’s not as prevalent in the UK, or maybe I’ve just slept with excellent people – but I feel exactly the same about leg hair, and the whole thing just makes me sad.

      Also, this post was amazing – I’ll definitely be back!

    • Clarence says:

      I think you overstate your case.
      I’m a straight man, and my preference is for the “landing strip ” style.
      Clearly, whatever socialization or porn factors play into the dominant vaginal hair paradigm didn’t succeed in making me prefer the hairless style.

      What I believe is that all 3 styles of female vaginal hair maintanence have their proponents and that, at most, porn and other socializing influences can make one the number one preference, but can never make the other two preferences go away entirely. And I’m wondering how one would test this hypothesis. Maybe a sample of men from countries too poor to have had much *if any* exposure to pornography?

    • Melissa says:

      I’m not sure how the statement that other preferences exist has any effect whatsoever on my argument.

    • Clarence says:

      Your argument, taken to extremes would indicate that all sexual preferences are socially constructed.

    • Melissa says:

      Well sure, it’s easy to dismantle any argument by first taking it to extremes. Doesn’t make it a particularly useful tactic for contradicting the original.

  3. Clarence says:

    I have a problem with this post from an entirely opposite direction than whether someone prefers a shaved pussy or not.

    The idea behind the post is wrong.

    That is, not all women’s vagina’s NATURALLY smell the same. This is in parts due to genetics, in part due to habits (smoking and what you eat are biggies) and in part due to health.

    If the majority of your partners are refusing to “go down” on you due to it being rank down there you have a problem. Now, remember there can be three reasons, so if the health one doesn’t pan out , then that leaves some sort of lifestyle change or a product to mask the smell and/or taste.

    Yes, it’s true that men’s genitalia can also smell bad. Basic washing and some mild shaving or waxing is probably a good recommendation especially if you plan on keeping your puss or your balls hairy. And if you smoke, sad to say, you probably WILL need a product like the ones you decry in this post, but at least at that point the problem is partly personally inflicted.

  4. pj says:

    Well a little physiology lesson seems in order. Semen is composed of sperm ( mostly protein, simple carbs, and a head full of DNA) and fluids from three different glands. The components of the fluids are natural lubricants (oil-like) to expedite the sperm on their trip through the male reproductive system; glucose a sugar, to nourish the sperm on their harrowing (fatal to most) journey up the female reproductive tract, and alkaline substances to counteract the hostile (to sperm and invading micro-organisms) acidity of the female vagina.
    Alkaline substances impart a bitter taste, and of course glucose is sweet, and the lubricants are for the most part, tasteless. I personally have always thought that semen had a very mild salty sweetness to it, but can see where the description of “bitter” might be used. Just happy that has not been my experience!

  5. pj says:

    Kristi — your post great! I have already told you that as a pharmacist, I recommended to my customers to not use these products because they upset the micro and chemical environment of the vagina. Clarence, if a woman who you believe to have a foul smelling or foul tasting vagina were to regularly use these products, it would make the situation worse and lead to increased use of the product and the worsening of the situation …. You see the catch-22 involved here?
    I also am not sold on the scientific validity of anything other than an infection affecting the taste or smell of vaginal secretions. But I will research that before I say it is unequivocally not true.
    Also, if douching is necessary (and it rarely rarely ever is) a weak solution of vinegar and water is the only solution to ever use. Soaps are much too alkaline and those flowery products sold over the counter should always be avoided!

  6. Clarence says:

    pj:

    I admit I am not a gynecologist, and you might of course be right that douching is better. Whatever works 🙂

  7. pj says:

    Kristi — I did not comment on the psychological implications of these ads on teens and young women, especially those that are not sexually active and have not experienced the fact that most men dig the shit out of the taste and smell of our secretions. But as the grandmother of three precious girls under the age of five, and being a fierce mama bear, I would personally kick the shit out of anyone who tried to make them feel ashamed of their nature!
    But also, boys and young men become indoctrinated into the myth of the vagina at pretty young ages. They have to overcome this as well. I’ll never forget a very tender lover otherwise, who would just not put his mouth on me until we took a shower first, and this is when I may have showered just hours before. With a little understanding and loving persuasion, he came to enthusiastically enjoy the taste and smell of sex at its most impassioned heights! Score!

  8. Kristi says:

    I love each and every comment! That’s why I say the shit I say, to hear from good people like you! April’s point about the “expectation” of women being neatly shaved of all their hair has taken on new meaning. The number of very young girls (15-18) who do this because they feel they need to in order to look sexually acceptable is mind blowing! The point I was making about pubic hair got missed. It is also a big factor in putting out pheremones, and delivering your own “individual” scent to your partner. The part about looking like a seven year old is just that…it’s bald.

    My cheap shot about cum, was just that, a cheap shot, but spoke to the larger picture of why men are not targeted for advertising the way women are in the “you suck, fix yourself” arena in such a deeply personal, and not very balanced way.

    • Paul says:

      First of, i want to say that this was a great post and i agree with it entirely (incidentally that “strawberry elixer” already exists… in multiple forms. Semenex, for example. ..assuming the stuff actually works, at any rate.)

      Anyway, (at the risk of a “mansplaining” accusation) I do have to disagree with you that men don’t also get this message in advertising. You probably don’t realize it because you’re not the target audience and people tend not to notice these things when they aren’t being aimed directly at them.

      Ads Axe and for Extenze, and Trojan ads where “sex isn’t always a ten” that make it clear whose “fault” that is, just to name a few examples that come immediatly to mind.

