The razor maker Gillette is taking on toxic masculinity. Based on the furious reaction to this effort in some quarters, the message is more needed than perhaps we even realized.
In a new two-minute advertisement, the famous Procter & Gamble brand tells men to “say the right thing” and “act the right way.” The ad plays on the company’s slogan, “The best a man can get,” replacing it with, “The best men can be.” It portrays a montage of male bullying, harassment and sexist behavior and men stepping in to intervene to stop the behavior.
“So nice to see @Gillette jumping on the ‘men are horrible’ campaign permeating mainstream media and Hollywood entertainment,” tweeted actor James Woods. “I for one will never use your product again.” Fox News host Greg Gutfeld echoed the outrage by claiming that the ad is “crapping all over…men” and adding, “it’s almost as if [they] hate men.” Piers Morgan tweeted, “’I’ve used @Gillette razors my entire adult life but this absurd virtue-signaling PC guff may drive me away to a company less eager to fuel the current pathetic global assault on masculinity. Let boys be damn boys. Let men be damn men.” A video of the ad on YouTube has garnered over 800,000 dislikes.
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Anyone freaking out about a depiction of men intervening to stop bad behavior of other males should ask themselves why they are so triggered. This is simply a fairly anodyne ad encouraging men to rise to the occasion in the #MeToo era. The mere suggestion that perhaps men haven’t always behaved perfectly shouldn’t cause such an uproar, and it likely wouldn’t if it didn’t strike so close to home.
Most men don’t condemn other’s bad behavior
Gutfeld asserted that Gillette failed to recognize that “most men” condemn bad behavior “whenever they see it.” How anyone can even utter a thought like this in light of the Catholic Church’s ongoing sex abuse crisis is a mystery. In society at large, we have story after story, case after case, of women who were sexually harassed and even assaulted and who were completely ignored and often demonized when they complained. The legal system turned a deaf ear to them or re-traumatized them when they filed complaints.
To the extent the legal system has changed, it was driven by the actions of feminist lawyers and activists, not men. Not only were most men not standing up for these women in the moment, they weren’t backing them up when the women stood up for themselves. This world where men have been unsung heroes fighting against their gender’s bad behavior is a purely mythical place. Such men absolutely exist, but they are not the norm. They are also exactly the type of men who would not be threatened by a razor ad. If more men had been condemning bad male behavior and taking steps to stop it, there would have been no need for the #MeToo movement.
There is a positive way to exercise privilege
This doesn’t make men inherently bad or evil. It makes them privileged. Part of being privileged is to be heedless to a problem that doesn’t affect you personally. It also means protecting systems that have served you well, even when they are harming other people. So, for example, white people who don’t say anything when unarmed black people are being brutalized and even killed by police officers are exhibiting privilege. Men who stay silent when they see harassment occurring because they don’t want to risk their position in a system that benefits them are exhibiting privilege.
But there is also a positive way to exercise privilege. This seems to be the real point of the Gillette ad. It’s telling men to use their privilege as men to confront other men for their bad behavior. When a man speaks up about sexual harassment, it carries a different kind of weight than when a woman says it. If men feel they are risking the respect of their colleagues and fellow men, they are more likely to alter their behavior than if they are confronted by the office feminist. The ad was simply asking men to risk some of their comfort and take a stand when necessary. As actor and former football player Terry Crews says in a clip in the ad, “Men need to hold other men accountable.”
This shouldn’t be so hard.
Kirsten Powers, a CNN news analyst, writes regularly for USA TODAY and is co-host of The Faith Angle podcast. Follow her on Twitter: @KirstenPowers