A new viral ad by Gillette is using the brutal reality of the #metoo movement to challenge traditional ideas of masculinity and encourage men to do better. The ad offers a rough dress-down of modern masculinity from the company, known for its “The Best a Man Can Get” campaign. And the ad’s stark picture of troubled masculinity has received predictably salty backlash from men such as James Woods and infamous Brit blowhard Piers Morgan, the latter of whom tweeted: “Let’s be clear: @gillette now wants every man to take one of their razors & cut off his testicles.”
But what’s actually clear — practically crystalline — is that in their red-faced protests over the ad, defenders of traditional masculinity prove just how sad, fragile, frightened, and weak their ideals have made them.
Make no mistake, Gillette’s ad was designed to provoke. The first 45 seconds offers a dark montage of bullying, reports of sexual harassment, boardroom misogyny, creepy sitcom dads, and a line of men repeating “boys will be boys” as children fight. “Is this the best a man can get?” the narrator asks. “Is it?”
It’s a valid question given recent tectonic cultural shifts arguably set-off by Americans electing a president who admittedly grabbed women “by the pussy.” But the defenders of traditional masculinity appear incensed that Gillette had the audacity to ask the question. They are threatening to throw out their shaving gear. They are railing against feminism. And liberals. And soy boys.
They are, to use internet parlance, fucking triggered. That’s odd. Because traditional masculinity has long been understood to be about self-reliance, stoicism, and dominance. Publicly bemoaning that a men’s grooming brand hurt your feelings and threatened your gender would appear antithetical to those traits. In fact, it would seem the most vocal defenders of manly masculinity appear frightened, not dominant. They act as if using a brand critical of male violence could make them somehow less of a man, which is not self-reliance but rather the worst kind of dependence. Is it possible that by investing so deeply in traditional masculinity, those that wear it as a badge have become hobbled and weak?
It makes sense. Traditionally masculinity is literally killing men. Stoicism isolates us, aggression and risk-taking injure us, insisting on self-reliance places us at greater risk of suicide and death by disease. And that’s not even taking into account how traditional masculine ideologies have played a part in social ills such as domestic abuse and sexual assault.
You see, Gillette is not attacking men. They are challenging men to redefine masculinity and raise children with its positive traits. Sure, the brand is trying to sell razors by owning progressive values. There’s no doubt about that, and more power to them. But the important part in all of it is the idea of progress.
At the end of its ad, Gillette shows men standing up by stopping the bullies, checking misogynist friends, and giving children lessons of non-violent respect. These are wildly powerful images because it takes a huge amount of strength and self-assurance to call out a friend. It takes a great deal of courage and mental toughness to try and put a stop to violence. This is not something a soft “soy-boy” does. These are traits of warriors and agents of change.
In the end, the whiny protests of threatened men are helping Gillette change the narrative. Looking at the two, a father can’t help but wonder what kind of son he wants to raise. Does he want his son to grow into a man so fragile and unsure of who he is that a razor company can drive him to an existential crisis? Would he rather raise a son who grows into a self-assured man strong enough to stand up to bullies and help lead culture towards a more inclusive and healthy future?
I, for one, know which I will choose. And when it comes time to teach my progressive, thoughtful boys to shave, well, let’s just say there’s one razor I’ll probably reach for.