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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.
the only ones lauding the Gillette ad work in media/advertising. everyone else sees it for what it is: a smarmy, condescending virtue signal aimed at the hardworking decent men they been price-gouging for years.— GregGutfeld (@greggutfeld) January 15, 2019
Dear @Gillette: Some men are violent misogynists. Most are willing to die to protect our liberties and freedoms (including those of women). It is grotesque to repeatedly ascribe collective guilt onto half of humanity known as men. Being a man is not a disease nor a pathology. https://t.co/CAxGadDiD6— Gad Saad (@GadSaad) January 14, 2019
The #Gillette commercial is the product of mainstream radicalized feminism— & emblematic of Cultural Marxism.— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) January 15, 2019
LET LITTLE BOYS WRESTLE.
Despite what Lena Dunham tells you, women are not into beta males & men are not into chicks w/ armpit hair.
In an ironic (or iconic?) display of male fragility, many men are considering dropping Gillette for urging them to be decent.
I've used @Gillette razors my entire adult life but this absurd virtue-signalling PC guff may drive me away to a company less eager to fuel the current pathetic global assault on masculinity.— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) January 14, 2019
Let boys be damn boys.
Let men be damn men. https://t.co/Hm66OD5lA4
Those who think Gillette should be boycotted for more “macho” brands like Dollar Shave Club should probably read DSC’s site, Mel Magazine, first.
For those looking for an alternative to #Gillette razors, don't bother with Harry's - they are just as anti-male.— Dan Lyman (@CitizenAnalyst) January 15, 2019
Consider @DollarShaveClub instead - they provide an excellent product.https://t.co/jtiaWysess
But thankfully, the ad is also receiving the praise it deserves, including many men weighing in on how “toughness” is overrated.
I’m a man. I don’t find it attacks my masculinity at all. My worth is not borne from trying to prove myself and show how strong and tough I am. It’s borne from trying (and failing a lot of the time) by trying to be better.— Jamie Green (@MisterJamie) January 15, 2019
lmao woke razor blades is the future we deserve https://t.co/diAPiIvnsA— Sonny Bunch (@SonnyBunch) January 14, 2019
It’s about balance. No one is suggesting men can’t be men. It’s about being a good person as a man. Historical behaviour is no longer in tune with todays equality. You can be a tough guy, a manly man but still a man with values and appropriate behaviour to help guide your kids— John Brown (@johnalbertbrown) January 14, 2019
Not much wrong in masculinity but one big problem is automatic, knee-jerk reaction to anything that hints of male learning, personal growth and development. Men reveling in anti-intellectualism and anti-learning. Closed loop. World and women are changing and we all have to learn.— Steve Campbell (@SteveatCCPR) January 15, 2019
Screw toxic masculinity. This is an awesome step to take. Great ad.— Joaquin Baldwin (@joabaldwin) January 14, 2019
*urge to shave things increases* https://t.co/ebAQ0ZsB0m
aaaaannnnnd Gillette made e cry at my desk https://t.co/9HYV24ZDbV— 20Pemberteen (@DaveYourFave) January 15, 2019
Folks are upset @Gillette? No #men and #masculinity are not #toxic. But #Toxicmasculinity is a cultural belief that real men don’t cry. Real men don't show fear. Real men don't lose. Real men take what they want. This thinking isn't new. It is toxic and it damages men and women. https://t.co/EWBJeRZnZm— Jeffrey Reddick (@JeffreyaReddick) January 15, 2019
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.
It's also not lost on me that there were a significant number of Black and brown faces shown doing the right thing in the @Gillette ad. I'm sure that's only increasing the blowback. I, for one, am here for it.— April (@ReignOfApril) January 15, 2019
Others think there’s more that could be done.
Campaigning to update traditional (or “toxic”) masculinity has merit. But doing so without addressing existing paternity, child custody & divorce laws OR homeless & mental health policies OR warfare, female dating culture & feminist discourse on trans, makes less sense #Gillette— Maajid - (Mājid) [maːʤɪd] ماجد (@MaajidNawaz) January 15, 2019
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 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