Thursday, October 4, 2007

It's getting so easy to be an outlaw

Husband Dave sent me a link to this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about students at one of the Cal State campuses lobbying for a ban on perfume. I figured it was just a matter of time before the fragrance-phobes staked out some territory in the academic world, and sure enough, the article reports that 2 colleges have already gone scent-free. (I could say something old fartish here about young people protesting perfume when there's a war on that their children might well wind up fighting. But I'll restrain myself.)

The comments on the article are of the predictable "us versus them" variety, with each side accusing the other of insensitivity and oppression--and in fact, the accusations are correct in both directions. The pro-perfume crowd can get quite rude and nasty in their dismissal of the whole MCS business. I know I've never had a lot of patience for the sufferers' claims, mostly because I can't figure out why perfume is so much more of a threat to them than the wide array of scentless toxic fumes we're all breathing in 24/7. That's no reason to dismiss people who say they're sick as neurotic control freaks, though. If they say they're sick, they probably are, and it wouldn't kill us to be considerate.

For their part, the MCS folk are ridiculously hostile and judgmental toward scent lovers. They take on a very aggrieved attitude, as if perfume had been invented just to torment them. They're very quick to enlist authority on their behalf, rather than taking the time and trouble to negotiate with the people around them about the issue.

It seems laughable to say so, but I think it's just a matter of time before the perfume police really start rolling. I'd take bets on an airplane ban sometime in the next few years, and I think we'll start seeing little "no fragrance" signs on the doors of doctor's offices and some public buildings. More rules, more official advisories--yeah, just what we need. The good news is that most people will probably flout any fragrance ban, as they do so many others. That'll be a good thing. We could all do with a little less respect for authority.

*Image courtesy of


Bozo said...

Speaking of "old fartish," when will flatulance be outlawed?

BitterGrace said...

Any minute now. Somehow, I think people will ignore that law, too.

Mary said...

Is it horrible of me to get a secret thrill that my perfume might be annoying to someone? Sometimes I just think, 'Get over yourself. We all live in this world together.' Psshhh, I'm feeling pissy today.

BitterGrace said...

Oh, you know I've got the same little imp egging me on, Mary. I don't think I've killed anybody yet.

Lucy said...

Sad to say, I think some people, thru overexposure to chemicals or medications, have actually become hypersensitive to fragrances. Which are now everywhere, not necessarily as fine thoughtfully composed perfumes. I have been told by a friend in this predicament that he can "taste" my perfume even two days after seeing me, and I don't think I pour it on all that much (well, not exactly...) and I might add this is after meeting for dinner, only...
but this is a person who truly has been overexposed to a lot of toxic chemicals over time from work related projects. Other people who say they are sensitized, I am not so sure. I know too many perfumes one after the other can give even me a migraine. I hope this condition never happens to me or anyone who gets pleasure from perfume, needless to say...but I have two sisters with terrible sinus problems and one has lost her sense of smell. All I can say is thank heavens the allergy demons have left me alone, so far...
and that we should also all be careful not to risk overexposure. I have read and heard you can develop such reactions that way...
Please excuse the long long comment...

BitterGrace said...

Lucy, I love long comments.

I admit I have a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to people who claim sensitivity to ALL perfume. It just seems implausible to me, although I have no doubt that certain perfumes make certain people sick (some make me sick!), and I am all for being considerate about that. If someone really is suffering from MCS, then it just seems as if perfume would be pretty far down on the list of serious culprits. I think it gets singled out simply because it calls attention to itself, and people tend to regard it as frivolous.

It's a little like the outrage people express over fur. In the universe of animal cruelty, fur production is a pretty minor element, but fur represents privilege and class arrogance to people, so they make it the focus of their anger.

I think what really inhibits my sympathy for people with sensitivity problems is the whole business of bans and rules imposed across the board. In case it's not obvious from my other posts, I have a pretty serious hang-up of my own about that.

Self-righteous said...

