Gillette‘s unique attempt to redefine masculinity was launched this week. In this commercial, they explain that masculinity, or being a man, has nothing to do with being strong and muscular. Rather, being a man requires a strength society often tries to dismiss: Speaking out against aggression towards others.
Here’s the commercial:
I’ve written about masculinity and culture many times. When a man bragged about grabbing women by their genitals simply because he could, we elected him to represent our country. When Brock Turner was caught sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, I praised the men who stopped his actions. When the #MeToo movement finally broke because of the abuses of Harvey Weinstein (and then countless others), the conversations became mainstream. You see, the culture of masculinity allowed these behaviors to exist because, well, boys will be boys.
Yes, boys like to roughhouse. I have two brothers who, as children, often wrestled one another for reasons unknown. Boys will be boys. I get that. But when that playful aggression morphs into bullying, catcalling, berating others, and ultimately sexually assaulting others, well, we have a toxic masculinity issue.
Be an Upstander
Men such as Jackson Katz have dedicated their careers to educate men about the importance of being an upstander, not merely a bystander. Bystanders bear witness to what is happening, but upstanders put the kabosh on the unwarranted activity.
Often boys/men are hesitant to get involved. For example, if someone is at a college party and is making a move on an inebriated person, often that behavior would go ignored, or even worse, cheered on. However, as an upstander, an individual will disrupt the behavior before an assault occurs. As respectable men model upstanding behavior, instances of misogyny will decrease due to peer influence.
Yes, boys will be boys. But what kind of men do we want these boys to become? Our boys are watching and learning. They see how the men in their lives respect the women in their lives. They watch television, movies, and listen to music that explicity illustrate how our culture represents women. What do we want those messages to be?
There is pushback over the Gillette commercial. Comments largely reflect the sentiment that the ad pegs “all” men as needing a little social education.
Yes, all men – and all citizens of the world, not just men – need social education about respecting women (well, all people for that matter). One common situation is vulgar catcalling. Many women who have been catcalled with highly offensive sexual language have had the universal and dismaying experience of not. one. man. silencing the offender. They often turn their heads and ignore the situation or become active participants. This Gillette ad gives men permission to become upstanders in these situations. It not only reiterates the importance of stepping in and stepping up, the ad also offers concrete visual examples of how to do so. Finally, it hits home that our young children are watching and learning. When viewing this commercial with kids it offers parents, especially those who have a dad-role, a tool in which to start a conversation about masculinity, consent, and respect.
Other negative comments about the commercial reflect the fear that men are no longer “allowed” to be manly. I disagree. This commercial is helping change the toxic culture of masculinity, not masculinity itself. There is nothing sexier than a masculine man stepping in and doing what is socially responsible. (Okay, that’s just my opinion.)
I believe many more major corporations will use media to help educate their audience about social responsiblity.
It’s about time.
To learn more about changing the conversation about masculinity check out these sites: