Opposing Viewpoints: Gillette's Campaign and Modern Masculinity
Guest written by Caelan Austin and Wes Roden
Edited by Jenna Miller, Opinion Editor
The message conveyed in Gillette’s The Best Men Can Be commercial is powerful yet contentious, which provoked much backlash from its viewers. The advertisement features news clips on the #MeToo movement, visuals showing sexism in film and TV, gender discrimination in the workplace, bullying, and violence between boys. These elements are very controversial but are important to discuss.
Let me explain myself. The ad emphasizes the importance of men being their best selves, while also bringing toxic masculinity into the limelight. The New York Times in 2019 defined toxic masculinity as “what can come of teaching boys that they can’t express emotion openly; that they have to be ‘tough all the time’; that anything other than that makes them ‘feminine’ or weak.”
Gillette redesigned their outdated brand nicely in this commercial (airing for the first time on January 13). They changed their slogan from “the best a man can get” to “the best men can be.” Their former slogan was starting to become dated awaiting necessary changes in this current social climate. Gillette made a bold choice to make a point about social issues because they are a company. While it is still necessary to bring attention to these issues as well, it is risky for such a huge company to make a move like this. I understand that many people do not believe that Gillette should be making “public service announcements” like this when they are a men’s razor company, yet I still believe that it was a good marketing move to get people talking and to stir up conversation.
Another point of tension that the video touches on is “boys will be boys.” On Twitter, Gillette stated,‘“Boys will be boys?” Isn’t it time we stopped excusing bad behavior?’ There is no phrase that annoys me as much as “boys will be boys”. It is often used to disregard boys’ inappropriate and childish behavior so it should not be a surprise when it occurs. It is employed as an excuse for boys to act however they choose because they are male and it will not matter because consequences won’t ensue. Yet it also puts boys at a lower standard than women. The ad does a masterful job of poking fun at the stupidity, danger, and logic behind this saying. Not taking responsibility for your actions is not the best a man can get. Real men should be mature, own up to their mistakes, take action against wrongdoings, have integrity, own up to their responsibilities and remain respectful.
I have come to believe is that masculinity is not the same for everyone. Masculinity and femininity are on a spectrum based on confidence. Even though I do not fit into the traditional masculine image of being athletic, showing little emotion, enjoying physical labor, etc., I still find myself masculine because I am a confident person and I believe that my morals are in check. I define this as a healthy confidence.
This commercial was also a great wake up call for men who advocate toxic masculinity. Andrew P. Street said on Twitter, “The comments under the @Gillette toxic masculinity ad is a living document of how desperately society needs things like the Gillette toxic masculinity ad. Seriously: if your masculinity is THAT threatened by an ad that says we should be nicer then you're doing masculinity wrong.” And as said by Bernice King, “This commercial isn’t anti-male. It’s pro-humanity.” Masculinity needs to be talked about so the stigma around toxic masculinity eventually ends. The only way to end toxic masculinity is to discuss it. So, if a men’s grooming company is the one to start the conversation, so be it!
Imagine a commercial where a daughter, reliant on her father’s strength, huddles next to him as a barrage of hurtful messages flood her phone. Imagine a kitchen full of women at stoves remarking, “Girls will be girls” as a young girl is verbally torn apart by her peers. Before you get offended, remember, character assassination and cyber-bullying are relevant issues, and therefore such a commercial is warranted.
Of course, such a commercial would not be perceived as warranted. I almost did not start with this hypothetical because of the backlash it was sure to induce. However, I used it because women should be rightfully angry. Simplifying a complicated issue by falsely attributing it to a stereotype of an entire gender almost seems offensive. Yet, Gillette’s “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” ad did just that.
Media has certainly created a stereotype of man. There is no doubt that sex sells so naturally, Hollywood has spent its long career producing lovable womanizers like James Bond. Such characters have normalized sexual misconduct to the extent that the film industry has received rightly deserved backlash and is currently gravitating towards strong female leads. Though we are right to criticize the lunks on screen, Gillette confuses the lunk to be all men. In an egregious stereotype, the commercial characterizes the majority of men to be womanizers, when in fact the outlandish behavior of the men from the commercial belongs on a movie screen. Such behavior in real life is taboo. When such things as catcalling do occur, it is usually perpetrated by panhandlers who have sadly, through economic disparity, defaulted to taboos. Thus, rather than building it into a commercial for men’s razors, a better way to address objectification is to undermine its roots in media and address the mentality of hopelessness pervading impoverished communities. In other words, the objectification of women, though disgusting, is one of many problems improperly dealt with in the commercial by being falsely attributed to men.
The Gillette ad is also misrepresentative of men in its depiction of violence. We live in an age of information, driven by the Internet. Thus, the majority of bullying that takes place does so through social media in the form of character assassination. Any form of physical bullying has either fallen out of style for its ineffectiveness or takes form in the playful wrestling misinterpreted as harmful in the add. That truth being said, bullying is not uniquely a male problem. Even before the Internet, gossip and character assassination have been far more prevalent and arguably more effective. In other words, hate against one another is not unique to males but rather all people, being a sad condition of being human. To misrepresent the issue as physical domination and then attribute that problem specifically to men is preposterous.
This commercial has spawned many a relevant discussion about the nature of masculinity, but most have failed to recognize the despicable nature of this advertising campaign as well as its stroke of genius. If Gillette truly wanted to charge men to be honorable, they would not have used a commercial full of vague language and buzz words made to generate controversy. Better yet, they would have done away with the commercial altogether, knowing that such a campaign would only polarize their target audience. Yet, spark controversy is exactly what Gillette did, and, frankly, it worked. After all, articles like this one, that drop the brand name about a dozen times, would have never existed without the controversial aspects of the commercial. In simpler terms, Gillette does not care about women, or men for that matter. They, like any other company, care only about sales; sales which they acquire through recognition both good and bad. So, I ask you: is this the best humanity can get?