Not since Kendall Jenner calmed down a black rights protest with a can of Pepsi has an advert caused quite as much upset as Gillette’s latest campaign. If you’ve managed to miss the fun, then the company’s new ad starts with scenes of deplorable yet fairly commonplace male behaviour – sexual assault, domestic abuse, the objectification of women, violence – which is then justified under the tagline “boys will be boys”.
It could be just another day in the life of the Trump administration, but the advert goes onto use its famed slogan “be the best a man can be” to prove that men are more than the worst examples of their gender. By the end of the clip, men are breaking up fights, confronting catcallers and celebrating their daughters. Razors to the rescue.
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However, it’s not the ad’s cheesy, crass look at the Me Too movement that’s upset so many on Twitter today, but, as one random morning TV presenter said, its “war on masculinity”. The aforementioned man described the campaign as “man-hating” and announced that he would boycott Gillette forevermore (to be honest, any loss incurred by the boycott of chauvinists will be made up for by an onslaught of new customers from the progressive left who have never found huge corporations so sexy).
“By the end, men are breaking up fights, confronting catcallers and celebrating their daughters… Razors to the rescue”
His comments were not in isolation – the very same brigade that brand millennials and the left-wing as pitiable snowflakes had a full tantrum over a 150-second shaving advert that won’t even be shown in the UK. So, in response to the ad that asked men to hold amoral creeps accountable for toxic behaviour, to be nice to women and aim to be the best versions of themselves, reactions ran thus:
"Boys will be boys"
"The best a man can be"
Thank you @Gillette for painting an entire gender with a broad brush and assuming that every one of us is a bully, rapist, serial sexual harasser, or general asshole, without your intervention.#gilletteboycott #GetWokeGoBroke pic.twitter.com/WNDpRr8tR5
— China Lied People Died (@Webproze) January 15, 2019
Gillette's ad just labelled their company as the brand for wife beaters and child abusers
— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) January 15, 2019
I dropped @Gillette 5 years ago…real men use a straight or safety razor.#realmen also don't accept being lectured about values by morally bankrupt radical feminists. #BoycottGillette https://t.co/dDyPOHaHal
— 🔫🐀Steve 🇨🇦👌 (@403Steve) January 15, 2019
Hey @Gillette, I have an idea, stay out of politics. Real men already stop other guys from acting badly. A razor company should want me to shave with your product. And, btw, I'm extremely masculine. And there's nothing wrong with that. #TheBestMenCanBe
— Joe Pags Pagliarulo (@JoeTalkShow) January 15, 2019
The main issue seems to be that certain men feel that their entire gender has been branded either a thug or a sexual predator, thus alienating and criticising the exact audience Gillette wants to sell products to. If you think that these two categories are representative of masculinity as a whole, then that’s worrying. Gillette is highlighting the very worst behaviour sometimes acted out by men – someone could only be offended if they identify or align themselves with the above behaviours; if they are, in fact, a Neanderthal who rather liked the idea of bullying, violence and sexual harassment and abuse. What Gillette is campaigning against is toxic masculinity, the kind that traps men and leaves them miserable, the kind that causes emotional repression and stops them from talking about how they feel, the kind that laughs at affection and vulnerability, the kind that pressures them into thinking they must be a stoic provider with a healthy salary and high sperm count. The patriarchy binds everyone, men and women.
Also, as an aside, it’s worth noting here that it must be a real privilege to reach this point in history and only now have been confronted with an advert that uses your gender as a problem. As one Twitter user said, “Welcome to literally every advert ever targeted at women. At least you’re not good enough because of your actions. We’re just shit because of our skin/hair/weight/face.”
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“The statistics show, men are not alright”
We need as many public messages as possible, even if they are cheesy Gillette adverts, to tell men that there is not only one way to be. Because as the statistics show, men are not alright. Suicide is the highest killer for men under the age of 35. Men account for 95 per cent of UK prison inmates and 87 per cent of the homelessness. Men are three times more likely than women to become alcoholics and drug addicts, and, harrowingly, three times more likely to take their own lives.
The dominant narrative of masculinity is toxic and privileged – and there are well-known, long-standing reasons for that. And frankly, it isn’t up to women to teach men how not to demean, abuse and assault them. What’s clear is that no one is benefitting from the way things are. What we all need to do next is redefine what masculinity means and how men relate to one another together. If Gillette wants to join the conversation, that’s fine. It won’t solve the problem, but it’s a well-intentioned concept. “Let boys be boys” is exactly the right message; let boys go beyond the rigid alpha expectations that they are told they must uphold.
And if the notion of not behaving badly and calling out others that act badly, really makes you want to throw away your Gillette razor, then good luck with the 99p versions available at Bic.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s Bazaar UK.
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