Recently, I released a video where I touched on the fact that Gillette released a new commercial that directly addressed toxic masculinity, asking men to do better and the reaction that a lot of people, mostly men, had to it.
As it turns out, I have a lot more to say about it because, well, it’s made people lose their goddamn monkey minds. This is an ad that is literally just saying “hey, men can do better” and people are acting as though this was the announcement that XY chromosomes have been made illegal and having chest hair means that you’re going to get rounded up to camps.
Now sure, there’re always going to be the outrage merchants whose brand is literally “I’m threatened by change and angry at literally everything that’s even slightly different than me”, the ones who had to work to miss the point of the ad because they have one note and they’re sticking to it and of course the people who think “hey, it’s good to be kind to one another” is the sort of thing that people only say for social brownie points and really want to you to not notice that complaining about so-called virtue signaling is, in and of itself, a form of virtue signalling.
Although I have to admit, my personal favorite are the folks who want to bring up the current right-wing boogeyman “cultural marxism”.
I mean, I appreciate it because when someone drops that phrase, they’re signaling that either they’re taking their political philosophy from nazis or 4chan and either way, you no longer have to take them seriously.
And of course, there’s always the folks who basically look for anything to get angry about and reaffirm their own shaky sense of masculinity by throwing around “faggot” and “soy boy” to the point that you could write a troll-farm bot to do it for you with 100% accuracy.
Because let’s be honest here: the outrage isn’t just disproportionate to the supposed offense, it’s overblown to the point that if all you did was look at the comments on Twitter or the YouTube channel, you could be forgiven for thinking that the video was about drowning puppies.
When Is An Attack Not an Attack?
But part of what makes the — let’s be real — manufactured outrage so beard-stroke chin-scratch unusual is how much they’re having to work to create things to be angry about. It’s one thing when randos want to fling shit around like a roid-rage gorilla, but there are folks getting angry about things that are literally not in the video. So much so that this is starting to feel like some weird Bird-Box “makes you see your worst nightmare” experiment and they’re the only ones who took off their blindfolds.
Because if you strip out the bots and handed-down talking points, what you get down to are a lot of dudes telling on themselves. You get a whole lot of people who are taking calling out men who are behaving badly as a personal insult. Because if you’re not one of the guys who does this… then why does this bother you? The people who are calling this an attack on men or traditionally masculine behaviors or upbringing are complaining that being told maybe don’t harass people or let your kids to beat the shit out of other kids is somehow telling them to not be men.
For real, I’ve tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’ve gone through to try to find anything that could be considered an attack on good men as a whole and while granted, I’m biased, trying to call any of this an assault on masculinity as a whole or telling men to be chicks requires the kind of reach that would impress Reed Richards.
A number of people, for example, complain that this demonizes men for approaching or flirting with women. Except there literally is no point where a man is flirting with women. Ever. What we do see are clear cut examples of cat-calling and harassment, with women who very obviously don’t appreciate it. It’s obvious from their body language and from the context of the ad that this isn’t meant to be seen as someone trying to innocently approach somebody they’d like to date.
And there’s literally nothing about it saying that any guy is harasser or rapist waiting to happen. What it does do is calls out sexual harassment and the way that society has encouraged and normalized it with the cartoon and the trope-y sitcom horn-dog.
The same thing goes with folks saying that the ad somehow stigmatizes or criticizes boys for playful roughhousing… except that’s not what we’re seeing in the ad at all. Watch the face of the boy being chased by the mob, the boy being comforted by his mother or the boy who’s on the ground at the barbecue. Those aren’t the faces of youthful horsing around, kids who are enjoying some rough and tumble play. They’re being hurt. Those boys chasing the kid we see running throughout the video aren’t just playing an enthusiastic game of tag, they’re trying to beat the ever-loving shit out of him.
And the ad goes out of its way to ensure that we don’t miss the fact that bullying isn’t just physical. It’s not just being beat up on the playground at school. The crying boy being comforted by his mother under an overlay of tweets is a reminder that in this connected age, there’s often literally no escape from being your bullies.
