Gillette has joined Nike and Starbucks in producing yet another ad telling us how to behave. And just as with both, it’s doing it to sell product. As I wrote about Nike back in September: “I have no respect for it nor other corporations that are just a bit too cozy with shamelessly exploiting hot social topics as just another marketing gimmick.”
Gillette’s ad suggests men can be better, calling some of their behavior “toxic masculinity” as a round of #MeToo allegations plays in the background and calling for men to hold other men accountable while showing examples of a young boy being bullied by other boys, sexual harassment, catcalling and a man speaking over a woman in a meeting. The ad implies the new model for manhood is to break-up fights and stop other men from making women uncomfortable. Such decency is “confident,” instead of toxic, masculinity.
YouTube video likes are running four to one against the ad, many calling it “toxic political correctness.” “Let boys be boys and men be men” Fox News and other commentators say. “No one is telling women how to behave.” Well other than all the magazines, talk shows and advice columns telling them to be thinner, to follow TV tidiness guru Marie Kondo, get bigger boobs and hide their age.
We have traveled through centuries of progress moving humans farther up the evolutionary chain, not allowing people to behave as freely as they might naturally. We no longer poop in the woods or drag our woman by the hair. We’re taught to act “civilized” and be nice. The last measure, which Gillette covered, gets us over the top. Of course, there’s going to be resentment and anger. It’s calling for our last vestiges of barbarism to be shunned.
The American Psychological Association defines traditional masculinity as “a set of descriptive, prescriptive and proscriptive cognitions about boys and men” including achievement, adventure, risk and toughness as well as avoiding the appearance of being weak, soft or feminine as inherently bad. One of the hallmarks of this deeply imbedded masculine culture is obtaining things, generally money or power, either the Wall St. kind or the street cred kind. Men and boys who deviate from these narrow expectations are castigated by other men and boys.
The message of the ad is not “shaving away masculinity” as Fox waggishly suggests. It’s just saying that men can choose to go against peer pressure that tells them to act like “real men” through fighting or harassing people to instead act like real men by respecting their peers and treating women appropriately.
Calling out men for toxic behavior and locker room bravado has been a mainstay of the feminist movement for years. And we deserve it. Here’s my problem with Gillette telling us that. You know it’s done out of cynical, market-driven money grubbing. When I want shaving advice, Gillette is the go-to, but I prefer getting advice on being a better person from people without an economic agenda like ministers and sociologists.