Gillette’s new ad urges men to be the best they can be — and people’s feelings towards the ad ranged from extreme offense, to strong dislike, to wholehearted support.
The ad begins with various men staring at themselves in the mirror as a voiceover says, “Bullying. The Me Too movement against sexual harassment. Toxic masculinity.”
It cuts to the Gillette logo and slogan, “The Best a Man Can Get,” as a male voice asks, “Is this the best a man can get?”
The voiceover continues, “Is it? 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.”
Scenes of bullying are shown; one boy runs away in fear from other boys chasing him and one boy seeks comfort from his mother as text bubbles pop up around him calling him a “sissy” and telling him “everyone hates him.” Next, adolescent boys watch scenes on the television in which women are objectified and the men in the audience laugh uproariously. The scene changes to show a man talking down to a woman in a professional setting, then to boys wrestling in a yard.
A row of men standing behind grills repeatedly state, “Boys will be boys.”
The voiceover continues, “Something has finally changed” as the scene changes to different news coverage of the #MeToo movement and accusations of sexual assault and harassment, after which the male voiceover says, “And there will be no going back. Because we, we believe in the best in men.”
A CSPAN clip of Terry Crews, an actor and former NFL player who was sexually assaulted by a male Hollywood executive, then plays, as Crews declares, “Men need to hold other men accountable.”
The voiceover goes on, “To say the right thing, to act the right way. Some already are, in ways big and small. But some is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”
During the voiceover, men in the ad break up fights, stop their friends from harassing women on the street, encourage others to shake hands instead of fighting, remind their young daughters they are strong, and intervene in bullying, saying, “That’s not how we treat each other” and asking, “Are you okay?”
Gillette tweeted the video with the following message:
— Gillette (@Gillette) January 14, 2019
This ad was not an attack on masculinity. The only explicit reference to any kind of masculinity is at the beginning when the voiceover refers to toxic masculinity.
There is a difference between traditional masculinity and toxic masculinity, and the ad showed examples of toxic masculinity, such as mocking boys by calling them “sissies,” treating women as mere sexual objects and talking down to them in a professional setting, and resolving issues or expressing feelings by physically fighting. None of these actions exemplify traditional masculinity.
The ad then encourages men to be the best they can be and shows ways they can do so, from stepping in to stop bullying to calling out inappropriate behavior to being supportive fathers actively raising kind and confident children.
These actions — which show empathy, protector status, moral integrity, and the courage and strength necessary to do the right thing — are the embodiment of traditional masculinity and should be encouraged.
The ad criticizes negative behavior and promotes positive behavior. There’s nothing offensive about that.
Furthermore, I believe that the ad’s message is also a Christian one — whether or not the company intended it that way. The message to treat others well, to look out for one another, and to speak out against bad behavior is a message you could hear from a church pew on a Sunday.
And if companies see the benefit in moving towards such values, that’s not only a good sign about the direction in which our country is headed, it’s a benefit for us all as well because society takes its cues from culture. Gillette clearly recognizes the value it can bring to the conversation; the company released a statement in which it said, “It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. 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. With that in mind, we have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and coming communication and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate. We’re inviting all men along this journey with us – to strive to be better, to make us better, and to help each other be better.”
It’s hard to argue that this sort of introspection isn’t necessary; we are barely 15 months into the #MeToo movement, a reckoning that shocked the world with the sheer volume of stories of misconduct and abuse, and it’s evident that problems exist in every state, in every industry, at every level. From the media to sports to blue-collar industries to the service industry to the church, the #MeToo movement showed that many of the times, serial abusers were successful because of the people around them enabling them by looking away. It therefore only benefits society if companies are discouraging tolerating or looking away from such behavior, and it’s an indication of America’s morality that companies see a benefit to involving themselves in the conversation.
The ad takes issue with the phrase “boys will be boys,” which doesn’t explicitly approve of bad behavior but is frequently used to justify and tolerate bad behavior. When used this way, the phrase essentially argues that some things are simply out of men’s control — an offensive perspective because it treats men as if they are nothing more than dumb animals, unable to control themselves or think.
But the ad doesn’t treat men this way. It does not demonize the entire male sex or the concept of traditional masculinity. It says, “We believe in the best in men, to say the right thing, to act the right way.”
We believe in men, not we believe men are pigs or lost causes.
We believe in men to do the right thing, not men cannot be trusted to do the right thing.
The ad makes the argument that men aren’t predisposed to bad behavior but that bad behavior is a cycle, in which young boys learn the wrong lessons about what it means to be a man or to be strong.
This is not to say that the ad is perfect. I have two quibbles with it, the first being the lines, “Some already are. But some is not enough.” Instead of “some,” it should have said “most,” to highlight the importance of good men and the dangers of a few bad apples, both their existence and the toleration of them. (If you’re curious, my other quibble was that the ad was unclear about whether one scene was simply good-natured wrestling — which can be entirely age-appropriate and harmless — or an actual physical fight.)
And it remains to be seen whether it was financially wise for the company to wade into cultural debates. However, it’s worth remembering that this isn’t Procter & Gamble’s first foray into “woke” advertising and that people also predicted the Colin Kaepernick ad would hurt Nike — but Nike’s stock increased after the ad debuted, and the company reported in December that its sales had increased 10% in the latest quarter. Furthermore, millennials have repeatedly shown that they value companies that are socially conscious: According to Forbes, millennials — now the nation’s largest adult population — “prefer to do business with corporations and brands with pro-social messages, sustainable manufacturing methods, and ethical business standards.”
And Gillette is putting its money where its mouth is: The company is partnering with the Building a Better Man Project and the Boys and Girls Club of America, and it’s donating $1 million per year for the next three years to American charities that specifically help men.
It’s understandable that men feel as though they are the last category in which it’s acceptable to generalize and criticize. Generalizations are never helpful. But this ad is only calling out bad behavior, in an effort to put a stop to it. Many ads directed at women have also highlighted that young girls are taking their cues from their mothers, such as how to view their bodies or food. And the ad at times reminded me of the movie Mean Girls, in which Tina Fey’s character points out how poorly girls have treated each other and how engaging in such behavior makes it acceptable, which creates an environment in which the bad behavior persists.
Indeed, I thought the ad was a good lesson for not just men but for women too. But I also thought it was a good reminder. It reminded me that I am surrounded by men who are good, who I am proud of, and who I love. It reminded me of all the times I’ve watched good men step up to help others out and to look after them, even when they were total strangers. When I watched the Gillette ad, I thought of those men, who never hesitate to do the right thing. And I thought, That’s the kind of man I’m marrying. That’s the kind of father my children will have. That’s the kind of person I want to raise.
That’s why I thought the ad was a beautiful and inspiring message.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.