Here is the link to the 2019 Gillette advert delivered via social media: https://twitter.com/Gillette/status/1084850521196900352
I have long been intrigued by representations and the reality of masculinity and I welcome this advert from Gillette in its contribution to the discussion. It has created a Twitterstorm and since gaining exposure is the name of the game for any brand, one would assume that it has served its purpose for the company.
However, while I welcome any narrative which makes it clear that violence and sexual abuse are not an inevitably part of masculinity, I don’t like the way they are going about it. The strategy of adverts is always to subtly suggest that there is something wrong with you and then to place their product as the ideal solution for the very problem you weren’t previously aware that you had. The problem presented here is that of bullying and sexual abuse perpetrated by men. The solution is joining with Gillette to stop these actions and therefore be the best man you can be.
There is a tremendous emptiness in this. ‘Good masculinity’ is represented purely as men stopping examples of ‘bad masculinity’, but it is so much more. There is nothing depicted of the richness and beauty of masculinity, it is just about stopping the worst excesses.
Insidious shaming, even if effective at changing behaviour in the short term, does not create a better world in the long term. If people only change their behaviour because they have been shamed into it, then they will harbour resentments towards those who shamed them and those on the receiving end of the changed behaviour. I don’t want that.
What I want is for people of all genders to have sufficient respect for themselves that they do not feel the need to use their power over others to make themselves feel stronger. Let’s ask why the bully bullies. Let’s get victim and perpetrator of sexual abuse together to listen to the pain and heal it. Let’s find ways to explore the issue of domination cultures which move beyond a narrative of ‘This behaviour is bad, you must feel ashamed of yourself and stop it immediately’ to ‘What is the world we want to create together?’.
I have been interested in the variety of responses from men. For some even the mention of the words ‘toxic masculinity’ trigger angry responses, while others are delighted to have it recognised that not all men are bullies. Projects working with male victims of domestic violence are unhappy that anywhere where only the perpetrator and rescuer are shown, male victims are still ignored and are less likely to come forward.
If men thought that they were entirely perfect as they were, they wouldn’t shave anyway and Gillette would lose their market so there has to be something wrong with them.
Is there a way to take part in debate where it doesn’t get tribal? Does one good example of masculinity negate any bad one? Of course not. Does the existence of the phrase toxic masculinity necessarily mean that women are never abusive? Of course not.
What are your thoughts?
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