Doften av genus - Förhandlingar kring kvinnligt, manligt och parfymer

Magdalena Petersson McIntyre


The article discusses perfume and perfume packaging from the perspective that the material world both reflects and creates gender ideology. It builds on an ethnographic study where qualitative interviews have been conducted with women who work as sales assistants in perfume shops. The aim is to study the interface of packages, scents and shop staff for the meaning-making of gender. How do the interviewees relate to scents and their packages and how is gender understood in relation to these goods? Theoretically the article builds on Judith Butler’s theories of performativity. The marketing and packaging of perfumes can be seen as performative in the sense that they enact gender conventions while simultaneously creating those same conventions as effects. Packages marketed to men were by the interviewed sales assistants interpreted as expressions of functionality and rationality. Packages marketed to women were described as desirable, fashionable and changeable. Women, both the interviewed themselves and other consumers, were in line with this described as driven by desire and pursuit of novelties and men as more rational consumers that buy and use scents in order to satisfy particular needs. These interpretations of gender were however unstable and in need of constant reassurance to work. The world of perfume is characterized by incoherence. Different versions of gender exist simultaneously. Women are portrayed as sexy, clean, classical, girlish, romantic, sporty and seductive. Women can also be masculine and unisex. Men and masculinity also emerge in different shapes even though the variation is larger for women. A large part of contemporary marketing uses choice and desire for novelties and changeability as taken for granted aspects of consumption. The article discusses the complex processes through which gender is constructed in interplay with these consumer goods.

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