So many things to say. So few of them good.
Let’s start with my Boyfriend-related SA encounter. I dropped by my local Sephora for the sole purpose of trying Kate Walsh's Boyfriend. I asked the super attentive SA where it was, and she led me over to the display, which I’d manage to miss completely.
Grabbing the bottle and a scent strip, she turned to me while spraying. “People either love it or hate it,” she said wafting the strip and handing it to me. As I sprayed a little on me, she continued. “Personally, I don’t like it. But it’s mostly the story about it, you know?”
For Kate, that story involves a breakup five years ago, after which she realized how much she missed his scent. "So I went to a fragrance counter and bought a men's fragrance and went, 'Wait a minute, you don’t need a boyfriend to have a Boyfriend! Ding ding ding!' FN1.The SA wrinkled her nose. “Yeah. It shouldn’t be called Boyfriend. It should be called Stalker.” And then we laughed. Mostly to keep from crying, I think. Which gets me to my biggest beef with Boyfriend.
Let’s look at the marketing language proffered by Sephora to attract buyers toward Boyfriend:
You don't need a boyfriend to have Boyfriend, the new fragrance created by "Private Practice" star Kate Walsh. Inspired by the longing felt for her boyfriend's warm scent, Boyfriend combines muguet, dark plum, myrrh, and night blooming jasmine to create a seductive floral fragrance. Topped off with amber and woody musk, this intoxicating scent includes all the notes that make your eyes roll—just like him.Does Kate Walsh realize that she is, in fact, implying that you need a boyfriend – some kind of boyfriend? Because obviously you can’t break up with a guy because the relationship was bad and you didn’t really love each other and still be a whole person! You MUST have a man substitute. Like say, one of these. Also, I love how the ad copy downplays the “we just broke up” aspect of the story, which actually makes the ad copy worse. Because even when you have a boyfriend, you might need a temporary substitute for the rare seconds you are left to your tender, desperate, vulnerable feminine lonesome.
|"The Boyfriend Kit"|
And the names on the bottle and the bag. OMG, the bottle. All those dude names. Why? And they are so generic. (Not unlike the scent itself. More on that to follow.) And let’s just face it people – white. With the exception of Pablo, this is some primarily anglo name mess going on. Because our fake ideal Boyfriend isn’t just boring and average, he’s also white. FN2.
At this point, you’re probably wondering why I have basically flipped out at what is more or less simply a failed marketing attempt. I’ll tell you why. Messages that a woman is not whole without a man are a societal disease, underpinning a violent epidemic. And I’m not speaking in hyperbole:
- One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.FN3
- While women are less likely than men to be victims of violent crimes overall, women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate partner. FN4
- Estimates range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend each year to 4 million women who are physically abused by their husbands or live-in partners each year. FN4
- The health-related costs of intimate partner violence exceed $5.8 billion each year. Of that amount, nearly $4.1 billion are for direct medical and mental health care services, and nearly $1.8 billion are for the indirect costs of lost productivity or wages. FN5
- On average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. FN6
|Boyfriend, the offensive bottle.|
All of this makes me feel rageful toward this insipid fragrance, which I might add only smells like a light and generally unimpressive take of an Oriental of the Shalimar-flavoring. FN7. The scent itself is sort of boring. It's generally kind of sweet, meaning all I got from it was the vanilla and amber (which I normally like), but it had a weird smell underneath that was supposed to be wood, and on me came across like shoving your face into a bucket of used, scentless dryer sheets. It was a static-y buzz that was supposed to be the masculine aspect, I think, but on me the scent came off as generic and cloying, and it lasted like that for about four hours. It's not quite what I'd expect from, say, a Bath & Body Works scent (in the way that there seems to be no subtly or balance, but rather all sirens and air horns, in their creations) but it is only a step above that, which makes it a not-great scent with an incredibly unfortunate presentation. Additionally, it does not smell particularly ‘masculine,’ in the way that scents are generally directed toward male-identified people or female-identified people.
And that’s before I get to the fact the entire Boyfriend marketing scheme is incredibly heterosexist and ignores the fact that men have Boyfriends whose scent they might miss or that women might miss the scent of the women they date. But in Kate Walsh’s world, I guess this isn’t a problem, since you know, only women can shop on the women’s side of Sephora and only men can shop on the men’s side; consequently I guess if you miss your same-sex partner you can just, I don’t know, buy the scent they actually wore.
And that brings me to my last point: as both a person who aspires to a world unlimited by gender expression, and as a person who just spent about $100 buying a bunch of lovely cheap thrill type scents made and marketed for men, it offends me to think I can’t just go buy and wear whatever scent I love, for whatever reason. Will my credit card be rejected by the Sephora SA if I’m like, “I’m here to buy a bottle of Ralph Lauren Polo for myself, because I like it and it reminds me of my brother who is currently stationed in Iraq?” No. And if I buy a bottle of L'Artisan Timbuktu because it reminds me of my grandfather, who died in 1998, I don’t think the perfume police are going to show up and take my bottle away. Scents matter. Scent memory is an important part of how we experience the world. And when we love a scent for some deeply personal and emotional reason, a generic substitutional icon is not going to meet those needs.
At the end of the day, a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Or, to put it another way, a woman, or anyone else for that matter, has as little need of Boyfriend as my kittens need of a lawn mower.
P.S. Memo to Kate Walsh – fire your publicist. FN8. FN9.
For other posts related to perfume, marketing, and gender, see:
~ Gender, Language, and Scent
~ Perfume Marketing and Feminist Aesthetics, Pt. 1: Perfume, Advertising, And the Male Gaze
~ Some More Thoughts on "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" and Advertising of Scents for 'Men'
~ Perfume Marketing and Feminist Aesthetics, Pt. 2: Sex/Erotica and the Male Gaze in Perfume Advertising
~ Perfume Marketing and Feminist Aesthetics, Pt. 3: The Exotic and how it relates to the Male Gaze and Majority View in Perfume Advertising
~ Advertising Critique: Prada Infusion d'Iris
FN1. From this article at BellaSugar.
FN2.The SA and I actually joked that perhaps this lost Boyfriend of Walsh's was gay, given the overall feminine presentation of the scent, and that perhaps Pablo was the man Boyfriend left her for, giving him bottle naming rights despite his potentially non-Anglo heritage.
FN3. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The National Institute of Justice, Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, July 2000. The Commonwealth Fund, Health Concerns Across a Woman’s Lifespan: 1998 Survey of Women’s Health, 1999.
FN4. Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends, U.S. Department of Justice, March, 1998.
FN5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States, April 2003.
FN6. Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, February 2003. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. 1993-2004, 2006.
FN7. This comparison is actually an insult to Shalimar.
FN8. I generally like you and think you are a talented actress. No one paid to protect your image should have let you do this to yourself.
FN9. P.S. I know you think this is all about women's empower, like "Yeah! We don't need you, men! We have this bottle of scent we bought with our own money to replace you." That is not, in fact, radical or empowering. It says that there's still a hole that needs filling, which is the message that causes problems in the first place. It's approximately as feminist as the concept of a momma grizzly.