Sorry, but Gillette’s ad is an imbalanced, politicised attack

People are getting heated about the new Gillette ad. Unsurprisingly it’s largely men, who claim the message of the ad is that men and masculinity are, on balance, bad.

Many women, on the other hand, like the ad and see it as an illustration of how great men can be. They feel its call for men to be better is reasonable — given that many men still behave poorly towards each other and women — and that men are missing the point when they claim it attacks masculinity.

On the surface it feels like there is some role-reversal going on: we’re used to seeing scenes of a calm man pointing out what they perceive to be rational arguments, and emotional feminists lambasting men for a perceived injustice.

Well, now we have hysterical men and calm, poised women.

I want to think this through carefully to see if the male hysteria has any grounding in reality. The main thing I’m going to evaluate is whether the video is a balanced critique on men, or whether it is a politicised attack.

Let’s dig in.

I first want to mention that I don’t think the explosiveness of the reaction to the video can be explained solely by its content. Men are angry because they see it as yet another attack on them, as well as on masculine traits. Many feel things have gone too far. They feel that women now have equal rights, and that we can’t go on blaming men and patriarchy for the continued existence of a pay gap and the underrepresentation of women in top jobs.

They also feel the #MeToo movement went too far, and it led to some of them being unfairly labelled as predators for what they perceive to be natural sexual advances on women.

There’s a feeling of ‘what’s next’. Yes — you deserve equal rights. Yes — it is wrong for employers to discriminate against someone purely because she is a woman. Yes — we think rape and sexual harassment are abhorrent and acknowledge that we need to be more vigilant.

Concessions have been made, yet the attack continues. Traditional masculinity is blamed for mental health problems in men. The American Psychological Association comes out and says that traditional masculine traits such as stoicism, competitiveness and aggression are harmful — not might be, or can be, but are.

And then, after all this, they’re told by Gillette — an effing corporation — that they need to change.

This is why men are angry. The content of the ad feels secondary, and despite what anyone makes of it, I’m happy to make the claim that we would have seen nothing like this reaction if the ad was published 15 years ago.

All the same, to genuinely critique this ad you need to address the content within it, and the message Gillette gave behind it.

Let’s do that now.

What’s in the ad, then?

I want to highlight a couple of paragraphs from Gillette’s statement behind the ad before proceeding, as they help contextualise the message and scenes depicted.

But turn on the news today and it’s easy to believe that men are not at their best. Many find themselves at a crossroads, caught between the past and a new era of masculinity. While it is clear that changes are needed, where and how we can start to effect that change is less obvious for many. And when the changes needed seem so monumental, it can feel daunting to begin. So, let’s do it together.

From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette. In the ads we run, the images we publish to social media, the words we choose, and so much more.

Bear these in mind as we move ahead.

The ad starts by listing and depicting examples of ‘negative’ male behaviour. Let’s list them out:

  1. A schoolkid being bullied — both physically and online
  2. ‘Toxic masculinity’ cited by a news reporter
  3. Sexual harassment & the #MeToo movement being reported on
  4. A scene from a film/advert with a man grabbing his maid’s arse
  5. A businessman belittling a female’s comment in a boardroom meeting
  6. One boy beating up another at a barbecue
  7. A man hitting on a girl at a party saying ‘smile sweetie’ in a condescending tone
  8. A man starting to aggressively walk behind and hit on a woman who walks past him the street

Now, do some men engage in the above activities? Yes.

Are they regrettable? Yes.

Should men and masculinity be villainised because of these? That depends on how widespread they are, and whether it is purely men that are the transgressors. The latter is important as, if it’s both women and men who are complicit, then it’s really human nature and society as a whole that needs reforming.

Gillette’s answer is that they are widespread: their statement claims that “many find themselves at a crossroads, caught between the past and a new era of masculinity”, and the ad’s narrator says that only ‘some men’ are acting appropriately.

In terms of men being the main transgressors, I feel the inclusion of bullying was mistaken and hypocritical. Bullying — whether physical or verbal — is not the sole preserve of men, and showing examples of it in a video criticising the old era of masculinity implies it is inherently a masculine trait. This is nonsense: it’s human nature and girls do it too. In fact, girls are more likely to be bullied at school.

I understand people might disagree with me here and say that just because girls do it doesn’t mean boys shouldn’t be criticised for it. Nonetheless, I reiterate my point: if you want to criticise bullying, criticise all of us. Don’t imply it’s a male problem.

The ad then pivots, becoming aspirational and showing men engaging in ‘positive’ activities, such as breaking up fights and challenging each other to treat women better. Some of the scenes are from real-life footage, implying that these men do exist.

But ironically this is when the ad displays even more bias. It fails to show the positive aspects of traditional male behaviour. We see nothing of bravery, of men risking their life to protect their family, community or country. This is mistaken — if you want to give a proper critique of traditional masculine behaviour, you need to acknowledge the good as well as the bad. Merely showing some men acting as you think they should act isn’t enough.

Where have we got to then?

My intention is not to comment on whether brands and Gillette should be campaigning for a better society; I want to understand whether this is a fair critique, or a politicised attack.

I happily acknowledge that men could be acting better. Most men would. The question is whether traditional masculinity should be villainised, and whether men are being judged fairly i.e. in proportion with their actual levels of transgression.

I’m not sure we are.

Claiming that ‘most men’ need to reform is highly questionable, though I accept that demanding more from anyone isn’t inherently wrong. But citing the need for men to redefine masculinity and depicting regrettable acts as inherently masculine, while failing to acknowledge the positive aspects of traditional masculinity is simply not balanced.

And that’s not it. There’s one more thing to mention which exposes the political nature of the video: of the 7 scenes depicting men engaging in ‘positive’ behaviour (3 real and 4 fictional), 5 — including all of the real-life clips — are from black men.

This, to me, reveals the underlying psychology of whoever directed the ad: white men are the problem. You might think I’m being ridiculous here, but given the bias of the ad, and how many of its themes are consistent with the mainstream narrative around identity politics, which places the white male as ultimately culpable for society’s injustices, I can’t look past this.

It might not have been Gillette’s intention, and the ad could well have been hijacked by the director, but I can’t reasonably call the ad balanced.

There’s some sense amongst all the hysteria, then.

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Building high resolution worldviews at humbug.media

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