The Gender Wars: go where I scent thee?

By Dale Short
Posted 7/21/16

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in the Eagle in 2013.

A few years ago, a team of neuroscientists exploring the measurable behavior differences between males and females (a field that might be more accurately called, I suggest, …

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The Gender Wars: go where I scent thee?


Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in the Eagle in 2013.

A few years ago, a team of neuroscientists exploring the measurable behavior differences between males and females (a field that might be more accurately called, I suggest, “Easy Pickings”) made an important but not surprising discovery.

When given the chance to control their ideal room temperature by means of a thermostat, females choose a temperature that’s an average of seven degrees warmer than males prefer.

(Years ago when I was renting office space in Birmingham, I found that the thermostat on the wall by the entrance door didn’t work. A service technician came out and discovered why: behind the sheetrock, the device’s wires were cut and hanging in mid-air. The office’s “real” thermostat was hidden in a secret panel in the office of the former tenants’ boss. Mystery solved.)

But if the fabled War Between the Sexes ever turns into a literal shooting match, I predict it will be about a different subject: the way the place smells.

When I was a kid, the most familiar TV commercial was for Irish Spring bath soap. A guy just out of the shower holds up a bar of it and comments, “It’s a manly scent.” Out of nowhere comes a beautiful woman in a bathrobe and takes it away from him, saying, “But I like it, too!” At one point the guy cuts a fresh bar in two with his pocketknife(!) to show the green-and-white layers inside. Another familiar commercial featured a hulking workman with a voice like Hoss Cartwright, washing his hands at a crudely made sink. “Ain’t but one thang to get these hands clean,” he says, with the emphasis on “thang”...”and that’s Lava Soap.” It was named Lava because the bar was half soap and half grit, which gave the sensation of washing your hands with sandpaper.

Life was good. For a guy wanting to stay clean, at least.

Fast-forward a generation, and you can tell you’re on the bath products aisle because it smells like a mummified pie factory. You can still find Irish Spring if you look hard enough, and even the occasional bar of Lava — displayed apologetically off to the side —though it’s now got a heavy dose of moisturizers and nobody brags about the grit taking off a layer of your skin along with the dirt.

But the vast majority of the self-cleanliness products have labels proclaiming “Coconut,” “Apple,” “Blueberry,” “Peach,” “Honey,” “Cinnamon,” “Vanilla,” and enough of the ever-present “Aloe” to choke Hoss Cartwright in his tracks.

I’ve got no gripe with any of these aromas. But to sniff them on my hands or skin is a different matter. My automatic response is to look around for a restaurant’s pastry cart. By the time I figure out I’m not in a restaurant, I’ve lost my train of thought and have to start over with whatever I was doing.

I’m sure a marketer would tell me that the avalanche of sweet-smelling soapstuffs were created that way because they sell like hotcakes...okay, bad choice of words. But I’m guessing that a large part of their sales is from old guys who don’t have any other choice.

What about the Axe brand of bath products, you ask. I’ve tried many times to get a whiff of them in stores, but the only effect is to immediately shut down my bronchial tubes like an asthma attack. If I could somehow learn to sniff the Axe fragrances without having to breathe at the same time, I’m sure I could discover some interesting alternatives to the cobbler-pie grouping on the ladies’ aisle.

In the meantime, I’m convinced that some distributor could make a million bucks by packaging, as a bath soap or gel, the exact ingredients in the sanitizing hand-wipes that supermarkets dispense alongside their shopping carts.

Now, THERE’s a clean smell. No vanilla or honey in a carload, and you could never imagine it wafting from a warm pie shell. It even scrapes out your sinuses a bit, which is always good. In fact, its bitter-cold and assaultingly pungent astringency resonates with my maleness in inexplicable ways, and...sorry. Too much information? Anyway, a manufacturer could make a bath gel from the concentrated sanitizer scent, put in several ounces of the grit from an old Lava warehouse, call it something like Maxe instead of Axe, and suddenly millions of old guys would be bathing the dream—and more waiting in line until supplies were replenished.

If Hoss were still with us, I know he’d be on board.

Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His email address is