Gillette’s Toxic Masculinity Ad: Calling Men Out?

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Every once in a while ads stupidly offend their intended audience. Usually, social media flames up in angry comments and the companies suffer a PR nightmare.

Some mismatched text and/or colors might convey the wrong message. We usually just laugh off a spelling mistake or an odd spacing.

I am talking about ads with a narrative that’s either gravely misinterpreted by the audience, intentionally triggering, or ignorantly created.

Commercials, both in print and digital, can easily offend the audience. Thankfully, we tend to forget them quickly.

Nowadays it’s hard to cover up the evidence with the Internet. If a headline reads funny in a print newspaper, the publisher just reissues an edit and people likely throw away the old copy. For erroneous and offensive online postings, they go viral with screenshots, retweets, memes, etc…

Hopefully, we can learn from mistakes in others.

Reaction: Gillette’s The Best A Man Can Be

Most recently, Gillette’s The Best Men Can Be ad caused quite the buzz of mixed feelings. I thought it had a great concept in theory. Gillette wanted to communicate that we are our brother’s keeper and should hold other men accountable. They didn’t show a single razor in the ad or even mention shaving. Instead, the ad promoted their vision of a better manhood: true chivalry, not crass so-called toxic masculinity.

…but I the Internet has strong opinions (and many dislikes) against anything politically divisive, especially during the Superbowl. Sadly people just want ads to be entertaining, not thought-provoking. Often, what could be a powerful message for change is easily slammed by the loudest and ugliest voices.

I suppose some men hate the ad because they are in denial of any validity of #metoo movement. Gillette wanted a reaction from them.

When we look deeper, I believe the ad is plagued by ambiguity and dangerous generalizations. Unfortunately, the ad is yet another case of an interesting idea poorly executed.

I 100% agree men can do better, but my reasoning probably differs significantly from Gillette. The weird thing is the ad is silent on their moral foundation. They claim it’s “not cool” to catcall a girl, but I’d like a reason to understand their worldview.

As a Christian, I believe degrading women is a violation of God’s standard and an offense against His holy character.

Now, I certainly don’t expect Gillette to agree with my statement – but they didn’t offer any defendable foundation except it’s “not cool.” Instead of coming off as an intelligent solution to toxic masculinity based on reason, the razor company made a fluffy emotional appeal.

Gillette says men should do better… to avoid feeling bad? Hardly convincing.

It’s probably easier to break it down my reaction scene by scene:

(1) – The Randomly Sad Men

First, we see men looking into a mirror with sad expressions. I don’t know why they are unhappy. They might not have done anything wrong, but the ad is telling all of us to feel sad now.

There’s a difference between feeling sorry for toxic men and feeling guilty because of them.

What do they want me to feel?

(2) – The Sissy Boy

Then, a boy runs away from some bullies and his mom is appearing to embrace her son after he receives a mass of negative text messages like “You’re such a loser,” “Sissy!” and “Everyone hates you!”

Yes, I agree bullying is very damaging emotionally to boys. I’ve seen it plenty when I was teaching. But it’s just as bad, if not worse, for girls during adolescence. Girl students often bully other girls for wearing the same outfit, for liking the same boy, or following the wrong people on Instagram. Girls can be very mean. It’s no wonder many boys are intimidated and have confidence issues approaching them. Rejection is just more fuel for the drama.

Bullying is not a gendered issue.

(3) – Sexist TV Montage

It seems Gillette wants to claim a culture of toxic masculinity conditions boys into sexist bullies. I strongly disagree. Kids turn into bullies for many reasons, but rarely because they saw a movie or played a video game. Usually, the jerk in the story gets what he deserves. The bad guy loses in the end. You don’t often consume entertainment that rewards toxic behavior.

In most sitcoms, the man is a doofus that is the butt of jokes. Maybe he tries to get the girl but fails comically in any attempt. He’s not an animal hitting at every woman he sees. Gillette wants us to believe media is filled with Johnny Bravo like characters. I don’t notice those men on TV or movies.

Sadly, the exception is pornography. Young people, I believe, are corrupted by the illusion of sex portrayed porn. They easily believe the lie that women always want it rough and that you don’t need permission to do anything.

Briefly, at 0:21-22, we see a TV showing a shirtless man gesturing at the camera and then some party goers dancing on a beach. The TV centered on a blonde woman. I didn’t understand the point of it. What was wrong with the party? Obviously, since they are at a beach, they are wearing bathing suits. I presume they are drinking. And… what’s the purpose? No man appeared to talk or touch a woman inappropriately. Is Gillette shaming the girl for showing too much skin and maybe dancing provocatively? That’s my best guess, but it doesn’t seem to fit their narrative.

