We are working hard to create an environment at Femme 2012: Pulling the Pieces Together in which everyone experiences the conference as comfortable for sharing thoughts and ideas. In keeping with this goal, our stance is that the conference space be a scent-aware environment. We are making this ask because we want to reduce the level of toxins for those with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and Environmental Illness. We do not have a scent-free policy for a few reasons: even if every FemmeCon attendee was scent-free, we cannot guarantee that others in our venues will not be scented and our venues will most certainly use chemically-based cleaning products. Further, we understand that perfumes, oils and hair products can be part of one’s gender identity, ethnic identity or spiritual practice. Finally, we know that if being scent-free or scent-aware is new for you it can be really overwhelming.

While we cannot guarantee a scent-free space, we want to address what you being scent-free will mean for scent-sensitive conference participants. In order to balance everyone’s needs and concerns, we ask that you be as scent-free as possible. We’ve put together some info and resources below to help!

Huh? What’s this scent-aware stuff all about?

The same way that there are people who are sensitive to animal dander, pollen, or dust, there are people who are sensitive to certain scents and/or the chemicals used to create those scents. For many this sensitivity takes the form of headaches, dizziness, nausea, and difficulty breathing. These are all immune responses not unlike those experienced by someone who has asthma.  For some people this is what it sounds like – a hypersensitivity to fragrances; for others this response can be caused by Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), sometimes referred to as Environmental Illness (EI); for everyone, it’s serious.

Those who are sensitive to scents or fragrances will describe the difficulty of balancing personal comfort with other people’s personal style and expression. Often times scent-sensitive folks don’t want to encroach on other people’s space, and instead will either sit in discomfort or simply leave public spaces in which particular perfumes or cosmetics are being used. This is why we believe a scent-aware environment at the Femme Conference is crucial.

But I really like my perfume/ need my products. It’s an important part of my daily routine.

Don’t worry, no one will be policing anybody’s use of cologne, skin, and/or hair preparations. All we ask is that, when you know you’re going to be in the communal space of the conference, you acknowledge how using certain products could diminish someone else’s ability to physically access the same panels or workshops that are of interest to you.

Okay, I hear you. So what can I do?

– Minimize your use of strongly fragranced products and don’t add unnecessary fragrances like perfumes, colognes, smelly lotions, etc.  If possible, use products that are scent or fragrance-free when you know you’re going to be in the shared spaces of the conference. While not all fragrance-free products are chemical-free (and therefore can still affect those around you who are scent-sensitive), it is still a good rule of thumb to follow when trying to be scent-aware. Granted, some of these products are not financially feasible for many, difficult to find depending on where you live, or will not work for certain ethnic groups.


  • The absolute best guide we have ever seen, linked to with permission by fiercest Femme, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha:http://www.brownstargirl.org/1/post/2012/03/fragrance-free-femme-of-colour-realness-draft-15.html
  • Don’t just use less of a product; that can hurt more than it helps. When you wear “just a little” folks with scent-sensitivities don’t know where the fragrance that’s making them ill is coming from and may be forced to leave the space entirely.
  • Be understanding if someone asks you to move or if, after you enter a space, they simply get up and move. Don’t assume that it’s you; it might be the fragrance on your person.
  • Do not smoke near entryways and other common areas, especially if it means someone is left with no choice but to walk near or through your cigarette smoke. 15 feet away is legal, 50 feet away is ideal.
  • For more information on scent-sensitivities, MCS and EI: http://www.mcsrr.org/

For questions or more information, please contact the Accessibility Committee at: access [at] femme2012 [dot] com

We’re also looking for scent-free product vendors to rep at the conference. If you’re one or know of one,contact us!