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


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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 

author: David Baumrind

Image: Gillette / YouTube

Image: Elephant Journal on Instagram

Editor: Julie Balsiger


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David Baumrind

David Baumrind is a budding writer and paramedic on Long Island. As a single father, he teaches and learns life’s lessons with his 11-year-old boy. He loves the outdoors and is an avid paddle boarder and biker. He enjoys exploring the nature of his true self, practicing gratitude along the way. You can connect with him on Instagram.

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cdiane2000 Jan 27, 2019 6:39am

Fantastic read! There’s a Medium article on post-patriarchal masculinity you might enjoy. It talks about how the definition of being masculine might evolve to be more inclusive of all types of men and restates your point that masculinity itself isn’t inherently toxic. Our culture is, and that culture is shifting to a new paradigm. I’m happy to see it.

    David Baumrind Feb 15, 2019 10:37pm

    @cdiane2000, thank you for your thoughts! I will look out for that article.

Nathan Kendrick Jan 25, 2019 12:36pm

Very good article. It’s definitely nice to see the issue so more addressed recently. I just hope that Gillette had more in mind when using this topic other than “hey, this is a popular topic right now that a majority agree with – this will sell!” I do think most people agree that it is a problem – even if they haven’t adjusted their behavior yet at least knowing something is wrong can begin the process of change. Looking around at the actions and words of other men around me I agree that it’s most men acting in some way toxic – not in every stereotype but a mix of behaviors. It’s ingrained so severely from birth that it’s hard for most men to accept that it’s harmful, and WHY it is harmful. If the ad really offends anyone it probably struck a nerve or called out a behavior they know they are doing – if you don’t feel it targeted you then you won’t be offended by it.

    David Baumrind Feb 15, 2019 10:36pm

    Thank you for your thoughts Nathan!

David Baumrind Jan 19, 2019 6:44pm

@leomoon88, thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comments. It is a conversation that I hope continues in earnest.

leomoon88 Jan 19, 2019 6:39pm

It’s a pertinent message. What i find so asinine and predictably disappointing are the “men” getting offended by a razor commercial wi5 a socially message. The public comments and calls to boycott following this video are grossly revealing on how so many guys are extremely insecure about the the topic of displaced understanding of masculinity.. The male ego has always been quite fragile due to our patriarchally-monopolized now society and traditionalist women coddling such fragility of what comprises a real man, but to react with such an important message proves we have so much to evolve to. It’s a [email protected] that girls and women are assaulted, discriminated and abused daily by men in the homes and at the work place. These men are not obvious “bad” men. One man’s best friend can easily be our daughter’s, sister’s, mother’s abuser. Does it take them getting hurt before we trade ego for accountability? We complain when companies aren’t ethical yet some chastise when such hits too close to masculinity comforts. If you don’t abuse women, you should invite such reminders in for your fellow men. Commercials like these are good for society and your review David is on point! Change and progress doesn’t come without the price of ruffling the ego and feathers of such outdated regimes. Thanks for sharing??

THEHIREADVANTAGE Jan 19, 2019 5:36pm

interesting perspective- you gave a lot of thought provoking points.

    David Baumrind Jan 19, 2019 5:41pm

    Thank you @thehireadvantage!

winterhawkcelt Jan 19, 2019 3:40pm

Wish my brother could see this…then maybe he’d grow into a man and stop destroying people’s lives and souls.

    David Baumrind Jan 19, 2019 4:26pm

    We can only hope for change and do our part. Thanks for reading!

Candace Dahlman Jan 19, 2019 11:25am

thank you for the article! I struggled with the fact that so many people were against this comercial. on the bright side, even if its negative comments, its still being discussed!

    David Baumrind Jan 19, 2019 12:13pm

    Thank you for your comment Candace. I struggled with the same, which was one of the reasons I wanted to put my voice out there. Thanks for reading!

Candace Dahlman Jan 19, 2019 11:25am

thank you for the article! I struggled with the fact that so many people were against this article. on the bright side, even if its negative comments, its still being discussed!

David Baumrind Jan 19, 2019 10:32am

Thank you Allison. I agree with you completely! Glad you enjoyed the article!

Allison Banbury Jan 19, 2019 9:09am

My sons are 12 and almost-15, and your article is beautifully on point. In much the same way that “Black Lives Matter” has been misinterpreted by some as “Other Lives Don’t Matter As Much As Black Lives,” this movement to redefine masculinity has been misinterpreted as man-hating…and I think it’s the exact opposite. Boys/men should be allowed to pursue the full spectrum of what it means to be human, without fear of an ass-kicking. Thank you so much for your words!

Janice Dolk Jan 18, 2019 3:05pm

Thank you, I had seen a little about this on social media, but, not the commercial. Reading your post, and, being able to view the commercial, is a plus. I love your thoughts, thank you.

    David Baumrind Jan 18, 2019 4:09pm

    You are very welcome Janice. I’m glad you got something out of it.

Galina Singer Jan 18, 2019 2:00pm

Thoroughly enjoyed this, David! Important, courageous, thoughtprovoking.

    David Baumrind Jan 18, 2019 2:06pm

    Thank you Galina. Means a lot!

hollybug76 Jan 18, 2019 12:15pm

I’ve seen a majority of men rail against this Ad for a myriad of reasons and that saddens me greatly.
As a mother of a young man of 12, I want to ensure he becomes, The Best A Man Can Get. It’s my responsibility to raise a man who’s well rounded and not toxic to others. I applaud Gillette for being bold and for using their product and slogan in such a way. It’s not often we see social accountability from companies. It’s also rephreshing to come across men who aren’t threatened by a simple call to action. I am deeply greatful to those men who are good examples of the beautiful masculine. Thank You D.B.

    David Baumrind Jan 18, 2019 1:18pm

    Thank you Holly, I appreciate your kind words!

joe fisher Jan 18, 2019 11:58am

Another well versed article in a very poignant topic. The Zika s of the fathers donot have to be the sins of the sons. To.e is ripe for change. Change begins with a single step. Men and women equality and mutual respect should be a given. As long as we make positive moves we will keep heading in the right direction. I pray that what I have helped to teach my sons is moving in that direction. Thank you David for your insight and very relevant message. Your articles are thought provoking, necessary reads.

    David Baumrind Jan 18, 2019 1:17pm

    Well said. Thanks Joe!

pbaumrind Jan 18, 2019 10:27am

‘It takes far more strength to be a good role model than a bad example.’… a quote from an article about the Gillette ad in yesterday’s Washington Post. Thanks, David – you raise such good points about the concept of masculinity as well as being a caring decent human being!

David Baumrind Jan 18, 2019 8:39am

Thank you Alyson!

Alyson Follenius Jan 18, 2019 8:06am

With all the noise out there about this campaign, this is a refreshing and valuable take on it. Thank You.