(4) – Mansplaining Office Meeting

The executive leading a meeting then tries to help a colleague out by placing his hand on her shoulder and saying, “I think what she means to say is…”

I think Gillette is using this scene to show mansplaining, or the act of a man explaining something in a way that mocks or patronizes a woman. Yeah, I suppose this might happen when a man attempts to give advice on the female body or parenting. People come from different backgrounds and have their own stories. You shouldn’t judge someone so harshly or publically.

Do I feel for the woman in the board meeting? It’s hard to say. I don’t have any context to understand the comment.

Maybe she said something really stupid or just explained it poorly. In such a case, the man is trying to save her for complete embarrassment at the cost of calling her out before everyone.

Then again, maybe she presented a decent idea, and the host wanted to take credit for it.  

I’ve had this same scenario happen to me in meetings. Corporate meetings, even virtual ones, I used to find very stressful. Growing up, I hated presenting in classes. When you’re under a lot of pressure, it’s easy to trip up your words and feel dumb.

It sucks to feel like an idiot because you aren’t confident or mentally prepared for a meeting, but that’s not anyone’s fault exactly. If you have social anxiety, teamwork in a board presentation should actually feel comforting.        

I get that Gillette wants us to take women seriously in the business world. Is there evidence we don’t? I don’t want to get into the slippery slope of the wage gap and other issues, but overall we’ve come a long way as a culture. Women have way more opportunity than they used to 40 years ago.

(5) – Boys Will Be Boys

As dads grill in their backyard, two boys wrestle on the ground. All the dads echo out, “Boys will be boys!”

Okay… first of all, wrestling isn’t something wrong or shameful. It’s a great recreational activity. Most boys love it. Some girls I knew growing up did as well.

However, fighting to hurt someone and not playing by the rules is just mean. I don’t really see the kids playing dirty here. They aren’t pulling their hair or poking their eyes out.

The excuse “boys will be boys” shouldn’t be used as a cover for disrespecting others, especially not women. They could have illustrated this point better with a more clear image of disrespect.

(6) – #Metoo Allegations Montage

This is the turning point of the ad. We have seen all these little influences in media and culture. According to Gillette’s narrative, it’s all led to the #metoo movement and the web of allegations across the nation.

Again, men are looking into the mirror with sad expressions.

Don’t get me wrong. Men should hold other men accountable. We’ve all failed as a community to train boys to act respectfully. Our school system doesn’t necessarily teach consent and healthy relationships. Parents don’t always give their kids the attention they deserve. Teenagers aren’t equipped with coping skills to handle stressful situations.

It’s just the ad didn’t depict any of these things.

Gillette cast most of the blame on TV and school bullies… but they doesn’t ask the broader questions. Why are there bullies in school? Why do TV shows have cheap sexist jokes?

I don’t believe they can answer those questions without defining a moral foundation.

Sin in the world exists, in my worldview, as a consequence of our fallen, sinful nature. Our solution is a regenerate heart by faith alone.

Gillette, on the other hand, says misogyny exists because of culture and men can do better by looking sadly into a mirror and somehow feeling inspired.  

(7) – The Manly Response

Next, we are hit with another montage of men correcting other men.

The first clip shows a pool party centered on a few girls. One dude approaches with a shoulder camera from 1987 and shouts, “Smile baby!” Another guy (maybe her boyfriend) cuts him off before he starts filming.

It was rude of the camera dude to assume she wants to be filmed. Although, everything has in a context. Depending on their level of friendship, he might know she likes being silly on camera.

If you know someone well enough, go for it. But it’s always safe never to assume. Mr. Vintage Camera Man could have said, “Mind if I get some video for Snapchat?”

Then… we have a weird clip that I don’t understand.

Two men are standing near the sidewalk as a beautiful woman passes by them. One gets all excited and turns to follow her as if he wants to talk to her. His short black friend holds him back and shouts, “Not cool bro!”

What’s wrong with approaching a girl you think is attractive and trying to strike a conversation?

For most men, it takes a ton of confidence to talk to random girls. I know it does for me. I envy the guy’s courage. The man had no fear of rejection. Getting out of my bubble and trying new things is hard.

The other two scenes show a dad breaking up fights between kids. That’s all well and good.  

Overall, I am worried that Gillette’s brand of feminism wants to shame men that haven’t done anything wrong.

I am not sure what Gillette wants me to feel. They didn’t offer real solutions or defend their point of view. Instead, they filled every scene with cheap emotions.   

 

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About the Author: Jonathan Crow

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