Sex Smells: Olfaction, Modernity and the Regulation of Women's Bodies 1880–1940 (Or How Women Came to Fear Their Own Smells)

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Australian Feminist Studies, 2019, 34 (100), pp. 232 - 247
Issue Date:
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© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This article analyses representations of deodorising products in Australian women's magazines from 1880 to 1940 to examine how women were encouraged to fear their own smells and mistrust their own bodies. I argue that the transition to modernity witnessed a reduction in olfactory tolerance that fell along class and gender lines. Smells were imbued with new cultural meanings that served to reinforce women's subordinate status and to pathologise women's bodies on the supposed eve of their emancipation. As public space was increasingly democratised, smell was invoked to police social divisions and to render them culturally intelligible. As such, this article brings feminist history and the history of sexuality into dialogue with the history of the senses to redirect scholarly attention to the politics of smell. It also challenges dominant interpretations of modernity that emphasise the primacy of the visual.
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