The Best Men Can Be: Why the reactions to the Gillette advert validate its importance

The amount of toxic masculinity on show in the last few days would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic. It’s utterly ironic and concerning in equal parts that people (predominantly men but worryingly also some women)’s first reaction to an advert that attempts to challenge the status quo and question toxic masculinity is uproar.

Before I continue I must make the point that I personally found the ad painfully cheesy – it’s poorly acted and very “American” and hyperbolic in its execution, but I appreciated the sentiment nonetheless. The ad calls for men to take responsibility for their behaviour – and in a culture of victim-blaming (where parents raise their daughters to not wear certain things or walk a certain way at night, rather than teach their sons not to be rapists or abusers), this can’t be a bad thing.

I reject the response I’ve seen a thousand times that “women are abusers too” – yes, some people are bad or do bad things, men or women, but please shut up. Men don’t have to carry their keys in between their fingers walking home, or share their location with their mum or friend when they’re in an Uber, or text their friends once they get home safely.

Contrastingly, one in 71 men has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

To add to this, the suicide rate for men under 45 is higher than any other, and part of this is undoubtedly down to the pressure that is put on men to behave a certain way. Traditionally men are supposed to be the breadwinners, the protectors, the stoic stiff upper lip-ers. But it is clear that these societal expectations can be damaging to both men and women respectively.

From a young age little boys are taught not to cry, to stop being a “sissy” or a “pussy”, which creates an environment whereby boys grow into men and internalise their feelings – their mental health becomes a taboo topic and many don’t open up because they don’t want to appear weak. Putting the name ‘toxic masculinity’ on this damaging behaviour isn’t misandry, and it seems to me that those who describe it as such are exactly those who are worst affected by it.  

The film begins to question some of these notions of toxic masculinity, displaying a number of scenarios where men could and should do better: objectifying and abusing women, unwelcome and unwanted touching, fighting and bullying. The important thing here, and what seemed entirely obvious to me but clearly not to many others, is that this ad is NOT saying that ALL MEN are guilty of ALL of these things.

But you have to be living in an alternative reality if you think that these things DON’T happen at all. They do. Every woman has experienced some or all of it and I’m sure every man has too. And here lies people’s biggest problem with the advert. The advert isn’t an attack on all men – that makes blanket assumptions that the entire male species are evil. All it is asking is that men could and should do better. Which is true.

Kim Gehrig

The ad is directed by esteemed commercial director, Kim Gehrig, whose previous work often contains feminist messages, such as the brilliant ‘viva la vulva’, which turns inanimate objects into singing vaginas for Libresse (Bodyform in the UK) and Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’, encouraging women of all ages to get into sport and exercise. Gehrig is now being subjected to a tirade of keyboard warriors, predominantly men, telling her how awful she is, how she is a disgrace, a deranged feminist, a child molester and sending her graphic rape threats. Not only do you have to wonder what sort of misogynistic hatred these people have internalised, but it also perfectly exhibits the message of the advert in the first place. Is this behaviour not a clear demonstration of the toxic masculinity they are challenging?

It also raises the question: what exactly is so offensive about the ad? The part that suggests maybe men shouldn’t objectify and call after women in the street? The part that suggests maybe it’s best not to grab a woman’s bum uninvited? The idea that we should maybe not encourage little boys to beat each other up as a way of settling their problems? Why are these suggestions so offensive to some people? It’s fascinating to see how many men (and women) have interpreted a criticism of misogyny and abusive behaviour as a direct attack on men and ‘maleness’, as if disrespecting and mistreating women and each other is somehow intrinsic to their manhood! This is incredibly worrying and suggests that society really hasn’t made much progress.

a snowflake

It also comes as no surprise that the insufferable Piers Morgan has waded in, in classic piggish style, obfuscating the meaning of everything to fit in with his regressive agenda. It remains beyond me that Piers Morgan has the platform or influence he does, and I cannot wait for the day that he drops off the face of the earth and I no longer have to roll my eyes every time he spews out more rubbish. He thrives in a culture of outrage and likes to be offended by everything – and, I’m sure he rubbed his chubby pink hands together with glee when this video arrived on the scene, giving him another opportunity to shout at “PC-ravaged clowns” once again.

I can’t see anything wrong with trying to encourage us to raise the next generation of men to respect women, to feel comfortable talking about their feelings, to express themselves through words and not their fists and to place some responsibility on them to stop the behaviour towards women and other men that has long been accepted as “boys will be boys”. Even if it is just a brand jumping on the ‘woke advertising’ bandwagon…

words by Ella Glazer

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