The Lynx Effect: Rape culture in action

Lynx. The perfect Secret Santa gift for the male colleague you don’t know and/or don’t particularly like. The heterosexual male equivalent of one of those Baylis & Harding “looks vaguely like Molton Brown but totally isn’t” bath sets. The year before last, I received the latter, my partner got the former. What this says about us as colleagues is something I’d rather not consider.  

Having had some Lynx in our household within the recent past, I can say at least this with certainty: the Lynx Effect doesn’t work. One whiff of Africa, Cool Metal, Excite or Fever does not provoke unstoppable horniness. It provokes, first, amusement because it smells so fucking awful, second, vague memories of some really creepy lads in Year 10, and, finally, a migraine. Only the first of these is even remotely fun.

Back in the 1980s there was, sort of, a female equivalent to the Lynx Effect, when Impulse used the “men just can’t help acting on it” tagline.

That’s right, ladies, when a man you’ve never met before gives you flowers, you’ll know he’s acting on Impulse (which obviously makes it totally reassuring and not at all stalkerish, or so my 11-year-old self used to think). As ever, the expectations placed on men in response to female body spray were considerably lower than those placed on women in response to Lynx. Women detect a little Lynx Apollo and they’re whipping their bras off to reveal ample, if somewhat artificial looking, tits. Men get a noseful of Impulse Chic and the most they’re expected to do is proffer some limp Gladioli (tip: most women would rather have booze. Or even a book token, to be honest). To make matters worse the ball is then back in the woman’s court (he’s bought you some flowers, you say? Time to whip your bra off to reveal ample …). It’s not great, is it? And all this is before we get into the deeply disturbing overtones of a tagline which suggests men can’t really control themselves anyhow.

It’s bad enough that the ads play on the idea of male pursuer, female pursued (always in a deeply heteronormative context). These days Lynx are taking it one step further. Consider this delightful ad:


The Lynx Effect. Encouraging Involuntary Seduction, that is, making someone who doesn’t actively want to have sex with you become more “amenable”. A bit like too much alcohol, or Rohypnol, only cheaper. “Involuntary” because, let’s face it, choice always gets in the way. Clearly Lynx understands what a young man wants: not any form of sexual interaction, but someone, anyone, into whom to stick his cock. Sod giving them flowers (that’s so 1980s). Let’s drug them (or let’s at least kid ourselves that a lungful of Lynx Rise will do anything other than repulse).

Sometimes it’s really difficult to explain the concept of rape culture to the unconvinced. Some people still believe there is rape – which bad people commit – and a surrounding environment which does nothing to condone it. If they do nothing else, Lynx adverts, with their jaunty sexism and teenage bedroom fantasies, make it that little bit easier to show how distorted concepts of seduction feed into a belief that consent doesn’t really matter. The word “involuntary” should never be used in adverts aimed at young men at a stage when they need to learn what enthusiastic consent really means. If sex involves anything that is not voluntary, it needs to stop.

It’s not that Lynx actually works. Of course it doesn’t. Everyone, even those using it, knows it doesn’t. But spreading the notion that it is reasonable to get people to whom you’re attracted to do things they don’t really want to do – that can have an effect. This is not selling seduction; it’s legitimising fantasies of assault.

6 thoughts on “The Lynx Effect: Rape culture in action

  1. Ok, so I’ve just watched The Inbetweeners movie, more because there’s been naff all on the telly this Xmas rather than any real curiosity about the film. I’m hardly the target audience being a middle aged woman and as it’s all about the puncturing of adolescent male preoccupations, and illusions, with sex. The Lynx ads always struck me as similarly deeply ironic. Ok so the media types involved wouldn’t personally be smelt dead in the stuff, but there was a knowing affection in the stories of weedy men being pursued by hordes of lascivious women. Anyone being given Lynx isn’t buying into rape culture per se: they’re probably buying two for the price of one ( a fiver for two !) at Tesco. The Lynx effect has more to do with the state of the economy and the shoddy goods, and even shoddier dreams, sold to the working class male. I doubt that they believe the hype: they may be poor but they’re not stupid.

    1. Just to clarify (I’ve had a bit too much egg nog and realised my post could be misinterpreted!) I totally agree that the representation of women is wrong in the ads but that a full understanding of the power relations implied therein needs to also see the male target audience as similarly duped and manipulated and to recognise the class issue alongside the gender issue. The ‘real’ source of power lies elsewhere.

  2. Sometimes you know a cigar is just a cigar. Lynx/Axe (which is what it’s called elsewhere in the world) is a mass market cheap perfume aimed at adolescents who have yet to acquire enough money to buy more complex perfumes and a nose to understand why they should.

    You’re just being a ridiculous snob. Sure Lynx/Axe rates 1* on any scale of perfumes, but getting to Mitsouku, Shalimar, Joy, Rive Gauche or any of the great scents is a journey. These kids wouldn’t know what Cypre or Civit or anything like that is if it came up and hit them, but at least they are trying. It’s also a bit of a disservice to the perfume houses because mass market scents like Lynx/Axe have to use cheap ingredients and so of course their palette is limited. There’s even some evidence that your sense of smell alters in adolescence so to be snotty about a scent not even aimed at you is simply ignorant.

    It’s one of the more interesting things about the Lynx/Axe phenomenon is that the formulation changes subtly around the globe to meet it’s market – the south american version for example has considerably stronger fruit notes. To assume that Lynx/Axe is just cheap rubbish thrown out by a commercial company that’s just interested in milking it’s market is simply being dim. Of course it’s cheap (but it’s target is poor so it has to be), of course it’s unsophisticated (but it’s not aimed at middle aged women like you) but young men can afford it and it presumably makes them feel good. And that’s fine.

    As to heteronormative, well ffs sake, Lynx/Axe is mass market and as 90% or so of adolescent males are heterosexual it would be pretty idiotic to do anything else, you’re just purposely misunderstanding the perfume market to make a point.

    1. This is the most spectacular instance of missing the point I have seen in a very, very long time.
      Hint – this article is not about the notes of a cheap deodorant’s smell, it is about its marketing campaign.

    2. It’s an especially epic effort of lack of self-awareness to write a response this obtuse, while accusing the blogpost of being “dim”. The focus here is not a critical appraisal of Lynx as petrochemical pong. Yes, it is a disaster in that regard, and yes GW goes make mock of that in passing, but to that that as her primary point would be… well, to utterly miss it.

      If you don’t see what’s problematic with “involuntary seducation” *as an advertsing tagline*, you’re very much on the wrong blog. Never mind a need for “feminism 101”, some kindergarten-level “seeing past the consumerist crap that the scent and advertising industries are shovelling at you” is urgently required.

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