Gillette has recently released a new advertising campaign decrying toxic masculinity, and it’s proving to be surprisingly controversial. By the time my coffee hit the bottom of my cup this morning, I had a social media message from a friend wondering what I and a few of his other friends thought the opposition to such a beneficial message might be.
There were already a substantial number of responses when I logged on to consider the question, and they did an admirable job of outlining some of the potential complaints. Across the internet, I learned, a number of frustrated men were pledging to boycott Gillette in protest.
The frustration with Gillette, it appears, tends to fall into one of two major categories. These criticisms of the corporate equality and sensitivity movement are not exclusive to the Gillette issue, and this isn’t the first time they’ve come up.
THEY’RE USING CRITICISM AND JUDGEMENT TO PREACH SENSITIVITY
One of the problems that has arisen from the social push for widespread acceptance is that it necessitates not accepting those who are not being accepting. In order to correct unacceptable behaviors like bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination, and more nuanced toxic behaviors like man-splaining, it seems we need to explicitly criticise the group of people guilty of those transgressions.
Many of us don’t see a problem with that because we believe that those harmful practices are inherently “wrong.” Some, however, view it like yelling “Be quiet!” as loud as one can. The “snowflake” name-calling was disappointing when it was aimed at people advocating kindness and acceptance; it was heartbreaking when some of those same people later took opportunities to fire back “Who’s the snowflake now?!”
THE SENTIMENT ISN’T GENUINE
We’re citizens of a capitalist country, we’re adults, and it’s 2019. As much as we’d like to believe that everyone’s interest in equality, acceptance, and fair treatment is purely altruistic, we’re not so naive that we don’t understand that a huge corporation may have some financial reasons for appealing to a strongly-held popular sentiment.
We have no way of knowing, some argue, that Gillette’s call for better male behavior is not motivated more by greed than by caring. These folks assert that Proctor & Gamble is taking advantage of a hopeful population eager to engage in a buying frenzy with any brand or retailer willing to echo their social concerns.
BIG PICTURE: THOSE ARE VALID, BUT THEY ALSO DON’T MATTER
In June of 1998, Robert F. Kennedy stadium in Washington, D. C., played host to a massive, two-day musical festival called the Tibetan Freedom Concert. As had been the case in the previous and following concert locations, in between sets various bands, celebrities, and spokespeople would file onto the stage and remind the crowd that while the music was entertaining, they should retain the Tibetan independence cause as their primary reason for attending the event.
One band, however, had a slightly different message before they began their portion of the show, and it’s something I’ve never forgotten. The lead singer took the microphone in hand, looked out over the massive crowd, and said something to the effective of: “Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you’re only here for the music; you already bought your tickets, and that money is going to a good cause regardless of why you bought them.”
That’s how we should see the new Gillette campaign. Is it possibly overly assumptive and judgmental of the only group in America we still seem to advocate stereotyping and criticising? Is it possible that Proctor & Gamble is more interested in boosting sales than improving society? Both are perfectly valid considerations.
It doesn’t matter, though. While each of those possibilities is unfortunate, neither is significant enough to overshadow the larger, more important message of the campaign. Many men do need to improve in those ways addressed in the commercial, and the remainder of men need to hold those men accountable for that change.
Besides, we may just find that if we’re able to put an effective end to bullying, mistreatment of women, gender inequality, and toxic masculinity, then the rest of society may naturally feel less compelled to criticize men for their behavior, and corporations like Proctor & Gamble may begin to genuinely care more about social betterment.