January 18, 2019 3:26 pm

COMMENTARY: Backlash against Gillette’s ‘toxic masculinity’ ad reveals exactly why it’s needed

Gillette has brought the topic of masculinity to the forefront with a new ad. The reaction has been mixed. J

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Just days after the launch of that controversial Gillette ad inspired by #metoo, the war rages on. The short film, titled We Believe: the Best Men Can Be, gained four million views on YouTube in the first 48 hours and as of this writing has now surged past 20 million and counting.

From slight jabs to outrageous outbursts and even calls to boycott the company that owns Gillette, Procter & Gamble, the campaign has people riled up.

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

And with at least 15 complaints to the U.K.’s advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority — despite the ad not even being shown in Britain — clearly it’s hit a nerve.

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But is there righteousness in all this rage?

Critics claim the ad is an attack on all males and masculinity. To those critics I say, you have sorely missed the point. This is neither a “we hate men” campaign nor is this an attack on masculinity. This ad is condemning toxic masculinity — there’s a big difference.

My personal reaction when I saw the ad was one of pride. I saw reflections of my own husband and how he interacts with our kids (son and daughter) and was proud to see this behaviour celebrated. Showing empathy isn’t de-masculinating — it’s merely a characteristic of a being a good person, male or female.

And many other good men agree:

But that sheer fact that so many men are up in arms about a campaign condemning toxic masculinity shows just how much we need it.

This week Piers Morgan, the DailyMail.com U.S. editor-at-large, penned a column on Gillette in addition to his ongoing Twitter tirade on the topic.

His rant expressed his disdain for men being called out for bad behaviour. “Jeez, it’s hard to think of a single minute of any day where men aren’t being summarily hung, drawn and quartered somewhere for alleged bad behaviour – their careers and lives destroyed.” He continued, “not in most cases through due process in a court of law, but often on the mere say-so of a Facebook post by an angry ex-girlfriend making allegations that may or may not be true.”

Bitter “poor-me” voices like his are a dangerous thing because they detract from real issues of sexual harassment or abuse and instead deflecting blame back at women. It’s especially true with those like Morgan who have a mass platform to permeate messages of toxic masculinity.

WATCH: Gillette under fire for new commercial attacking ‘toxic masculinity’

So it’s a welcome change when a brand gets involved in changing the narrative. After all, marketers themselves have played a role in creating many of society’s ills — whether perpetuating false beauty ideals, traditional gender norms or toxic masculinity — and it’s only right they are part of the solution in fixing them.

I applaud Gillette for taking this step — because contrary to the critics, it won’t necessarily garner more sales. With calls for #BoycottGillette it may, in fact, do the opposite. Think Nike and Colin Kaepernick. With trending hashtags #BoycottNike and #JustBurntIt encouraging people to burn Nike sneakers, the Twitter backlash was fierce and swift, and Nike shares dropped immediately after the campaign launch.  Luckily for Nike, there was a bounce back after the initial dip and sales actually grew by 31 per cent.  But it was a risky move.  Who knows how deep the cut will be for Gillette after the dust settles.

 READ MORE: Dad challenges ‘BS gender norms’ by letting his son wear nail polish

But this is about more than pushing product. The ad is part of a broader initiative in partnership with Building A Better Man project and The Boys and Girls Club of America, and the aim is to promote “positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.” The company is also donating $1 million a year over the next three years to charities aimed at supporting men.

And let’s not lose sight that this campaign also features strong black men as many of its heroes and positive role models — which clearly some people aren’t happy with either.

In response to the overall backlash, a spokesperson for P&G said: “As a brand that has been part of manhood for over a century we have a responsibility to influence culture and use our voice to champion positive male behaviours. We expected debate — discussion is necessary. This campaign encourages all men to strive to be the best versions of themselves every day to set the right example for the next generation.”

For those men offended, I urge you to watch the ad again. Maybe the reason it’s sparking that defensive anger is not because it’s about all men, but because it’s about you?

 Meera Estrada is co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.

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