Man Candles! Finally. Really.

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Glimpsed in a mall shop window: this display promoting “man candles.” Man candles! What are those? Clearly, an accessory for the “man cave.”

Courtesy of Yankee Candle, this poster—and the store display—provide quite an education in the gender of candles.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that candles have gender (a quality traditionally reserved for humans, who, as living beings, actually enact conventions of masculinity and femininity, something inanimate objects would find hard to do); certainly, candle stores have strategically, if often implicitly, appealed to female consumers. Now Yankee Candle makes explicit its gendering of this inanimate object.

If these items are “man candles,” then all the other candles in the store must be “woman candles.”) Yankee Candle promises “this year’s must have gift for Dad,” with an air of solving a longstanding problem: Finally, the half of the population left out of mass candle buying has products for them.

Of course, the “man candles” herein conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity in ways almost too easy to bother analyzing: hunting, outdoorsiness, big machinery, alcohol, and, well, just SMELL.

This promotion made me wonder. What DOES camo smell like? (Turns out, it smells a little like the woods, in a good way.) Why do we NEED “man candles?” Have men been lacking candles? Do women just secretly want reasons to buy men candles as a way of increasing their own candle supply? Do men want to buy each other candles but feel constrained by the feminine associations with this product? (After all, the usual scents are things like rose, gardenia, pumpkin, cinnamon and so on. Everyone knows those are “woman smells.”).

Candles could be an aid to romance, which might certainly transcend heteronormative gender assumptions, but on the other hand, will prospective consumers find themselves in the mood when they sniff “on tap” or “riding mower?” I’m thinking not. (“On Tap,” one of the man-scented candles, smells truly foul, like the most stale of bars passed by on the street on a Sunday morning).

“Man Town” smells pleasantly of traditional aftershave, clean and fresh, but still, it’s kind of a weird scent for a candle. If none of these fit the bill, there’s always “MMM, Bacon!,” which like all candles, you could purchase as a candle or as a car air freshener (because who wouldn’t want their car to smell like bacon).

The man-candle marketing doesn’t end with the window; a full display inside (looking ahead to Father’s Day) includes an enticing array of these new scents, along with the “Man Candles Toolbox Gift Set,” which packages “tumbler candles” in , you got it, a toolbox. I guess candles seem even less like candles if they come in a glass the man could put liquor in and a container he could pack tools in later. Or perhaps, the candles ARE tools.

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The Father’s Day conceit continues in the store’s seasonal catalog: “give dad what he really wants. . . it’s really not that complicated.”

On another page, options for holding the candles: “Hero’s Boots Jar Candle Holder.” The text proclaims, “Boot, Baseball and Beer. . . Things Dad Loves.” See photo above for the boots in action with some camo candles.

What more is there to say about this? Probably I’ve said enough, except to conclude that this marketing ploy fits a trend I’ve noticed in mainstream consumer culture: products become ever more gender-specific—in the most traditional ways—even as women and men in the United States continue to test gender norms in their own lives, from changing roles in relationships, to changing conceptions of normative relationships, to increasing understanding of transgender identity and genderqueer identity.

Yet mainstream consumer culture holds steadfast to these norms, sometimes in the most farcical ways. Yankee Candle clearly wants to reassure its customers that in their shop, at least, traditional social norms prevail. And since they are (as they claim), “America’s best loved candle,” this message clearly matters.

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