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Conservative men are kicking and screaming about Gillette’s new toxic masculinity ad

Gillette/Facebook

The ad, you can say, has proven its point.

It’s 2019 and men’s shaving brand Gillette is joining the conversation about toxic masculinity. In a new ad aimed to promote the healthy expression of men’s emotions, Gillette wants to build on its messaging that men truly be and act their “best.”

The ad, released Monday, starts with streams of news clips about #MeToo while a narrator says, “Is this the best a man can get? Is it? We can’t hide from it. It’s been going on far too long.” The scenes continue with snapshots of bullying and harassment. “We can’t laugh it off. Making the same old excuses…,” the narrator says, followed by a chorus of “boys will be boys” whispers, a reference that became widely associated with those dismissing the high school sexual assault allegations against SCOTUS Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“But something finally changed,” the ad continues. “And there will be no going back. Because we, we believe in the best in men.”

In addition to bullying, the ad’s imagery includes women being talked over in a meeting, being catcalled, and being the target of casual sexism. In the end, Gillette offers a solution, urging men to speak up in such situations and intervene.

“To say the right thing, to act the right way,” the narrator says. “Some already are, in ways big and small….But some is not enough….because the boys watching today, will be the men of tomorrow.”

On its website TheBestMenCanBe, the company notes the reason behind the ad: “It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.”

For an ad de-stigmatizing men expressing healthy emotions, it is definitely making men feel a lot of ways—both from supporters and detractors. And those against it are, well, maybe proving the ad’s point. 

In an ironic (or iconic?) display of male fragility, many men are considering dropping Gillette for urging them to be decent.

Those who think Gillette should be boycotted for more “macho” brands like Dollar Shave Club should probably read DSC’s site, Mel Magazine, first.

But thankfully, the ad is also receiving the praise it deserves, including many men weighing in on how “toughness” is overrated.

People also lauded the ad for including men of other races because if there’s one thing that doesn’t actually know boundaries, it’s sexism and misogyny.

Others think there’s more that could be done.

Gillette said as part of its campaign, it’s donating $1 million a year for three years to nonprofits that “inspire, educate and help men of all ages achieve their personal ‘best’ and become role models for the next generation.”

“Many find themselves at a crossroads, caught between the past and a new era of masculinity,” Gillette said on its website. “While it is clear that changes are needed, where and how we can start to effect that change is less obvious for many. And when the changes needed seem so monumental, it can feel daunting to begin. So, let’s do it together.”

Gillette isn’t the first men’s company to revamp its messaging. Previous research shows that “macho advertising” has a direct role to play in “hyper-masculinity”—promoting messages such as violence is manly, and toughness is “emotional self-control”—and advertisers are taking note. In 2017, Axe released a similar ad, centered around questions men are likely too afraid to ask each other but are searching for online. Other brands, such as Harry’s and Topman, have started addressing men’s mental health, another rarely discussed topic, in their ads.

Gillette’s ad, at most, delivers a nuanced, emotional plea for men to do better, which isn’t even a big ask. It also does the very least to reckon with the role men’s brands have had in shaping the image of the American male. Perhaps, in the wake of Me Too, Gillette senses a window for a marketing shift. But it’s a bold step nonetheless, as the response proves that masculinity has a long way to go from being detoxified. 

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque