The new Gillette ad takes its famous tagline, ‘The best a man can get’, and turns it around to question whether the boys of today are receiving the right life lessons from their male role models when it comes to being a man. In an emotionally spun narrative, the ad hints that ‘actions’ and ‘inequalities’ such as bullying, sexual harassment, sexism etc. that pervade our society are considered to be attributes of masculinity and should therefore forgiven. The ad also acknowledges that the #MeToo movement has resulted in a behavioural shift and that men are now taking back control and changing the definition and understanding of what it means to be a man. All this sounds pretty good – then why did social media explode?
Gillette isn’t a brand known for flirting with controversy, so the reaction to this ad may have come as a surprise to them. While many people lauded the brand for bringing gender and social issues to the forefront in a clever and relevant way, there were those who felt targeted and villainised because they felt the ad assumed that all men were guilty of ‘toxic masculinity’. On YouTube, the ad garnered 676k likes and 1.2 million dislikes – numbers that reveal how little our minds have progressed since the start of the #MeToo movement, and how much resistance there is to any kind of change in gender stereotyping.
The ad polarised the digital world – not surprising, given what happened in the past when a brand has created ad campaigns centring on social causes – case in point: the Nike commercial with Colin Kaepernick. In light of this, it is perhaps not surprising that social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter were rife with photos of razors being tossed aside and videos of people bashing Gillette and 140 character calls for its boycott.
The detractors of the ad have two major arguments – the first: Why is the ad assuming that all men are bad? Surely, there are some bad men (as there are bad women), but the good ones can’t be held responsible for the actions of the others. The second argument is more dangerous and exactly the sentiment Gillette is trying to question – the widespread belief that all the traits that are being praised in the ad make a man a ‘sissy’. It was alarming to see how many men and women subscribed to this mindset (based on the comments section on the various social media platforms).
One can agree that not all men are guilty of bullying and sexual harassment, and that woman can also be accused of these infractions. However, one cannot ignore the statistics that prove that women are subject to much more of these inequalities and injustices than men. Furthermore, it should be noted that if on one hand, the new Gillette ad puts ‘toxic masculinity’ under the spotlight, then, at the same time, it shows how other men are taking it upon themselves to change the narrative and set things rights – they are no longer accepting the ‘boys will be boys’ excuse for bad behaviour.
When did bad behaviour become synonymous with masculinity? Who decided that only women can be seen as being soft and non-violent? Why did humanity become a gender thing?
The outrage on social media was telling of how much we need the #MeToo movement to continue. If people think that the Gillette ad is pitting men against women, or that it is trying to emasculate men, then they are wrong. It is simply trying to remind people that certain values matter in society, and that putting men in a position where they can create safe, non-violent, respectful environments isn’t making them less masculine, but in fact is making them more decent humans.
Sheherzad Kaleem is a documentary filmmaker based in Dubai. firstname.lastname@example.org.