Masculinity and #MeToo?
Is the discussion around “toxic masculinity” really politically correct?
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, people are finding the courage to speak out… and the consequences have been significant.
My Twitter and Facebook feed has been buzzing over the past few days regarding a certain advertisement put out by Gillette, makers of men’s facial products, focusing on men and masculinity.
Reactions among friends and family ranged about as broadly as the comment feed below the YouTube video. From calls to dump Gillette, and their parent company Proctor and Gamble, for radical feminism to unabashed support backing Gillette and their message found in the viral video.
Type in “Gillette masculinity ad” on Google, and you’ll get a wide range of op-eds, blog posts, and other news critiques on both sides of the argument. Anti-feminist supporters slam the ad as a blatant attack on masculinity. Other pro-feminist advocates say that the advertisement is refreshing and fosters a bit of hope that change might soon come. Some say that consumer companies have no place in the discussion, while others say that the change must start there, with the culture at the root of our problems.
Truly, in the age of #MeToo, men are now finding their voice in this discussion.
Notably, Gillette hasn’t been the only company to put their voice into the discussion. In 2017, Axe, and its parent company Unilever, asked the question, “is it okay if guys…?” as part of their “Find Your Magic” campaign. In their advertisment spot, they featured real questions that guys search on Google. To be honest, I had no idea that some of these questions were even something guys considered, much less searched via the internet. Clearly, this next generation is searching for answers outside of the traditional masculine norms that is found in American culture.
The question to be asked is,
Is this advertisement attacking men or is it highlighting and celebrating the spectrum of masculinity?
What is Masculinity?
“Boys will be boys.” The mantra of traditional masculinity. It’s the quick-to-brush-off-indiscretions view of men and young men. There have been countless stories of “boys will be boys” and the ways that boys are taught to be “real men.”
According to John Fee, a writer for the website Capable Men, “various cultures have their own definition of what makes someone masculine and while these traits and social expectations vary from place to place — They all share a single, important purpose. To conquer and overcome matters involving the physical forces with unrelenting courage and resilience.” (I must note that John Fee has a fairly traditional view of masculinity in certain areas, which can be seen in his article above. However, his insights were incredibly helpful in the writing of this article.)
Boys are often told that “real men don’t cry” and that “real men don’t show fear.” Expression of emotion is the bane of a man’s existence according to traditional masculinity. Boys and men are told that they can “take what they want” because it’s their right. Look no further than at the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape of President Trump speaking about Arianne Zucker, whom he was waiting to meet, to see how this truly is publicized in our culture.
“I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the p****. You can do anything.”
The guttural reaction to the “Access Hollywood” tape, that was revealed in October 2016, wasn’t as profound as what it may have been if it had come out a year later in October 2017, when the #MeToo movement truly began after sexual accusations against Harvey Weinstein.
For years, our culture has been feeding these ideas of what it’s like to be a real man to our young boys and the consequences of these ideas are beginning to surface.
The Beginnings of #MeToo
This was never more apparent than the reactions following Brock Turner’s assault on unconscious and intoxicated woman at an off-campus frat party in 2016. Turner was convicted and sentenced to six months in jail, which many would argue was one of the beginning catalysts for the #MeToo movement, as the judge who gave the lenient sentence was quickly recalled from the bench in 2017. Turner later appealed his sentence, stating he only wanted “outercourse.” This appeal was later dismissed and the charges were upheld. According to the New York Times, Justice Elia, one of the appeals court justices, “wrote that jurors ‘reasonably could have inferred from the evidence’ that if two graduate students had not stopped Mr. Turner when they saw him on top of the unresponsive woman, ‘he would have exposed himself and raped’ her.”
Turner’s victim would later recount her experience and stated, “Instead of taking time to heal, I was taking time to recall the night in excruciating detail, in order to prepare for the attorney’s questions that would be invasive, aggressive and designed to steer me off course, to contradict myself, my sister, phrased in ways to manipulate my answers… This was a game of strategy as if I could be tricked out of my own worth.”
Traditional masculinity has not celebrated the worth of women, which is what many pro-feminist supporters take issue with. The view of traditional masculinity has quickly shifted in the past two years to being seen as “toxic masculinity.”
