On Jan. 13, Gillette published a commercial that included references to movements like #MeToo and phrases like “Boys will be boys.” As of now, the advertisement has over 1 million dislikes on YouTube and news outlets like The Huffington Post, USA Today and Forbes have written articles about the varied responses to the commercial.
Huffington Post columnist Neil J. Young has said that the commercial is, “Actually quite conservative,” and “deeply traditional.”
Young said, “While ‘toxic masculinity’ is in the commercial’s crosshairs, men are not. Instead, they are its heroes. After the ad’s opening scenes, the bulk of the commercial shows men saving the day: breaking up fistfights, defending a woman’s honor, fulfilling their parental duties. If chivalry had a national media campaign, this is what it would look like.”
USA Today’s article took a different angle with Kirsten Powers’ opinion piece, “Gillette Commercial Controversy: Men should just get over it and adapt to #MeToo era,” stating that the ad is about privilege and the right and wrong ways to use it. In the context of sexual assault or harassment, Powers states that the ad encourages men to use their privilege, as men, to confront other men for bad behavior.
“When a man speaks up about sexual harassment, it carries a different kind of weight than when a woman says it,” said Powers. “If men feel they are risking the respect of their colleagues and fellow men, they are more likely to alter their behavior than if they are confronted by the office feminist.”
Forbes echos USA Today. “Viewing the commercial with the assumption that the ad desires to demonize men, misses its point,” said the magazine. “The commercial doesn’t seek to malign all men or masculinity but identifies male misbehavior and encourages all men to be active in stopping it.
I’m not entirely sure why I decided at 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday night that writing about this ad was important to me. I’m not here to argue about the commercial but rather acknowledge some truths, ask some questions and be a good listener to both people who support and challenge the commercial.
The first truth I’ve found: the commercial has indeed been a conversation starter. Whether that conversation is going anywhere productive is debatable, but nevertheless a conversation has ensued. As we progress further into an unknown political climate, it’s important to ask harder and more controversial questions and to get responses. Conversation is mostly positive and useful.
Just to clarify, I’m not putting the Gillette ad on the same level as all conversation starters, nor saying that it’s the best way to get one going. But conversation allows for some useful things, like applying critical thinking to real world experiences, talking to others who may disagree with us and leading us to ask questions of ourselves and of others.
The second truth: the commercial challenges the definitions we use when we talk about each other, and in this case, how we talk about men and what it means to “be a man.” While I don’t have a dad, I have had many men in my life who have shaped my own definition of what being a man means.
This leads me to my questions. What defines ‘masculinity,’ why does it matter so much, and how can I talk to someone whose opinion of this definition is different than my own? How can I continue to acknowledge and honor #MeToo survivors while having healthy discussions with my male friends about things like the Gillette ad? Will there ever be a time where someone doesn’t ever feel attacked? If not, how can we have conversation that matters and is impactful, respectful, considerate, kind, direct but not aggressive and inclusive? There’s so many things to take into consideration!
But that may be a good starting place; “There’s so many things to take into consideration.” About this ad, about that friend who you thought you agreed with but just said something “really conservative for a liberal.” About companies who have had questionable reputations in the past but are using the real world contexts to “sell” themselves and their razors to you – there’s lots to consider and be considerate of.
When ads like Gillette’s come out it’s easy to jump head first into the conversation with something to say and emotions to contribute. There’s usefulness in doing that and passion can be admirable. But instead of jumping head first I’ve been trying to consider my context and those around me. I want my more conservative friends not to feel shut out, I want to continue to shut down hurtful words towards others without also hurting them. I want to take all of the opinions I hear about this Gillette ad, and other controversial conversation starters, and not ignore the perspectives I don’t want to hear or that challenge me, while still denouncing things that are clearly hurtful, racist or illogical.
Some would say that “there’s never been a more important time to” be a good listener and engage in conversation, though I would argue that there’s always been time to do both. In a climate where opinions appear to be only black and white it’s going to be important to engage in the black, white and grey areas of our conversations. Take the Gillette ads of the world and engage in conversation. Put energy and passion into asking questions and be as considerate as you can as you do so.