Gillette recently released a new ad that aims to address toxic masculinity by speaking directly to their male market. If you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen it yet, here it is:
And damn it if that video didn’t make me feel verklempt. Because as much as capitalism and activism will never be compatible with each other, this is perhaps the first campaign that I’ve seen from a global brand that pokes men and tells them directly, “Hey, bro, you need to do and be better.”
When it comes to issues of equity and equality, for so long, “progressive” campaigns have been putting the onus of getting the work done on minorities (women, the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, the differently abled, the poor, etc.) through “empowering” messages meant to give them a figurative kick in the butt—because the pleading, demanding, shouting, screaming, and ground work that members of these communities have been doing for decades (if not centuries) just keep falling short. “You’re not yelling loud enough! Come on, you can do it—just buy product X, Y, Z and you have the power to solve sexism/racism/classicism/ableism/all the world’s problems!”
So it’s kind of refreshing that Gillette is telling men that not only is toxic masculinity the root of so many of the world’s problems, but men’s complicity in perpetuating it helps no one, either—and complicity means both their outright participation in it and their silence in the face of other men perpetuating it. It calls out not just the upfront bad guys but also the self-proclaimed “good guys” and allies who stand by and do nothing, continuously leaving the work of righting the world to the very victims of toxic masculinity. As Terry Crews put it, “Men need to hold other men accountable.” Men need to hold themselves accountable.
We’ve seen so many negative reactions to Gillette’s ad from men, and this, perhaps, is the best thing that this razor company has given us: A detector for the bros whom we need to cut out of our life stat.
Men's Rights Activist: "I will be boycotting Gillette for its ad in which they urge men to… *checks notes* …be better people.
— Roland Hoffmann (@RolandoHoffmann) January 15, 2019
Some reactions are really easy tells of a man who is so defensive against the slightest criticism against their masculinity; drop the dude who spouts them. He’s more fragile than a snowflake.
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.
Let boys be damn boys.
Let men be damn men. https://t.co/Hm66OD5lA4
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) January 14, 2019
Those who spout the “Yes…but really #NotAllMen” kind of reaction cloaks that same defensiveness with some devil’s advocate bullshit; drop that dude too, especially if they prop themselves up as proof that not all men are monsters. They haven’t done yet the introspective work of seeing which parts of their behavior promote toxic masculinity, and that’s the job only they can do for themselves.
Those who make the pivot in the discussion by focusing on why ads aren’t depicting women’s catty, bitchy behavior and telling them to be better? Drop that dude because they obviously missed the point. Women have been and continue to be told by countless ads that they will always fall less than perfect.
Looking forward to your Gillette Venus razor commercial asking every woman to rise above their innate catty, manipulative bitchiness. Until then, time to try something new. pic.twitter.com/bm1UtUg8ws
— James Dalby (@jamesdalby) January 15, 2019
“Drop these dudes? Isn’t that too harsh?” It’s 2019 already, people. The internet has been around for a little over two decades. Sure, you can take on the (free) labor of educating your dudebro pals on such a basic concept as respecting other people’s rights and humanity, but while you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make him drink unless he wants to.
Other than providing us with a quick dudebro radar, I’m not going to applaud Gillette for doing the most with the least. Corporate activism purposefully appeals to the audience’s emotions because brands will always want to tap into what’s hot and current. Right now, it’s the “woke” market, which is funny because Gillette’s previous portrayals of what “The best a man can get” definitely played into the stereotypes of masculinity it is now scrutinizing (“Is this the best a man can get?”). As per the brand’s statement:
“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. With that in mind, we have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and coming communication and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate. We’re inviting all men along this journey with us – to strive to be better, to make us better, and to help each other be better.”
(Gillette also pledges to donate a million dollars annually over the next three years to non-profit organizations in the United States that “inspire, educate and help men of all ages achieve their personal ‘best’ and become role models for the next generation.”)
At the end of the day, the brand is still selling razors through an ad with such a simple message and the discussions it has sparked. No matter what conclusions each viewer draws, no matter the boycotts, it got all of us talking about them. And in a world where any PR is good PR, the online wank Gillette generated is a win for them.