Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Fragrance-Free Hospital Policies Don't Increase Accessibility In Capitalist Environments

I love scented lotions, but I decided to stop wearing them on doctors appointments after watching a healthcare professional mention how dealing with fiftyleven different perfumes every day as each patient comes in slathered in something. However, I think it be helpful if fragrance-free advocates made some effort to  address why we're in this situation in the first place.

European cultures have long practiced the heavy use of perfumes as a substitution for good hygiene practices. Many Indigenous people were/are horrified to learn that the colonizers actually believed that bathing every day was harmful to their health while the Europeans wrote all about how primitive they considered the Indigenous people for getting completely naked in running water for the purpose of cleaning themselves every day.

Along with these unscientific theories about bathing, the European settler colonialists brought an even more harmful belief system with them. The patriarchy that was inflicted on this country enforced the idea that women were inferior to men. Not only were we considered physically weaker, but our bodies were considered inherently dirty. This created the perfect environment for capitalists to heavily push the idea that women need to purchase special products to minimize and mask the effects of this. They've been so successful at using colonialist patriarchy to enforce capitalism that this market has only increased over time.

Soon, it wasn't enough for us to lack any sort of body odor whatsoever. We also had to smell like something else. I'm sure there are women who have written about logical it is that, in a society that thrives on consumption, many of the most popular hygiene products marketed to women are based on food scents (e.g. Vanilla, strawberry, coconut, peach) and those targeting men are not. Now it seems that everything that's even associated with women needs to be scented.

I guess our girl cooties are spreading via laundry and skin-to-surface contact. Our clothes have to smell like they've been dipped in a vat of orange-water and dried in an oven filled with baked goodies. Our furniture and counter tops must carry the lab-imagined essence of a summer breeze or a garden of lemon trees. Even the cheapest body and household products are scented. I noticed this at the bargain markets like Dollar General and Family Dollar Store shows. Those who have to do the majority of their shopping at places like these don't get to choose a fragrance-free life.

It's all well and good for hospitals to seek to minimize the unnecessary chemicals that patients will be exposed to. Patients with multiple chemical sensitivities and breathing issues deserve that. However, they're just substituting the groups who are left without accessible care if they don't address the fact that the poorest among us may not be able to comply. I only work two days of the week. I have no small children to care for. That means I have the time and financial resources to dabble in the kitchen and create my own fragrance-free products. Most people in my life do not have this luxury.

Fragrance-free policies pit vulnerable communities against each other. It contributes to the ableist "special needs" ideas about people with disabilities. It frames this as an issue where people with disabilities are expecting others to go out of their way and come out of their pockets so that we can be comfortable. This really doesn't benefit us, especially since people with disabilities who live in a capitalist, colonialist environment are often forced into poverty. This creates the friction of conflicting needs within disability communities. We should not be forced to choose between including the poorest among us or those who need fragrance-free care. Unless fragrance-free advocates deal with the reasons why so many people live in environments that are saturated in harmful chemicals, it seems unlikely that people with disabilities will get what we need to live as symptom-free as we want to be.


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