January 18, 2019

Toxic Masculinity, Male Vulnerability & Gillette Razors: How We Can Raise Woke Men.


Gillette’s new commercial, “The Best a Man Can Be,” has hit some nerves.

It’s a play on their campaign from 1989, “The best a man can get.”

The new take opens by depicting troubled-looking men as the narrator references bullying, #MeToo, and toxic masculinity before asking, “Is this the best a man can get?”

The significance of this giant multinational corporation jumping into the murky waters of toxic masculinity can’t be understated.

It is massive, controversial and, most importantly, it’s a conversation starter—the days of sexual harassment and assault, bullying, and inappropriate behavior excused as “boys being boys” is over.

We can’t hide from it anymore, and there’s no going back.

It’s time to embrace the best of masculinity by saying and doing the right things.

It’s time to teach our young boys to do the same—because they are the next generation of men.

Gillette’s message is on point and courageous. But it won’t come without a fight.

There has been pushback. A recent Forbes article, “Why Gillette’s New Ad Campaign is Toxic,” has listed a myriad of marketing mistakes and missteps the razor company has taken,  including lecturing about behavior to potential customers, using politically charged language such as “toxic masculinity,” and suggesting that most men behave badly.

Social media is also rife with significant negative responses—displays of anger, defensiveness, and threats of boycotting Gillette’s products.

While the ad’s statement, “some men are already acting the right way, but not enough,” feels like hyperbole, I believe most men do not act in ways described by toxic masculinity.

So why the pushback? There are two significant issues at work here.

Toxic masculinity is an obvious one. Calling out unacceptable behaviors and pointing out the way men can be better didn’t offend me in the least.

But the bigger issue is more complex. Gillette’s campaign is demanding that men redefine what masculinity is. It is a call to action to be thoughtful, reflective, and in touch with our feelings—enough to have productive discussions about healthy masculinity. That is an uncomfortable topic for many of us men, one which we don’t often want to deal with.

I too have struggled with this issue for most of my life.

Watching this ad and the reactions to it brought me back to the schoolyard fights of my childhood, where displays of vulnerability were met with defensiveness, anger, and threats of an ass kicking. Substitute threats of boycotting for threats of an ass kicking, and it feels awfully similar. Resistance to the perceived criticism and weakness is as primal and palpable now as it was back in the schoolyard.

It’s a complicated discussion to have. We know the shift is happening. We can feel it, and this new ad campaign is surely confirmation of that. But where it is headed is murky.

Difficult questions need to be asked: What does it mean to be a man? Is vulnerability a weakness or a strength? Why is expressing emotions scary? It’s going to take a while to unravel these.

No one is suggesting that men shouldn’t embrace our masculinity. There is nothing inherently toxic about being masculine. But being male is not a free pass for inappropriate, harmful, or disrespectful behavior. We are not entitled to that. The #MeToo movement said “enough is enough,” and this ad campaign is the next step of the evolution.

The time has come for men to be accountable and responsible for our behavior—not as men, but as people. Gillette is turning up the volume on this message, and that’s a good thing.

Gillette’s “The Best a Man Can Be” commercial won’t answer these complex questions or change behavior overnight. But the value of this campaign is that it elevates the conversation about masculinity and vulnerability to the mainstream.

Real conversations are happening. “Boys will be boys” only as long as we allow it.

I have an 11-year-old son. I want him to be masculine, and I want him to be strong. I want him to respect women and men alike. I want him to be compassionate, empathetic, and vulnerable. I want him to learn that his strength will come from his vulnerability. I want him to know that he can be strong enough and brave enough to express his feelings. I want him to communicate well and have better relationships than I’ve had.

This ad campaign is a big step toward shifting the conversation in that direction, and I welcome it.

We are not the best that men can get.

We have a lot of work to do.

But now, at least, we are now having the conversations. And we’re just getting started.

“If we are going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of *what we’re supposed to be* is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.” ~ Brené Brown 

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