Critique of Axe’s “Clean Your Balls” Commercial

Shorter version:

This ad clearly targets an audience of men, selling values of heterosexual expectations and heterosexual gazes.

The ad features two attractive women at the center of attention, acting as “color” on an otherwise plain stage.  The women are the ones being watched, despite the product being made for men.  This illustrates John Berger’s description of the heterosexual male gaze: “Men survey women before treating them” (Berger 37).  By watching themselves being watched by the studio audience in the commercial, the two women become what Berger describes as “an object of vision: a sight” (Berger 38).  But these women in particular have been chosen to be at the front of the commercial’s “studio audience” because they match Susan Bordo’s definition of what is presently socially expected beyond the realm of thinness (which is considered “attractive”).  Society “expect[s] a tighter, smoother, more contained body profile,” a body often possessed by athletes (188).  Through sexual innuendos, these women are “fulfilling” their role as “the Other,” as explained by Simone de Beauvoir:  “[the female] appears essentially to the male as a sexual being” (Beauvoir 33).

Not only are women being scrutinized through societal expectations to be attractive, slender, sexual objects in this ad, but men too are under attack.  Regardless of the soap being body wash, the entire commercial is based around men having clean genitalia, as seemingly expected by women.  The two women also convey the societal assumption of “bigger is better.”  When there is a mentioning of “small balls,” a man looks away in embarrassment (0:48).  When a man holds up a large “sack” of large soccer balls, one of the women makes a proposition of sex (1:37).  Under this female expectation of genitalia size, men take the same position as women of being heterosexually “watched” as described by Berger.


Simone de Beauvoir: “The Second Sex: Introduction”

John Berger: “Ways of Seeing”

Susan Borodo:  “Reading the Slender Body”


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One Response to Critique of Axe’s “Clean Your Balls” Commercial

  1. eliseamitchell says:

    In the second half of your post, you comment on the commercial’s portrayal of women’s expectations and sexual desire for men with larger genitalia. I would like to further explore that argument with regard to race. As you brought up in your post the men with small balls seem embarrassed and uncomfortable. Both the man who looks away in embarrassment and the man who uncomfortably hands over his tennis balls to be cleaned are white, while the man with the large balls sack (bag of soccer balls) is black. In this commercial the white men are depicted as skinny, lacking confidence, and having small balls or they are old and have tattered old balls. On the other hand, the two black men are handsome, somewhat large is stature, and one is shown to have a very large balls sack. These portrayals are reflective of stereotypes about the black male body being large, muscular, and athletic as well as having large genitalia.
    In her chapter “Booty Call: Sex, Violence, and Images of Black Masculinity,” Patricia Hill-Collins addresses the reoccurring stereotype of the black man with a large penis. She says, “The penis becomes the defining feature of Black men that contributes to yet another piece of the commodification of Black male bodies” (Hill-Collins, 161). Based on this quote, images, like this commercial, objectify and commodify the black male, while dwarfing the white male in physicality. In her chapter as a whole Hill-Collins explains the limits of this kind dwarfing, stating that the white male may only be dwarfed in physique, but never in intellect. The entire focus of this commercial is one’s physique, specifically genitalia, making this an appropriate space for the black male to overshadow the white male.
    Hill-Collins also explains how the large penis is a symbol of black men’s insatiable sexual desire. I would argue that assigning the largest balls sack to the black male is evocative of stereotypes about black male hyper-sexuality and physical body. The stereotypes portrayed in this commercial, of black and white men, work to reinforce damaging and stereotypical notions of black and white male sexuality and masculinity and ignore the sexuality and masculinity of men of other races.

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