If You Have A Problem With Ads Calling Out Toxic Men, Just Look In The Mirror
This week has been another fascinating one in the world of men’s fragile relationship with their own masculinity.
What’s stirring up emotions among the menfolk is a brand-new awareness campaign from shaving company Gillette, perhaps most famous for its shaving products shilled in testosterone-fuelled advertisements featuring broad-chested, sharp-jawed hunks.
This time, Gillette has pulled back on the cool machismo and aimed for something a little more socially aware – in a campaign that replaces it’s 30-year-old tagline “the best a man can get” with “the best men can be”.
The film, called “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be", was released over the weekend in a worldwide campaign. It features clips of violence between young boys, depictions of the harassment of women in the media, as well of news coverage of the #MeToo movement, along with an army battalion of suburban fathers behind their barbeques, chanting “boys will be boys”.
A sobering voiceover asks the viewer: “Is this the best a man can get?”
So far it’s drawn a predictably mixed response from the media and the public, with more than eight million hits on YouTube and extravagant praise on one side, and furious calls to boycott Gillette’s parent company Procter & Gamble on the other.
In a move that echoes the racist reactions to Nike’s Colin Kaepernick-led campaign last year, so-called men’s rights activists are apparently tossing their Gillette razors in the bin to protest against the short film’s message.
“Massive FAIL,” tweeted Rita Panahi, “Get in the bin, you virtue-signalling dolts.”
Another Twitter user commented: “Looks like I'm gonna need some new shaving products. Any company besides Gillette wanna help me out?”, accompanied by a photograph of his Gillette razors in the bin and the hashtag “#BoycottGillette”.
It’s tough to miss the irony of such a rough, visceral, macho reaction from a largely male group being asked to examine their own rough, visceral, macho behaviour, but, like, boys will be boys, I guess!
In any case, the Gillette ad isn’t the only controversy stirring up a bit of macho mirth in the media: in the Australian Open’s very first week, a growing feud between troubled champ Bernard Tomic and his former mentor Lleyton Hewitt has blown right up.
Tomic, who has been savaging Hewitt in the press, calling him out for so-called preferential treatment in his Davis Cup team picks, reportedly told the Herald Sun he’d threatened to “knock [Hewitt] out” if he approaches him. In an explosive AO press conference, Tomic unleashing a grin to accompany his allegations, he reportedly said he’d told Hewitt “to come one metre from me if he is a man”.
It’s not surprising to see Australian sportsmen -- particularly those with a history of erratic, brattish behaviour such as Tomic -- behave with such irrational, dangerous machismo. And Hewitt seemed to brush off the threats, joking with reporters that “it’s kind of just Bernie being Bernie” (boys just being boys – again).
But it’s certainly interesting to see Australian men so roundly dismissing a global message to shirk the pressures of toxic masculinity in the same week a high-profile tennis star publicly threatens his colleague with violence.
In discussion with a friend about the infamous Gillette campaign, we both wondered what possesses a brand to engage in sales via social awareness. It certainly worked for Nike, which drummed up a whopping 31 percent increase in sales following its Colin Kaepernick campaign, dipping a toe in the US’s Black Lives Matter debate, which made Kaepernick famous as the first athlete to kneel during the national anthem.
And it works for Dove, a brand that’s consistently associated with positive body image (whether or not it really deserves the moniker) because of it’s nearly two-decade-old “real beauty” campaign.
It’s certainly an attention-grabbing way to take up social media space in a world increasingly concerned with political awareness and the humanisation -- or “wokeness” – of brands.
And though the Gillette campaign is global, it seems to work particularly effectively (if nothing else than as a controversy courter) for an Australian audience, where the danger and fragility of masculinity is a subject of prevalent discussion.
But it’s also one that causes a good deal of ruckus among the people whom advocates (like Gillette, apparently) are trying to reach. Because, actually, men aren’t very used to being told they’re doing the wrong thing (especially white men -- especially cis, straight, white men). And scolding men has historically not had especially positive results.
The most common response from men regarding toxic masculinity is that there’s nothing actually wrong with “being a man”. As Piers Morgan puts it, men see the discourse on masculinity as an “incessant poisonous war on gender”, and views the Gillette ad as seeking to “emasculate the very men it has spent 30 years persuading to be masculine”.
Men like Morgan do not believe there is a problem to be discussing. They like masculinity just the way it is.
It’s an interesting idea, to be sure. And one I’m willing to play with. So, let’s issue a challenge to the men who feel that masculinity isn’t problematic. Show us!
The thing that works so well about the Gillette ad, about Tomic reportedly threatening Hewitt in a press conference, about the American Psychological Association’s guidelines (released this past week) condemning “traditional masculinity as ‘harmful’” not just to men but to everyone, is that there’s so much visual evidence. Gillette has very convincing videos showing me what toxic masculinity looks like, you know?
So, I’m afraid the men claiming that there’s nothing dodgy going on in Macho Land will need to come up with some fairly convincing, positive representations of “traditional masculinity” to counter these claims.
Show us that stoic masculinity is positive for men, for women, for all of us. If so many men feel so strongly about their traditional masculinity (fragile though it seems to be) there must be something positive about it, right? We’d love to hear about it.
But if, as it turns out, you’re found wanting -- if it’s a little harder than you first thought to find some universal positives about the structures of masculinity -- perhaps it’s time to consider a better, more positive way to live and learn.