If you are one of the individuals clogging up their plumbing with Gillette razors or hashtagging ‘Boycott Gillette’, you are only confirming the type of ignorance this ad is criticizing. The only one winning in this twitter beef is Gillette, who got angry machismo(s) to blast images of their products across all of cyberspace. Their PR team truly owes these vigilant protectors of manhood a share or two. Sure, it is with a little chagrin that many like myself can’t help but laugh at all the boxer briefs twisting around the world over a single ad, but I will try to explore both sides of this (razor) burning debate.
After the ad aired last week some viewers vowed to dump the brand forever in defense of traditional gender values. Others heralded the short as a progressive success. The reality most likely sits somewhere down the middle. Foremost, this is an advertisement and Gillette has brilliantly got us all talking about overpriced plastic for days on end, but despite any offenses at least this ad is calling for human decency. We need these distinctly gender-specific issues to be addressed somewhere in our over-screened and saturated worlds. This is a step in the right direction, not the leap into chaos sensational media is portraying.
Toxic masculinity is best defined as traits or behaviors within gender stereotypes of masculinity that are actually harmful to society and men themselves. The ad shows several moments displaying this ‘toxic masculinity’ in quick succession – men harassing a woman on the street, audience laughter at a television grope, a coworker dismissing a female in the boardroom. A boy cries over cyberbullying and the chorus of “boys will be boys” echoes over children wrestling in the yard. These are scenarios we have all seen or heard, whether they make us cringe with their cheesiness or actually produce an emotional response is something else. Lastly, the ad switches to show what has changed in this new era of social warrior Gillette men with all the positive ways men reverse potentially harmful behaviors. The ad ends, “It’s only by challenging ourselves to do more [so] that we can get closer to our best.” Is this a call to action, or an attack on their customers?
Yes, this ad may be over the top and is definitely a little corny, but there is something about staring serious social issues in the face that can’t help but be applauded. I have never seen an ad showing these types of behaviors and criticizing masculinity in such a direct way. Which is why, this, is an impactful moment, this is not a sociology or ethics class. Advertisements are the subconscious creatures that penetrate our every media interaction. Usually, at the mention of a product, we try to ignore an ad, but Gillette isn’t just selling here, they are preaching a certain brand of human decency. Preaching didn’t necessarily go over well with the manliest of men who decided to call them out on Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube.
We have all seen the shaving or grooming product ad for men where an oiled up muscle stud flexes his pecs as he shaves his chiseled jaw to a perfect field of rugged stubble. Ads don’t just tell us what to buy, they tell us what to value, what is attractive, and what identities to seek out. In this way, Gillette has owned up to their subliminal powers and decided to push things beyond another ad which only admires their superior razor. This ad is a clear contrast to what we have traditionally seen as the attractive, strong advertorial man.
However, I will acknowledge a couple of sides where this ad may not be so progressive and positive. Largely the ad poses toxic masculinity as a male problem. This is not true. Men and women can both perpetuate harmful social behaviors. The issues the ad largely highlights, bullying and sexual harassment, are not only perpetrated by men. Women are also capable of perpetuating these issues and often women can preserve harmful ideals of masculinity such as expecting men to be stoic, non-emotional, and physically strong or aggressive. Don’t get me wrong, toxic masculinity 100% exists but it is a social condition that we are all responsible to correct, men and women alike.
Additionally, as many other analyses have addressed Gillette is more than likely just a big phony trying to create controversy to boost sales. Many condemn Gillette for posing feminist ideas but not addressing the “pink tax”, the issue where most of the women’s hygiene and grooming products are priced and taxed higher though they are the same product as the men’s version. Gillette certainly has motivations based on sales and they want to reach out to their millennial audience through an alternative style. This ad is a way to do that.
Although the intentions and the representations are far from ideal or perfect, having these types of representations in the media are important. Concepts of masculinity displays and their impact have been studied and debated for a long time. Violence and aggression are often referenced as side effects of harmful masculine expectations. According to the United Nations most recent global study on homicides, men accounted for approximately 96% of all homicides committed in the world. Most of the victims are men. It can’t be ignored that extreme violence is statistically male.
Even if it is in a silly or somewhat reductive way, representations like Gillette’s are at least acknowledging the large male elephant in the room. If a simple video clip on masculinity is that upsetting to someone then clearly, they are afraid of looking into Gillette’s inward mirror; their identity is as fragile as the plastic razors they continue to snap. These are real issues and we can’t only hear about them in academic settings. Seeing advertisements or television programs displaying these issues invites them into our home and into our dialogues. Toxic masculinity is a learned behavior, and we all have the ability, male and female, to recognize it and do our best to call it out and reverse it.
Ivy Wade is a Masters’ Student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.