By Stephanie Gentle
The past several years have been a crucial time for women’s issues; from the “#MeToo” movement which went viral in 2017 to Brett Kavanaugh’s exceptionally publicized confirmation hearing, women have been encouraged to come forward and be open about the innumerable problems our gender has endured for millennia.
Likewise, men have been encouraged to hold other men accountable for their actions and to be better allies. On Jan. 13, Gillette released a “controversial” advertisement that did just that.
The company addressed the negative impact toxic masculinity has on men and women alike, while also urging men to call out other men for their toxic behavior.
While many found the ad refreshing and praised a company that primarily caters to men for addressing an issue like toxic masculinity, others were absolutely enraged by the ad and its message. It was critiqued for being “too political” and the internet had a field day, with people on both sides of the issue sharing their thoughts on the advertisement.
Here’s my take on the “controversy:” the fact that there is such outrage in response to a commercial which essentially says “raise men who respect women” and “don’t let men bully other men” is the reason the commercial is so necessary in the first place.
The company released an ad that — for once — forced men to think about how they can be better. The point of the commercial was not that all men are bad. It simply urged men to call out other men’s harmful behavior and to be aware of how offhand remarks and the “boys will be boys” mentality contributes to rape culture and negatively impacts both women and men.
The ad also does not imply that doing masculine activities or being traditionally masculine is inherently harmful, as many of its critics claim. Todd Starnes from Fox News stated that the ad is evidence of “a war on masculinity in America,” one “being waged in classrooms where professors are trying to convince a new generation of students that there’s something wrong with men who want to protect and provide for their families.”
This claim is simply outrageous for several reasons, the most absurd of which being the claim that there is a war on masculinity in America. There is not and has never been a war on masculinity. No one wants men to stop having traditionally masculine traits; toxic masculinity and its byproducts are the issue being addressed in the ad.
Violence against women is a massive problem in the United States (and internationally), and the problem is especially significant for women of color. According to arrest data from the FBI, “Males constituted 98.9 percent of those arrested for forcible rape” and the United States Department of Justice reported that “Females were most likely to be victims of domestic homicides and sex-related homicides.”
This violence is a byproduct of toxic masculinity; when we teach boys bad habits at a young age, those bad habits can manifest into dangerous actions in adulthood. This is why the commercial is so necessary in today’s world.
We need to raise our men better for the sakes of both men and women. In a world where toxic masculinity is rampant, women feel unsafe and vulnerable. When we teach boys that fighting and violence are acceptable but crying and expressing emotion are not, we force men to repress their emotions and subsequently downplay the harmful effects of boys bullying other boys.
In the ad, a man gets between two fighting boys and tells them “that’s not how we treat each other.” This is a key message of the ad: to urge parents to teach their sons that violence is never okay, even against other boys.
Boys need to be taught that violence is not the way to solve problems and should be urged to express their emotions just as much as their female counterparts. Young men do not deserve to be shamed for their feelings and doing so only perpetuates the idea that having emotions makes you weak.
Gillette’s ad did a sufficient job of drawing attention to the fact that seemingly innocuous actions such as catcalling are harmful to women and should be addressed whenever possible. However, the ad displayed relatively tame examples of catcalling and harassment that do not accurately reflect the true nature of what being a woman in America is like.
On a daily basis, women endure much worse than what is shown in the ad. Drawing on personal experiences alone, I have been repeatedly screamed at by groups of men, followed for blocks (both by groups and lone men) and sexually harassed.
I know far too many women who have been victims of rape and sexual assault, which makes the outrage to the commercial that much more baffling to me. Those who are offended by a commercial that urges men to be held accountable for their actions are incapable of understanding the feelings of fear and vulnerability that women face every single day.
The epidemic of violence against women is a massively important issue. Gillette put its revenues on the line by taking a stand and trying to address it.
While I may support the ad and its message, there are many who do not. Twitter was full of users throwing out their Gillette products in the days after the commercial was released, and Gillette has lost at least 30 percent of its market share since its airing.
I personally cannot understand how a person could be so offended by an advertisement like this, but everyone has the right to their own opinions and feelings. However, if you were rubbed the wrong way by this commercial, I implore you to ask yourself why an ad that pushes men to respect other men and treat women better is so provocative.
I think everyone, no matter where they stand on the issue, can learn something from this advertisement. Be an ally when you can. Call your friends out for misogynistic comments. Don’t shame men for expressing their feelings. Be your best.
Stephanie Gentle, FCRH ’20, is a communications major from Monroe, Connecticut.