You have probably heard about the backlash against Gillette’s new advertisement. In a mere three days, it has stacked up ten millon views on YouTube, 589,000 ‘dislikes’ to 223,000 ‘likes’ and has triggered threats of a boycott. The shaving brand has launched a campaign that questions whether bullying, sexual harassment and a toxic interpretation of masculinity is “the best a man can get”. Gillette’s answer is no. To prove it, the advertisement shows examples of men intervening in bullying and street harassment, reconciling fighting factions, and being positive role models for their children. It is a celebration of these men and their masculinity. It is a sensitive and accurate statement of “not all men…”.
Nevertheless, the advertisement has not resonated with the proponents of the “not all men…” tagline. Ironically, the same people who bemoan the supposed demonization of men by the feminist movement have furiously rejected this feminist advertisement that celebrates men.
Piers Morgan’s interpretation of the advertisement is that “men are monsters, and they have to be rehabilitated”. He argues that Gillette’s message is that men are “horrible little bullies, sexual harassers and we have to be saved from ourselves, we’re all dreadful people” and that “women are all now perfect, and men are evil”. Scroll through Twitter or the advertisement’s Facebook comments and you will see that this is a sentiment echoed by thousands of men and women online. The Gillette advertisement goes nowhere near to calling men “evil monsters” but this is all that many men can compute. It demonstrates a standardised, victim complex response to feminist commentary. They evidently aren’t listening.
Constructed identities and social structures provide us with security; they are a framework of how to behave and how to understand others.
Many men and women don’t want to accept that feminism is an ideology that benefits them because once they acknowledge this, they have no defence to embracing its suggestions. This is a scary prospect for them. Constructed identities (such as the traditionally masculine man and feminine woman) and social structures (like patriarchy) provide us with security; they are a framework of how to behave and how to understand others. They denote what is acceptable. I am a MAN. I am a MOTHER. I am a WIFE. This is where I BELONG. Identities can also act as tokens of pride. In the case of patriarchies, men who conform to the normalised standards of manhood are elevated as the pinnacle of their society and of humankind. Women who conform to normalised standards of womanhood are lauded.
However, patriarchy and the traditional gender binary do not provide security for all. They also contribute a great deal of shame, suffering and inequality. This is a result of advocating gender roles, instilling an unjustified hierarchy, allowing misogyny to thrive, and repressing natural instincts such as homosexuality or emotional vulnerability in men. It is not a case of ‘man equals winner’ and ‘woman equals loser’; there is a great deal of intersectionality that affects who benefits from these structures. Matters such as ethnicity, sexuality, socio-economics, and disability affect this.
But the keynote message is that those who benefit the most and suffer the least from gendered structures are the most resistant to their alteration or removal. Morgan is an individual who is empowered by the prevailing gendered structures. He has always enjoyed the privileges of a straight, white, cis man. What’s more, the more bigoted he is, the more his ego is stroked by chauvinists on social media, the bigger his fanbase and notoriety, the more media coverage he gets, so the more he earns. He is both part of the epidemic and exploiting it.
The identity politics at the core of the backlash against Gillette is further exemplified by responses that target not just feminists, but minority groups. Facebook comments on Gillette’s video include: “it’s time to shut down the lesbian and gay controlled Me Too movement”, “anti-white, male hating globalists”, and “if all men transition into women you’ll have no freaking customers left … the world NEEDS masculine men!!!”. Conflating the advertisement’s message about masculinity with an imagined anti-white, anti-man, anti-cis, anti-heterosexual agenda reveals a potent insecurity in the male psyche that is triggered by anything outside of the status-quo. No argument, however logically or sensitively articulated, can reason with this insecurity because it is an emotive force. For these individuals, change is scary; change is not nuanced, it is radical and all encompassing; change is dangerous.
The way to eradicate fear is to acknowledge it, identify its causes, and then to ground yourself in the facts. The primary concern raised is that Gillette’s advert is a “war on masculinity” and demonises men. Morgan describes Gillette’s message to be that “masculine men have to be driven out of society because being masculine is evil”. Gillette does not want to eradicate men or masculinity; Gillette says that men are important. They are fathers, and community members, neighbours, and friends. The advert’s message is that men have the power to redefine their masculinity to remove the toxic aspects. It is welcoming “a new era of masculinity”.
If you identify with the bullies or the harassers in this advertisement and not with the men who intervene then you are part of the problem.
So, if you think that manhood and masculinity are equivalent with bullying and sexual harassment then, yes, you are part of the problem. If you identify with the bullies or the harassers in this advertisement and not with the men who intervene then you are part of the problem. If you feel attacked by the suggestion that compassionate and brave (as opposed to cruel and predatory) is the best that a man can be then you are part of the problem. Most men do not think this, so they should not feel threatened by the advert’s message. To those men: feel pride in the appreciation that Gillette is showing you instead of anger at an imagined criticism.
Most importantly, to the men who do think or feel any of the aforementioned things: if you are willing to acknowledge them, self-reflect and change your behaviour, then you are part of the solution. Gillette says that. It presents men who feel the burden of social expectation and peer pressure, who have been bystanders or perpetrators before, but ultimately decide to do the right thing anyway. This is the advertisement’s most important message. Mankind is not comprised of ‘good men’ and ‘bad men’, it is comprised of men who make choices. One of those choices is always to be better.
Chauvinism is rooted in fear, and the louder the Piers Morgans of this world shout the more sympathetic I feel because the clearer it becomes to me that they have been failed by our society. The Gillette advert ends with the faces of little boys watching how their male role models behave, the message being to act honourably “because the boys watching today, will be the men of tomorrow”. We owe our boys more than what the Piers Morgans of this world got. I don’t want another generation of scared men.
Featured Image: Youtube, Gillette