Gillette commercial tackles toxic masculinity, sparks debate


By Sean Armstrong | Staff Writer

The Gillette commercial is just the latest social justice scandal to divide Americans on the left and right of the political spectrum. Personally, I agree with the message in the commercial, but much of the discussion that has occurred in reaction to this ad is unhelpful at best and damaging at worst.

Now, with the primer out of the way, back to the Gillette Commercial. The “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” ad was about toxic-masculinity, hyper-masculinity or whatever synonym you want to choose.

The ad opens with a man standing in the mirror using his Gillette razor, when suddenly the slogan “The Best a Man Can Get” pops into his head, which prompts a reflection about the truth of that statement — not only of the razor, but of men generally.

The ad then shows scenes of a boy being chased by a pack of bullies, where the presumption is that he is in some way different than them. The ad also features men catcalling women, groping them and worshiping them in music videos and on TV as sex objects with no personality.

Then the commercial makes a point where a man assumed to be her colleague in some form corrects a female coworker on her point and the women’s face shows blatant offense, but everyone ignores that and continues to listen to his re-explanation. All in all, the ad depicts the many subtle and blatant ways in which the sexes negatively relate to one another with a particular focus on the male aspect of the dichotomy.

Is it wrong to beat people up you disagree with? If you value freedom of speech then the answer is yes. Is it wrong to treat women like objects? Think about what being an object means for men, because if women are objects then men are by default the providers only worthy of attention if they are rich, successful and socially connected.

Lastly, is it wrong to correct women because you see them as inferior? It never feels good to be minimized simply because of prejudice held by the person in power, and that is what is happening when the man corrects his colleague.

If you answered yes to even one of these questions, then you agreed with the commercial on some level.

Now, if any of these points seem rational to people on both sides of the political aisles, then why is there so much disagreement? Well, that is because masculinity is not the problem, but the symptom of the real problem.

The overarching issue is the patriarchy, or the system in which the power is centered around the eldest male figure. This imbalance of power has given rise to polarizing levels of masculinity and femininity. When men are automatically chosen to be the leaders regardless of aptitude, desire or practicality, problems arise. This sets up a situation where those who should not be in charge end up in leadership positions.

This leads to traits like assertiveness being defined as male. Not all men are assertive, but those who are not assertive on a certain level may be seen by some as less manly than those that are very assertive due to the societal structure of the patriarchy.

This also presents a new problem: If a society is conditioned to accept one sex as the defacto leader, when anyone tries to switch leadership to a merit-based model, there is going to be some resistance.

The Gillette commercial attacked a fundamental principle of not only what masculinity has come to be known as, but the patriarchy. That does not mean Gillette was wrong to promote this agenda or that all of the points were bad to bring up, but this is addressing the symptoms rather than the root of the issue. The central issue is that women find themselves in inferior positions of power despite not being inferior.

If more women are put in positions of power, an air of legitimacy will naturally occur. With this newfound legitimacy, the assertiveness trait will no longer be entwined with the idea of being male. The main issue in this situation is then how to solve this: by debunking assertiveness as a primarily male characteristic or by promoting women as leaders? It’s a very chicken or the egg scenario.

Right now, we have an unprecedented number of female political leaders. Nancy Pelosi is the first female Speaker of the House, taking the gavel for the second time. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Tulsi Gabbard, and Elizabeth Warren are just a few women who are in the political spotlight at the moment. However, in business, this is still sorely lacking, and that is where more of the focus should be: on making the private sector more gender-inclusive. The public sector seems to be sorting itself out in that women are now being elected more frequently than in the past. That is not to say the work is over on that front, but at least inroads seem to be happening.

Still, by all means, call out sexist people and do as Gillette suggests; step up when people do things that many would consider abusive or potentially damaging to others. This is especially important to do with children. Just understand that simply addressing hyper-masculinity is not the cure-all solution to the problem.

If we cannot agree on a single thing from gun control to the definition of words like gender. Regardless of where you stand on any of those previously mentioned issues, it does not help to assert your opinion rigidly to the other side.

If America is a country that would like to be less divided, then obviously there is a ton of work to be done on both sides of the political spectrum, but that begins by addressing the roots of issues rather than the symptoms. There will be plenty of pushback, regardless of how those wanting a more just society go about their goal. Whether the war of attrition will be won is a matter of how problems are addressed rather than who asserts more points.