Dear BitterGrace,

"I think what really inhibits my sympathy for people with sensitivity problems is the whole business of bans and rules imposed across the board." An excellent point and I couldn't agree more. Do you feel that way about cigarette smoke and smoking bans in public places? I'm just curious. As a smoker, I was outraged when smoking sections in restaurants disappeared. I got over it and, in fact, came to see the wisdom of it. It's unfortunate that smokers themselves could not have effected the necessary change, but I think that would have been a stretch, to expect all smokers to suddenly realize their insensitivity and take some responsibility for cleaning up the environment.
The perfume problem is similar, in my opinion. Perfume (and not the "fine thoughtfully composed perfumes" mentioned by Lucy) is toxic. It contains petrochemicals and other synthetic chemicals (look up toluene) that have been shown to cause reproductive harm, exacerbate allergies, and in animal tests, cause cancer, sort of like cigarette smoke. The European Commission banned these ingredients, but the U.S. thinks they're okay. It would be marvelous if every person who enjoys a lovely scent had the good sense (pun intended) to wear non-toxic products and just a small amount of it (a small amount is all that is required, as a good perfumer will tell you and when it's a fine perfume, only the person closest to you will smell it). One of the problems with "regular" perfume (and fragrances used in all the other personal care and household products) is coal tar. Coal tar is used as a dye and also because it prolongs the smell; actually makes it into small physical particles that cling and won't go away. Coal tar is a known carcinogen.
An important part of the equation, and this too is similar to the smoking situation, is there are people who say they are not affected by the presence of perfume, who in fact ARE being affected by the chemicals in the air. They may not sneeze or have watery, stingy eyes, nevertheless, those chemicals are most certainly entering their lungs and affecting their bodies. I knew plenty of people who said they didn't mind if I smoked in their presence. I didn't smoke around them because I know that even though they say they're okay with it, it is still harming them.
People who want to wear perfume should wear perfume. And people who suffer need to communicate about the problem they are having. Sometimes the perfumed person will be surprised that their scent is causing someone else distress. Then a true dialog can happen. But some will not like being told and will resist and be defensive. Then what?

Self-righteous said...

P.S. I love Buckwheat Zydeco. I've only heard the album "Where There's Smoke, There's Fire." Great stuff.

BitterGrace said...

Hi, SR--I think we're pretty simpatico on all this. I don't deny for a second that perfumes contain toxins and carcinogens, and huffing on them at close quarters is not good for you. But working in an office where fresh carpet has just been laid is probably a lot more dangerous, not to mention unpleasant, as far as I'm concerned. I don't think the anti-fragrance people are full of shit so much as I think they lack a sense of proportion about the threat.

I think your attitude as a smoker is admirable, and obviously, if every smoker was like you, there'd a lot less anti-smoker hysteria. I was also dismayed about the loss of smoking sections in restaurants, and I've never been a smoker. I realize the main justification behind the total ban is protection for the people who work in those establishments, but lots of jobs have hazards. If a wait or a bartender doesn't want to deal with the smoke, he should seek another line of work.

That said, I am in favor of the ban on smoking on airplanes. I just feel that's a special case--lots of people confined in a space where the air quality is already god-awful, absolutely no way a person being sickened by the smoke can escape, etc.

Glad you share my love of Buckwheat Z. I tried to find a CD of that album I mention, "100% Fortified Zydeco," a few years back, and it was out-of-print, unavailable anywhere. So I treasure our old vinyl copy.

Self-righteous said...

You can always digitize your album, make your own CD.

Why should people change jobs because some asshole won't wear less (or none at all) garbage scent? And why should we even think we had to choose between one offensive toxin (newly laid carpet) and another (too much perfume)?! Yes, there are lots of nasty chemicals floating, flying around and otherwise contaminating our environment. That does NOT mean that one can be ignored because another is more prevalent, more toxic, more what? I really don't get that.
And the "anti-fragrance people" who "lack a sense of proportion about the threat" are people who often have a very very very serious reaction to the chemical soup that fragrances are. LACK A SENSE OF PROPORTION!? Do your homework and stop defending something that obviously is wrong.
Right is right, even if everyone is against it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.
~ William Penn
"It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate,tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds."
Samuel Adams

p.s. loved your interview with John Updike. I truly hope we never find a place in the future where there are no writers. Arghh, what a loss.