25/09/2013 13:44 BST | Updated 25/11/2013 05:12 GMT

The Smell of a Man, How the Feminisation of Men Started in the Bathroom

When I was young, my father and I would disagree about masculinity. I remember how he was deeply shocked and offended by the first 'Brut' adverts on the TV in which two very heterosexual sportsmen, Henry Cooper and Kevin Keegan, shared some roll-on deodorant. My father thought it meant the two of them were gay, despite all the evidence against such a conclusion.

For him, the use of a deodorant on your underarms was a denial of your masculinity. A cursory wipe with a brick of coal tar soap was the most care and attention this area of his body ever got. In his day, the smell of a man was very distinct, sweaty armpits with a hint of engine oil and stale beer...yum, lovely! His use of the bathroom facilities consisted of taking very shallow, fast baths, and shaving in the mirror. He had no toiletries stood in serried ranks, a toothbrush and razor were all he needed.

His simple logic associating cleanliness with being gay was as follows. Women took time to make themselves smell 'nice' to attract men, so any man who also made himself smell 'nice' wanted the same, to attract men. If my father were with us now he'd be a very confused old man.


Through the promotion of male orientated products in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the underarm deodorant became the first new male toiletry since...well, since forever. Women also took a leading role in the advancement of male toiletries, preferring to smell their men close up, not at a distance.

My father's views are now those of a dinosaur (who died smelling badly) and we have a multi-multi-million pound male toiletry industry. My son would feel naked and under-dressed without a liberal plastering of toiletries before going out. Footballers, boxers, car mechanics, even our armed forces would feel uncomfortable without their 24-hour roll on protection.

It is quite remarkable how such an entrenched concept about what makes a man has been challenged and overthrown in such a relatively short period of time. The revolution which occurred in our bathrooms was the start of a feminisation process for men, and it spread from the bathroom to the bedroom wardrobe. All those years ago, my long hair shocked my father, as did the brightness and colour of my clothes. Masculinity had been a very black and white ideal, a man was either 'macho' or a 'wimp', there was no in-between. Your smell, hair length and clothing were barometers of which end of the line you inhabited.

Nowadays, most of us inhabit the middle ground. This is a result of being in the advanced stages of a change process lowering the barriers and divides between men and women. There are still men who think the way my father did, but they are dwindling in number. As men we are smelling sweeter, have more colourful clothes choices, have opinions on fashion, enjoy going shopping. I want us (men and women) to continue this process, deepen it, and make it more common-place to negate a return to the bad smelling old days.

Long may we be free to smell as sweetly and freshly as we wish. Along the way let's see which other rooms we can change for the better.


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