I was staying in a bungalow with some friends when one of them picked up my deodorant and asked me: “Is this yours?” “Yes,” I said.
“But it says ‘for men’,” she persisted.
“I like how it smells,” I answered. “And that’s why I bought it.”
“That makes a lot of sense,” my girlfriend added. “If you would design a deodorant for men, you might want to choose a smell that appeals to women.”
I smiled, because I never looked at it that way. But I must admit it has crossed my mind that our sense of smell is the most direct way to access the parts of our brain that are the oldest, in an evolutionary sense. Right above our noses, we find the olfactory lobe and this part of our brains controls many animal activities that involve the sense of smell: gathering food, courtship, mating and warning of predators. We often aren’t conscious of what we smell, but these subliminal processes can have subtle effects on our thoughts, preferences and behaviours. I would not be surprised if it was possible to subtly warn people that I am not to be trifled with, just by choosing my deodorant wisely.Sex change
I think my brain would feel perfectly at home in a male body. I cannot know this, because I never tried. (I would do so in a heartbeat if it could be done painless, temporary and perfectly convincing!) I recently read an article by Dutch writer and philosopher Marjolein Februari. She had a sex change and now calls himself Maxim. In the newspaper, he says it will be business as usual:
“I would like to announce a small increase in price, though. A man would expect to make at least 18% more than a woman makes when doing the exact same work.”
Maxim felt herself to be a man inside a woman’s body. It makes perfect sense that he decided that from now on he wants to look the way he feels.Apart from that, Februari struggled being a woman, a lesbian and a writer. She recalls how a publisher contacted her and mentioned:
“For the next issue, we have invited some women writers and some normal writers.”
Just like I assume it ‘helps’ to be a Jew to develop a personal radar for the more subtle expressions of anti-Semitism, I think you have to be a woman to really feel the many ways in which we are not considered equals. Not in Western Europe and nowhere else. Sexchange or not, Maxim Februari knows he will never be a normal writer. In addition, he now has to turn down lots of invitations to appear on television and tell us all how it feels to grow a beard.
There is a difference between not receiving equal pay and being the subject of outright misogyny.
“When a woman has scholarly inclinations there is usually something wrong with her sexuality.” Nietzsche
This is a perfect example of double standards; a biased, morally unfair suspension of the principle that all are equal in their freedoms. It’s fine to be a scholar if you are a man, but if a woman is so inclined, there must be something wrong with her. I would say in this particular instance, there is an implicit warning: “If you do express such inclinations, remember we (the people that matter) will know there is something wrong with you.”We all know that scholarly women are sexless. They have outdated hairstyles and wear frumpy clothes. Or they are old-style lesbians hidden in the attics of academe, where they are condemned to forever drink sherry in the company of more than one cat. The deeply disturbing part is, that you could say this to any woman and thus entice her to wear something different tomorrow. Double standards are a great way to make people feel insecure. Let me quote a man on that:
“It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing – they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.”
This is a quote from the first part of Stephen Fry’s autobiography, called “Moab is my washpot.” It’s an entertaining read, but at times I found it chilling to experience the desperate loneliness of an eight-year old boy at boarding school, being forever different from everyone else and feeling different, in the most shameful, unhealthy way. You really don’t have to be a woman to be unhappy!
You might have already spotted where I’m going with this. Fry was lonely, but not as lonely as Nietzsche. Maybe I should spend some time thinking up an aphorism on that.