According to Forbes, the issues highlighted in the controversial ad including “suppressing emotions, fist-fighting, bullying, and reducing women to mere sexual objects are all examples of toxic masculinity.” Gillette bravely spoke into that, without sugarcoating the issues:
“We can’t hide from it. It’s been going on far too long. We can’t laugh it off, making the same old excuses.”
What is Modern Masculinity?
It’s refreshing to hear of people stepping into the space that the #MeToo movement has created. Gillette created a page on their website to highlight the goals and purpose behind their ad and their rebranding:
“It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture,” Gillette says on their website. “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.”
Going back to the advertisement created by Axe, modern masculinity means highlighting and allowing men to be themselves and not holding them up to a certain standard of being “buff”, “tough,” or “bro” enough.
Modern masculinity is quickly shifting to be the new norm, with millennials leading the charge. Jules Schroeder, a writer for Forbes, noted, “Today, less than a third of men aged 18 to 29 report feeling ‘completely masculine’ compared with 65% of baby boomers. It is not uncommon to see many men choosing a green juice over a beer, meditating instead of watching the news in the morning, or journaling their feelings.”
Schroeder also argued that millennial men are choosing this new type of modern masculinity because they are non-conformists. They don’t want to compete, but they want to be authentic, acting according to their values and utilizing vulnerability to do so against the backdrop of a purpose of growing as a man.
Traditional masculinity is fading, quickly, as millennials begin to take their place in the business world. However, one must ask the question if masculinity of some kind still has a place?
The Place for Masculinity
In the midst of the #MeToo movement, people have often wondered if masculinity is something that should be left by the wayside. If it’s something not worth carrying on? Or is it something that should be left in the past with arranged marriages and the like?
I firmly believe that masculinity has a place in our culture, but that masculinity needs to look profoundly different from the past. American culture needs to recognize that not all masculine examples look the same. Fee notes in his article that men make up the majority of the “most dangerous social roles” as noted by the US Census (although that was in 2012 and I would be curious to see the shift in 2020). Fee also poignantly argued,
“Masculinity has a very prominent role to play in a reality of unknowns and ever-present dangers. The subjugation of masculinity from the vocal minority is reckless and typically comes from those who fail to understand it… Masculinity and its endorsement is not a threat to legitimate social progress and the genuine pursuit of a strong, just, safe and functioning society.”
Women After #MeToo
I find myself wondering also if women have a place in this discussion beyond accusation and finger pointing? We all stood up and held our collective breath with Christine Blasey Ford as she faced Brett Kavanaugh in the Congressional hearing and struggled with emotions following the aftermath, but if we were really honest, are there things that we need to change with ourselves?
Should women also have a similar #MeToo reckoning, because, in reality, there are things that women have done to men as a result of the cultural narrative.
Are there views, opinions, and ideals that we place on the men in our culture that feeds into the traditional views of masculinity? Are we part of the problem? I ask this as a 27-year-old woman myself, who can say #MeToo. I firmly believe that women are part of the answer to this cultural problem as much as men are.
Moving Forward Beyond #MeToo
As a middle and high school teacher, I recognize the role I play in the lives of my students. I often encourage my students to think critically about their actions, recognizing that their actions have a ripple effect. While they might not be deeply affected by an action they take when they call someone a name or shove a student into a locker, the other student’s life might be profoundly affected.
As a future parent, I often think about what I will teach my children. My husband and I have talked about the values and ideals we want to instill in our children. We want them to think for themselves, be reflective of their actions, and love people regardless of race or creed. We often are thinking of our own actions.
When I think of modern masculinity, I often think of the night my husband stood up for a friend. We were out dancing at a bar, and one of our friends got bumped into purposefully by a group of girls who wanted to start a fight. My husband simply stood in the way, with his back to the aggressors, separating the girls from our friend, keeping the peace. He didn’t say anything or do anything beyond simply stand there. He got kicked out with a neck full nail marks and blood all over his shirt, while the aggressors faced no real consequences. When I asked him later about it, he shrugged and said, “I just knew that’s what I had to do to keep everyone safe.” That is what I think true masculinity looks like. This is the kind of man that I want my son to look up to and model his life after. Masculinity has its place and the #MeToo movement is fostering a positive shift in the right direction.
“Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”