Razor blade commercials aren’t supposed to make national headlines, but these aren’t ordinary times. Last week’s Gillette commercial playing on the #MeToo movement became the latest piece of corporate messaging to berate and belittle men.
The commercial implored men to “be better,” while juxtaposing scenes of boys wrestling at a cookout, bullies menacingly chasing a boy down the street, men catcalling women and making lewd jokes and generally acting like brutes.
Many Americans were angry, not least men, whom the commercial framed as universal aggressors and rapists.
Fans claimed that those who were upset by the Gillette ad should be asking themselves why. The implication was that, if you didn’t like being lectured by a company trying to sell you razors, it must mean that you are likely the bully and sexual assaulter the ad makers had in mind when they made the commercial.
Well, I’m a woman, and I hated the commercial, because I’m tired of the boy-bashing that has become all too common on our screens and in our world.
“It’s just an ad!” doesn’t fly. Would women shrug off “just an ad” that treated femininity as something inherently bad and in need of modification? They wouldn’t. Women accept far less criticism from advertisements than men do.
We need is to stop insulting men. We can’t elevate women by knocking men down. Some men will nod along with ads that insult them, but, in general, these companies are offending men and doing damage to their own stated cause.
In 2015, a company called Protein World released an ad for a diet supplement featuring a fit model in a bikini and the words: “Are You Beach Body Ready?” The backlash was swift. The ad was defaced again and again in the NYC subways, and the city of London went so far as to ban “body-shaming” ads on the Underground.
If there was a moment in time when women collectively decided that they would no longer stand for being body-shamed, that was it.
Similarly, the response to the Gillette ad feels like a dam breaking. This might be the moment when men have finally had enough.
Men are constantly barraged with criticism. “Men are the worst” has gotten old. The word masculinity is only preceded by the word “toxic” these days.
Meanwhile, men have been on a downward trajectory for some time now. Fewer men go to college, more men commit suicide, more men live at home with their parents well into adulthood.
The most dangerous jobs are usually performed by men, and most of those killed and wounded defending our country in wars are men, yet they are told nonstop that they are terrible, and the future isn’t for them. They are expected to shrug it off because, well, they are men.
If men are traditionally stoic and impervious to criticism, and we like them that way, then the idea that men can take the shots simply because they are strong and manly flies in the face of the commercial — which bashes male stoicism.
Gillette implores men to be better because kids are watching. Yes, kids are watching men portrayed as bumbling idiots in so many ads and as violent misogynists in this one.
The worst part of the commercial is the group of men standing in a row over their grills robotically repeating “boys will be boys.” The message is that men are all the same. They don’t think for themselves, and they excuse bad behavior in each other. They’re grilling just like your husband, father, brother — doing this activity they enjoy while simultaneously creating bad men out of their sons.
“We expected debate,” Pankaj Bhalla, Gillette’s North America brand director, told CNN Business. “Actually, a discussion is necessary. If we don’t discuss and don’t talk about it, I don’t think real change will happen.”
No, what we need is to stop insulting men. We can’t elevate women by knocking men down. Some men will nod along with ads that insult them, but, in general, these companies are offending men and doing damage to their own stated cause. On the Gillette YouTube channel, the commercial has garnered more than double the number of “dislikes” than “likes.”
This wasn’t a win for the company.
“Isn’t it time we stopped excusing bad behavior?” Gillette asked in the tweet introducing the commercial. Yes, it is. And that includes the bad behavior of corporate salesmen treating half of the population as monsters, all to sell a product targeted at precisely that segment of Americans.