      Granted, it may be a fairly new phenomenon, but considering it’s been occuring for as long as *I* have been old enough to notice them, I’m not sure that matters much, at least to me. Maybe I’m just especially sensitive to it because I’ve been worried about the “taste and smell” issue since puberty- due to a certain fact of my anatomy that might be TMI so I won’t mention it.

    • April says:

      If I may add my $0.02–

      While the examples you provided of the negative ways in which advertising aimed at men is absolutely harmful to men, there is a difference between the products you name, and those that Kristi is talking about. Vaginal perfumed products actually harm the natural ways in which a healthy vagina operated and self-cleanses. A body spray or a condom (assuming there are no allergies involved) don’t have the same immediately and known harmful effects on the man’s health.

    • Paul says:

      true, but the ads I mentioned were more for the “you suck, fix yourself.” side of things.

      And really, I’m not even saying it’s as bad or worse for men- it ain’t…. Although I’m starting to wonder if things are heading ever so slowly in that direction…

      And like I said, maybe I’m just especially sensitive to this sort of thing. Maybe it doesn’t bother the average man as much.

    • Cessen says:

      “A body spray or a condom (assuming there are no allergies involved) don’t have the same immediately and known harmful effects on the man’s health.”

      I agree.

      I’ll note briefly, of course, that antiperspirants (not to be confused with deodorants, although they are often combined in products) are generally harmful. But of course they are marketed to women as well.

      I’ll also note that the male solution to genital odor in our (USA) culture is to slice off part of your genitals (i.e. circumcision). I’d say that’s pretty extreme and culturally pathological as well. There is certainly a lot of cultural pressure around that, viewing foreskins as “dirty”, “disgusting”, and “ugly”. In a lot of respects, the designer-vagina problem has been happening to men for decades already.

    • Melissa says:

      Lol, try 4000 years.

      I do not understand for the life of me why people who aren’t actually Jewish still have their kids circumcised. If it’s actually your religious tradition, then fine, we should respect that. But if not…it’s pretty barbaric.

    • Cessen says:

      Well, I was thinking specifically “medicalized” circumcision in western culture. That’s a more recent (last 80-100-ish years) phenomenon.

      Regarding religion: that’s a fine reason to get yourself circumcised. Not a good reason to circumcise someone else (even your children) when they cannot consent.

    • April says:

      I’ve spent a good few years now trying to find a good antiperspirant that doesn’t smell like men’s colognes, only to find that they are simply not sold in average stores like Target, Walgreens, etc., for women. They’re all over for men, but I could never find anything decent for women. It seems that only men are given the option to sweat while trying to avoid body odor.

      I finally found Arm & Hammer deodorant, though, and absolutely love it. It’s a very nice, neutral smell, marketed toward both men and women, and all-natural.

  9. Kristi says:

    Actually Clarence, the best option for any couple having any issue with taste or smell should consider the following. If your partner’s natural pheremones aren’t attractive to you or vice-versa, take a hint from nature that maybe you’re not a good match. Next, given we’re not talking about a health issue, yes, a change in diet, or whatever chemicals your putting in your body should be looked at. Sexually, the best option is flavored lubricants that are made for private parts. Some can’t use these because of irritation issues, but, most can. Perfumes, whether “made” for the vagina are not, are not healthy. Neither is food, ie chocolate syrup, whipped cream, because sugar feeds yeast infections, then you’ll have a real medical problem on your hands.

    I appreciate your perspective Melissa, very insightful.

    • Clarence says:

      Kristi I specified that if more than one of your partners is telling you it’s smelly , it probably is.
      I’m a man who has went down on more than one woman, and I enjoy it. But if she tasted horrible or fishy for some reason, it would be a different matter.

      And as for your advice about “nature” telling you something about your coupling because your snatch doesn’t taste good to your partner, need I point out that the type of sex that results in pregnancies has nothing to do with oral sex? Quite a few couples don’t even practice it , either out of ignorance or disinterest, or disgust.

      By the way: I like fellatio. Yet I don’t REQUIRE it in a relationship, and not every girl I’ve ever been with has been into it. But if she agrees to it, I’m going to try to do anything within reason to make it as tasteful and sanitary for her as possible, and I won’t feel oppressed because of it. If you want to attract people it helps to be clean and not smell after all 😉

  10. Cessen says:

    Okay, let me digress just a moment to explain that last line about the taste of cum.

    I appluad your courage to actually keep the cum comment in your reproduction of your letter. But still, I don’t see how that was productive, and I think it was pretty problematic even in context. The solution to women’s problems is not to try to transfer them to men as well. Even the men perpetuating the problem (that will likely just make them want to enforce women’s version of the problem even more).

    IMO it’s pretty obvious that both men and women’s bodily excretions are going to be unpleasant to some people, and not unpleasant to others. I think it’s probably wise to keep any discussion of things to personal statements. i.e. “I don’t like the taste of semen” and “I don’t like the taste of vaginal fluids”. Neither are inherently offensive in any way.

    • Cessen says:

      Ack. And when I say “I don’t see how that was productive” I’m referring to the cum comment, not the fact that you left it in your reproduction, which again I applaud you for (yay honesty!).

    • Kristi says:

      Actually, I would disagree that it wasn’t productive. You’ll find that I will make generalizations, or be sarcastic, in order to see what the response is, or generate a certain feeling. Some are also personal opinions of mine, some are not and are generalizations based on years of working with people. That doesn’t make them “correct,” but it shows they do exist. What I always enjoy, is how other people process that information, and then choose to respond. Dialogue wins. Thank you!

Comments are closed.