Eva Wiseman, a writer at The Guardian, once said “The most dangerous phrase in the English language is ‘be a man,’” and the more and more I look around, the more I realize how true that statement is.
In January, Gillette released an ad called “The Best That A Man Can Get” where they challenged the tradition of excusing men’s violent behavior on the phrase “boys will be boys.”
The ad encouraged men to call out other men on their gross and violent behavior through depictions of men stepping in and calling out their male counterparts upon seeing them harassing and assaulting women, a man stopping a fight between a group of boys and reminding all men that the next generation is watching them very closely.
I thought it was amazing.
As a woman who gets harassed by men on a daily basis, the fact that there was finally a big player telling men to knock it off, to call each other out and stop each other from problematic behavior, made me cry.
It gave me hope for a day where I won’t walk down the sidewalk afraid of the men surrounding me.
There is a stigma in our society, one that seems to slip right under the noses of many. A stigma that tells men that the only way they can be powerful is through violence and the oppression of others.
This is a term commonly referred to as Toxic Masculinity. Often brushed off with a “boys will be boys” this phenomenon shows up everywhere: in rap songs, movie protagonists, tv show protagonists, even in the men that we consider “heroes” and give the highest honored positions in our systems of government. It encourages men to be violent, tough, to not show or have emotion. It encourages men to shove down their human qualities.
The ad was an amazing pushback against popular culture and media, going against the grain by showing that being a man didn’t mean being aggressive and “tough.”
This ad, as amazing and progressive as it was, sparked anger among millions of conservative men. The ad, simply asking for men to act like decent human beings, has been accused of being a call to “end manhood.”
Other opposers are saying that this ad stereotypes men, depicting them all as the worst fraction of their group. And I get that. But when the worst fraction of your group is harassing and assaulting and raping and killing, don’t you think that’s worth some callout?
And, still, many are saying that it’s not the company’s business, that Gillette just needs to stick to selling razors and leave the political statements to everybody else. Many even suggested that the company’s purpose for running the ad was to up their sales.
However, this is such a big theme in our society that goes largely undiscussed, and if Gillette has the means and is willing to talk about it, why shouldn’t they? If no other authority figure is going to bring up the issue, why shouldn’t a company?
Regardless of whether or not they ran the ad in order to increase sales, they still ran it. It still depicted toxic masculinity in a realistic way and called for men to be better.
There is no solving this problem until we face it head on, until we look at toxic masculinity in the face and deal with it, and I thought that Gillette’s ad was a great start.