January 15, 2019 3:49 pm
Updated: January 18, 2019 4:17 am

Gillette’s new ad tackles toxic masculinity

WATCH ABOVE: New Gillette ad asks 'what it means to be a man'

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Gillette has brought the topic of masculinity to the forefront.

A nearly two-minute ad, the company released this week, shows men harassing women, boys fighting at a barbeque and on the street, and eventually, shows other men stepping up to stop the incidents.

A statement on the company’s website also challenges Gillette’s own tagline, “The best a man can get,” saying, “Turn on the news today and it’s easy to believe that men are not at their best.”

“And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man,” the statement continues.

WATCH: Gillette has brought the topic of masculinity to the forefront with a new ad. The reaction has been mixed. The president of the Ad Club of Edmonton Puneeta McBryan weighs in on the ad.

Here’s how people reacted

The ad sparked wild backlash, with some arguing the company was “moralizing” or “virtue-signalling.”

“This absurd virtue-signalling PC guff may drive me away to a company less eager to fuel the current pathetic global assault on masculinity,” British TV personality Piers Morgan wrote on Twitter.

Many people said they would stop purchasing the razors in protest.

READ MORE: Nike online sales increase 31 per cent since Colin Kaepernick ad reveal: study

But others praised the ad, saying it was confronting the issue of bullying.

“Thank you @Gillette for reminding us that there can be no going back from how far we as a society have come in confronting the issue of bullying & harassment of others,” the Tyler Clementi Foundation tweeted. The foundation was set up to honour teen Tyler Clementi who killed himself after he was outed as gay.

Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King, said the commercial wasn’t “anti-male” but instead was “pro-humanity.”

And others said the backlash to the video proved its own point.

“The comments under the @Gillette toxic masculinity ad is a living document of how desperately society needs things like the Gillette toxic masculinity ad,” one user wrote on Twitter.

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Here’s what’s actually in the commercial

The commercial starts by listing social issues including bullying, the #Metoo movement, and a narrator asks, “Is this the best a man can get?”

A group of boys can be seen chasing another boy, a child is comforted by his mother as online comments calling him a freak pop up around him, men laugh as people on TV mime grabbing women’s butts.

“Making the same old excuses: Boys will be boys,” the narrator says.

But the commercial says the times have changed, and shows a compilation of news clips from the #Metoo movement, highlighting Terry Crews’ Senate testimony where he said: “Men need to hold other men accountable.”

The actor and former NFL player, who looks like the typical “man’s man,” accused a male agent of sexually assaulting him in the recent past. He has been talking to people all around the world about “what it means to be a man,” and how people can change things for themselves and the women and girls they care about.

WATCH: Terry Crews testifies before a Senate committee about sexual abuse (June 2018) 

The commercial then takes a different tone, saying, “We believe in the best in men.”

It then shows men doing what it calls the “right thing,” including having a man step in when another man tells a woman to smile, and a father stepping in to stop boys fighting in the streets.

Why are people so up in arms about it?

Humberto Carolo, executive director of White Ribbon, a movement of men and boys working to end violence against women, said that people are upset by the commercial because it is a challenge to the current society.

“There’s folks out there who are very entrenched in their views and their attitudes around this stuff,” Carolo told Global News. “They fight back and they resist and they call it an attack on men and so forth.” 

He lauded the commercial for taking on the issue, and said its target isn’t men but stereotypical masculinity.

“It is not an attack on individual men. I think this is more of a challenge to how masculinity is constructed, how it’s performed and how it’s lived,” he said.

The issue of “toxic masculinity” has been under scrutiny in the past few years. A review from the American Psychological Association earlier this month found men faced higher rates of suicide – and it might have to do with the way we define masculinity.

“When you look at these [rules] in terms of what it means to be a man, in some ways, they can be quite helpful. In other places, they can be hurtful,” Matt Englar-Carlson, a professor of counselling at California State University, Fullerton, told Global News last week.

For example, the stereotype that men should be independent could lead to a man not asking for help for depression.

“You know, we as men have a lot to gain by adopting a much healthier, much gentler and kinder view of our masculinity. This is good for us,” Carolo said. 

READ MORE: Amid mental health ‘epidemic’ among men, psychologists examine the role of masculinity

University of Toronto gender studies professor Judy Taylor offered another reason for the fallout from the ad.

One interesting thing about power is that the one thing that power doesn’t want is to be talked about,” she explained. “Men don’t like men talked about as a category — other people are more comfortable being talked out about as a category because they see themselves on the margin.” 

“It doesn’t surprise me that there would be a certain segment of the population that would be really angry about being told to change.” 

Taylor explained the advertisement’s central question — “Is this the best we can do?” — is critical. But she said the advertisement went a step further and offered a way to be better — by stepping up to intervene in the situations shown in the commercial.

“And if you don’t like being told what to do, I can see how that would be upsetting,” she posited.

WATCH: Being a male in the age of #MeToo (February 2018) 

While the commercial is “quite harsh,” advertising and culture professor Andrea Benoit of Western University said she also doesn’t consider the ad an attack on men.

Benoit said some of the anger at the commercial is due to the fact that men aren’t used to seeing cultural advertising, or advertising with a cause targeted at them.

“Part of the backlash to it is that men are really threatened by seeing something like this in a space that they’re not accustomed to seeing,” Benoit said. 

She says challenging “bad masculinity” is a new idea and it will take time for the target audience (men) to reconcile this kind of message about their place in the world with a product that they use every day. 

Others criticized Gillette’s take, arguing the world could use more masculinity.

“More and more young boys lack male influence altogether,” Ben Shapiro, an American political commentator wrote in the National Review.

READ MORE: What makes a man? Millennials say selflessness, openness, personal health

“It’s a massive mistake to blame ‘toxic masculinity’ rather than recognizing that toxic masculinity is often the result of a dearth of genuine masculinity — the kind of masculinity that leads men to stick around and father their children in the first place.”

Taylor agreed that the actions portrayed in the commercial are indeed a type of masculinity — one she called “chivalrous.”

“A neutered masculinity would be men just all standing still,” she said. “But a masculinity that expects men to come in and protect or intervene … is still a traditional masculinity.” 

Shifting culture?

The YouTube video of the commercial has nearly 4 million views after two days, and while it has 75,000 likes, it has more than four times as many dislikes.

The company said in a statement it knew the ad would generate controversy.

“We expected debate — discussion is necessary. For every negative reaction, we’ve seen many positive reactions, people calling the effort courageous, timely, smart, and much-needed,” the company said in a statement to CNBC.

WATCH: #MeToo and men: Calgarians share their thoughts

“At the end of the day, sparking conversation is what matters. This gets people to pay attention to the topic and encourages them to consider taking action to make a difference.”

“We cannot underestimate the effect of advertising,” Taylor said. 

There is this sense that the conversations that we used to have as citizens, we now have as consumers. And so seeing those images is very very powerful for structuring behaviour and conversation.” 

The White Ribbon movement has received plenty of criticism, similar to the criticism of the Gillette ad, Carolo said.

READ MORE: UBC frat council votes to require all members to attend yearly workshops on healthier masculinity

But he noted that in the #MeToo era, he’s seen more and more men supporting the movement as well.

“Gillette is one of several companies who’ve tagged along with this kind of call to action,” he said.

“These are corporations and brands that are typically marketed to men and who think … there’s a lot of support, there’s a lot of buy-in from their clients and from the community in general about these kinds of messages.”

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