So it looks like I’m going to have to shave for the first time in a decade.
Not because I’ve been inspired by the new Gillette advert urging men to be the best they can be. But because of all the men’s rights activists, misogynists and sillies like Piers Morgan threatening to boycott Gillette. Anyone sporting facial fuzz in future may immediately mark themselves out as a member of that gang, which seems remarkably intent on saying that men shouldn’t be the best they can be.
The advert, titled “We Believe”, was created by the director Kim Gehrig, who was also behind the brilliant “This Girl Can” campaign for Sport England that encouraged nearly three million more women to get more active. One hopes her next step will be to combine the two in a film that shows women punching sexists and running away from Piers Morgan.
It plays on Gillette’s legendary slogan “The Best a Man Can Get”, instead asking “Is this the best a man can get?” as men look moodily in the mirror accompanied by news reports of sexual assault, clips of sexist comedy and outrageously cheesy sections in which boys bully each other and scuffle.
The answer coming back loud and clear from the meninists is: “Yes, yes, fighting, cat-calling and barbecuing is basically all we’ve got.”
It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so serious.
Just last week the American Psychological Association (APA) defined traditional masculinity as “a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence” and found that it leads to negative outcomes such as suicide, addiction, violence and early death.
To be clear, the APA wasn’t talking about masculinity per se, rather the strict definition of it that places a straitjacket on males basically from birth.
I know how young it starts, I co-wrote a book about it. The Gender Agenda started out as a project to record the unfair limits put on my daughter because of her sex. It ended with the realisation that my son is also constricted by expectations placed upon him by the random accident of his chromosomes.
This led me to the same places the Gillette advert goes – role models, popular media and societal expectations that write off bad behaviour with the phrase “boys will be boys” while controlling the female sex with the words “there’s a good girl”.
Weirdly, the same men who hoist the Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) banner and march forth for the worthy aims of reducing male suicide and improving male mental health don’t like being told a huge part of the solution is rethinking masculinity – ie it’s up to them to do something about it. Unsurprisingly it’s other people who need to change their behaviour. Women mainly. Particularly feminists who don’t think about men and boys enough when they are campaigning for women. It’s almost as if the MRAs are actually old-school misogynists using serious issues as cover for a campaign that seeks to control women by telling them what they should be thinking and doing instead of that silly feminism.
And it’s women who suffer from toxic masculinity. The two women a week who die due to domestic abuse, the many more who must live with domestic violence. The girls who don’t speak up in class because teachers unwittingly ask boys for answers. The pupils who, as documented in Cordelia Fine’s book Delusions of Gender, actually do worse in their exams when they see an advert conveying negative stereotypes about women on their way to school.
But it’s men who have the power to make it better. That’s not fair. But as long as the balance of power favours men – and it does whether your metric is number of MPs or number of business board members or average salary – then it’s up to men to make it better.
The Gillette ad hones in on that message.
No doubt Gillette will now go bust because of their apparent misstep, in much the same way as Lynx did when all the men immediately agreed to stop buying it after it turned its back on their traditional advertising approach that saw nearly naked women clamour for spotty youths that smelled of “Africa” in favour of something more thoughtful. The “is it OK for guys..” campaign looked at what teenage boys really do on the internet – search for support and affirmation rather than just looking at porn.
And who remembers Nike? The company was big in the sports world… if only it didn’t start piling into politics with its Colin Kaepernick campaign that saw the alt-right burn their shoes.
Weirdly the same right-wing voices who insist newspapers are above democratic oversight because they answer to a higher and more urgent master – the market – are triggered by an ad campaign that surely stands or falls by the same standard. If people are outraged by the idea that men – yes, all men – could be better, then they won’t buy Gillette razors and we’ll have our answer as to whether this is really is the best that men can get.
But perhaps what the meninists are really upset about is the knowledge that won’t happen.
Gillette just played them for tons of free publicity.
And ultimately Proctor and Gamble, owners of the Gillette brand are gigantic capitalists like Nike and Unilever, which owns Lynx. These companies aren’t really bothered about values and attitudes, they are only interested in one thing – the bottom line.
And there’s more cash to be made from men who buy into feminism and want to be better fathers than there is from daft dinosaurs who fear a future in which men and women benefit from true equality.
Men’s attitudes and masculinity itself are changing to be more flexible, more healthy, more satisfying.
The reaction to the Gillette ad shows we’re a long way from achieving the best a man can get, but the very existence of the campaign proves men are getting better.