There are so many ads that are offensive to women, that show them as weak, indecisive, vain or silly. There are protests against some—mostly the brazenly sexist ones—but soon it’s back to normal. There are scantily clad models selling cars, razors, male deodorants, and conservatively clothed women being told what’s good for them, if they want to keep husband, mother-in-law and son (rarely daughter) happy.
But one Gillette commercial calling out toxic masculinity has men howling in rage and threatening to boycott the company’s shaving products. The new “We Believe” ad —carries the company’s tagline “Is this the best a man can get?” and the 48-second spot address issues like bullying, sexual harassment, violence, and the #MeToo movement. A voiceover in the end says, “Is this the best a man can get? Is it? We can’t hide from it; it’s been going on far too long. We can’t laugh it off, making the same old excuses. But something finally changed. And there will be no going back. Because we…We believe in the best in men. To say the right thing. To act the right way. Some already are, in ways big and small. But some is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”
What the ad does is question the “boys will be boys” myth and puts the onus of preventing bad behavior by males on other males– like breaking up a playground brawl or stopping a man from harassing a woman. It asks men to treat all humans with decency and respect, which seems to have ‘unmanned’ a lot of men, going by the responses to the video.
British journalist and TV personality, Piers Morgan, known for his foot-in-mouth comments (he once sneered at Daniel Craig for carrying his kid in a baby sling), declared the ad a “war on masculinity.” He commented on Twitter: “I’ve used @Gillette razors my entire adult life but this absurd virtue-signalling PC guff may drive me away to a company less eager to fuel the current pathetic global assault on masculinity. Let boys be damn boys. Let men be damn men.”
He also wrote in the dailymail.uk: “It’s been a very bad week for men. Yesterday, the American Psychological Association released a set of guidelines that condemned traditional masculinity as ‘harmful.’ Specifically, it stated that male traits like ‘stoicism’, ‘competitiveness’, ‘achievement’, ‘eschewal of the appearance of weakness’, ‘adventure’, and ‘risk’ are bad and should be expunged. I literally choked on my bacon-and-sausage sandwich (my contribution to Veganuary) when I read this absurd load of PC-crazed bilge. It’s basically saying that it’s wrong, and harmful, to be masculine, to be a man.”
First of all men objecting to the ad are making fun of the term politically correct—or PC—which only expects language and behavior to be non-discriminatory. The ad does not demonise all men, simply because it shows the good guys too, but the macho brigade obviously thinks all men who are decent, courteous and kind are wimps.
It is time that the accepted definition of masculinity was debated—by men as much as by women. As Lauren Alexis Fisher wrote in harpersbazaar.com, “However, the argument that “not all men” are responsible for sexism, misogyny, and violence against women does not exempt all men from participating in important conversations about tackling toxic masculinity. It does not mean that, because you don’t personally harass women (or because you think you don’t), you can turn a blind eye when other men do. It does not mean that you have no responsibility in actively building a better society in which men treat women with equality and respect. Sorry to break the news, but there’s no special trophy for men who haven’t harassed, abused, or bullied others. If you are a man who champions women and equality, then there is no reason to be offended by calling out the men who don’t. In fact, you can call on your fellow men to join the fight for equality. I promise you it won’t even mess up your shave.”
The social media aggression over the ad, by men who claim it “cuts off their testicles” are actually admitting that they equate masculinity with violence that could take the form of sexual harassment and bullying; they believe that real men cannot, or should not be civilized human beings.
Of course, there are men defending the ad too. As Joel Rubinoff writes, “How much whining do I have to listen to about one well-intentioned internet razor blade ad? Seriously, it’s not as if Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” campaign — which has caused massive outrage among a slew of combustible jockstraps — is advocating for chemical castration or, worse, charm school. Don’t bully. Don’t sexually harass women. Don’t be a jerk. These are things well-adjusted people already know. And yet … anger, indignation, apoplectic fury.”
Mothers are always blamed for raising brats, but fathers should be positive role models too. If boys see that their culture admires machismo and glorifies violence, they will go that way. It is seen so often that men who grow up in an environment of domestic violence, tend to perpetrate the same when they marry and have children.
Gaby Hinsliff writing in The Guardian, rightly observes, “Feminism has endlessly opened up horizons for girls, giving them permission to be anything they want to be. They are bombarded with messages about how it’s fine to be both smart and pretty, encouraged to visualise themselves in male-dominated careers and to push the boundaries of behaviour considered “acceptable” for women. That paves the way for girls who never fitted the pink princess stereotype to be far more comfortable in their skins. But expectations of boys have remained more rigid, to the detriment both of those who don’t fit the macho stereotype and of those who will grow up to be the victims of insecure male rage. “Let boys be boys” is an excellent principle. But only if we recognise the full range of things boys are capable of being, when we let them.”
The ad is just selling a product, riding on the #MeToo wave, but the reactions to it have reflected a twisted, angry face in the mirror, which is something no razor can fix. But a few good people can.