Image Credits: Gillette
Gillette recently launched a campaign called “The Best Men Can Be.” It is a play on their well-known tagline, “the best a man can get.” The ad was, somewhat predictably, received with strong emotions by both those who loved and hated it.
The question of manhood and toxic masculinity has been in the news in the last week or so, especially following the American Psychological Association’s condemnation of “traditional masculinity.” Making “traditional masculinity” synonymous with “toxic masculinity” has caused serious backlash, specifically in conservative circles. With the launch of this campaign, the suspect timing has set many on edge.
But, interestingly enough, the phrase “toxic masculinity” was not present in the ad. Nor is it present on Gillette’s website. As of this writing, the phrase has not even appeared in their many tweets about the ad, which I scoured for evidence of man-shaming. Rather, it seems that the phrase “toxic masculinity” (and, subsequently, an implied attack on traditional masculinity) was read into the campaign by supporters of the ad and dissenters alike.
If seen absent these contrived implications, the advertisement shouldn’t elicit such a divisive response. In the vein of the #MeToo movement, the ad calls for men to reject the cultural normalization of sexual harassment and assault. Even more, it encourages men to hold their fellow men accountable against that sort of behavior. Arguably, that overarching message in the ad should be acceptable and, dare I say it, encouraged.
Of course, that’s not to say that masculinity is wrong. And we certainly should not be calling for men to strip themselves of the inherent qualities that make them, well, men. As conservative writer David French argues, manhood is something young boys aspire to, and, when properly nurtured, can be used for the betterment of society.
In a recent article analyzing the rhetoric of President Trump, David French captures this balance perfectly. He explains that we have conflated bullying with manhood, wrongfully hailing the qualities of bullies as manly. He argues that people no longer embrace virtue in men. Instead, people cast off men who prioritize fidelity and honor as “unmanly.” In essence, our culture has hijacked the positive qualities of masculinity and twisted them beyond recognition, rejecting their original form because they are “unmasculine.”
I couldn’t help but think of those two articles from Mr. French after watching the advertisement that launched the Gillette campaign. Masculinity in itself is not dangerous. It is not wrong, and it is not unhealthy. And, in my opinion, the ad never makes this accusation. Rather, it seems that the ad charges men to repudiate disrespect, sexual aggression, and like behaviors – the qualities our culture has conflated with masculinity. Qualities that, I would argue, do a disservice to men.