(And if you’re about to say that kids need to toughen up, I might point out that the same folks who’re calling him a snowflake are the ones who’re screaming online about a razor commercial).
The Anger of The Bystander Effect
But if we’re going to be honest, I think what’s bothering people the most is that it isn’t just calling out the bullies and harassers or the folks who think that over-the-top drunkenness is the marker of cool. It’s the fact that the commercial calls out the bystanders. The guys who may not be doing it themselves but who are letting it happen.
Which is honestly, part of what I like about it. The criticism isn’t just at the bully at the barbecue, it’s all the fathers who treat it like it’s normal, who won’t intervene because… well,
It’s the fact that the criticism isn’t just levied at the over-the-top dude groping at the maid, it’s the way it’s presented as comedy, with a laughing audience literally being told to applaud. The fact that they call out the laughing is important, because those men in the audience may not be the one doing the groping… but they are signaling their approval. By laughing at it, they’re saying that making women uncomfortable and touching them without consent is socially acceptable.
And that’s important. Because a big reason why so much of this bad behavior goes on is because people and culture as a whole give their approval, both implicitly and explicitly. Laughing at rape jokes, at trans people, gay people or sexual harassment carries the message that this is all ok. And even silence, in its own way, tacitly signals approval. Which is honestly, part of the reason for the pushback. Because the norms and behaviors that this ad is explicitly criticizing can only continue to exist if the people who disagree are silent.
That’s what this ad is doing. It even lays out it’s thesis as blatantly as it possibly can with an excerpt from Terry Crews’ testimony before the senate:
Men need to hold other men accountable.
Is This The Best Men Can Be?
But honestly, the accusation that this is an attack on men and manhood is kind of absurd on its face. Because we see a lot of traditional positive masculinity in here. We see dads barbecuing over the weekend with their kids, dads propping up, teaching and encouraging their sons, nurturing their daughters. We see the guys calling out bad behavior and ending fights and showing respect for others. And we see fathers protecting other people and — importantly — teaching their sons to be brave.
It’s a little disingenuous to say that this is an attack on men when the point of the entire ad is all but literally spelled out for you:
We believe in the best in men.
They’re asking men to be the kind of person that Mr. Rogers knows they could be. And if you see that as an attack… that’s says more about you than anything else.
Now if you want to accuse Gillette of virtue signalling… well, yes, that’s exactly what this is. They’re taking an explicit stance as a brand and saying “these are the values that our brand now stands for”. Yeah, of course money is involved in their decision. They’re planting their flag because it’s good business to be a responsible corporate citizen. They’ve done the math and realized that it makes better business sense for them to ignore the screaming MRAs and promote pro-social masculine values.
Which makes the people screaming boycott all the more amusing; that’s something that would be factored in to the decision to take this stance.
It’s really no different than brands recognizing that using racist tropes and imagery in their advertising is a bad goddamn idea. They’ve put their finger in the air and saw how the wind is blowing and how society is changing. I mean, they literally say this in the ad.
And as much as folks want to try to change the script and call them out for hypocrisy, they’re literally engaging with their own history and sexism in the text of the ad. I mean you can’t really have a more direct commentary on the history of the brand and it’s own marketing than having a bullied kid come bursting through one of their old commercials.
Now yeah, I’m not necessarily crazy about trying to leverage performative wokeness and social change for capitalism, but I’m also a big believer in practical altruism and enlightened self-interest. Brands and corporations do have an effect on social norms and if encouraging better behavior from men is a winning economic strategy… well, hey, I’m not going to let the fact that their motivation isn’t pure as the driven snow get in the way of any good it’ll do to the national conversation.
And on a personal and completely petty level, I have to admit I’m kind of enjoying watching people make a big show out of chucking their razors, razors which they already paid for so hey, they already got your money. And for all the folks saying they’ll never buy Gillette and Proctor and Gamble products again and take their business to companies that appreciate traditional manly men like Dollar Shave Club… well…
Good luck with that.