This body wash commercial from Gillette bugs me for a very subtle reason:
For those who don’t want to wait for the video to load, it features a man showering with this product, then going into the office. As he walks into a boardroom with mostly women sitting around the table, something starts bothering me, even though you’d expect “Boardroom! Mostly women!” to be a positive representation of women. The voiceover says he’ll now feel he’s ready to “take on the world” just as we cut to a closeup of one of the women looking coyly up at him. Here’s a screenshot:
Check out the girlish cap sleeves, the upswept hair. Can’t you just see her standing up, closing her eyes all sultry, pulling one pin from her hair to release the whole swirling mass, complaining how warm it is and starting to undress? That’s exactly what they’re trying to evoke. And all the women around the table are dressed the same, complete with short skirts and black sheer stockings that are completely out of fashion at the moment.These women around the boardroom table are not powerful with a voice. They are “hot secretaries” from Playboy spreads and 1960’s Girl Friday movies. They’re softened and rendered childlike so Mr. Man can summon up a semblance of security for his fragile ego. Believe me, nothing Gillette puts out will reassure the insecure male half as much as a pliant girly-woman. She is the world Mr. Man feels like he’s ready to take on: a smaller, weaker country greeting its future conqueror in unworldly friendship, with no idea what she’s getting into.
You might be tempted to argue the message is a fatuous but not especially gendered “People will want you sexually if you use this product.” But there’s clearly another layer here. Like the Axe commercials we’ve critiqued (here and here), the message is “Women will be rendered helpless prey to your sexual predation – enjoy!” It’s not about appealing to women; it’s about conquering us.
And why has Gillette chosen this? Either insecure men are the market they want buying the product or they’re concerned a moisturizing body wash might be perceived as Not 100% Heterosexual so they’re overcompensating by invoking heterosexual stereotypes from 40+ years ago.