Does the new Gillette ad mean we’re winning?

Image by the excellent Stuart F Taylor

Are you looking for a hot take on the new Gillette ad? You’ve come to the right place, because I’ve got LOADS of them. Let’s explore whether Gillette highlighting – and fighting against – toxic masculinity is a) the greatest thing to ever have happened, b) the WORST THING EVER or c) something in between.

I have good feelings about the Gillette ad. I understand that there are elements which are worth criticising too, but overall I have good feelings about this ad. Mostly because the very fact that it exists tells me that maybe we lefty do-gooders, with our desire for equality and our ambition to teach our kids that they can treat each other with kindness – maybe we are winning.

Let’s watch the ad together now, shall we?

Pick your Gillette ad hot take

  • An advert for men’s razors that focuses on how compassionate men can be is a profoundly good thing. This message isn’t seen enough in the media, and we should wholeheartedly encourage it.
  • The responses to the advert from angry Men’s Rights Arseholes demonstrates perfectly the need for messaging like this.
  • It’s an advert! It’s very cynical for companies to use social justice issues in adverts just to try and flog us razors.
  • If Gillette really cared about inequality, perhaps they’d have more women on their board? And maybe they’d stop charging women twice the price for ‘women’s’ razors that are essentially exactly the same as the men’s ones?
  • The advert has angered Piers Morgan. Morgan’s Law states that if something angers Piers Morgan then, no matter how complex the underlying debate we may have about its relative merits and drawbacks, it is fundamentally a good thing.
  • The advert is absurdly simplistic – dividing ‘good’ men from ‘bad’ in a way that fails to reflect the way humans actually are. In reality men – like everyone – display a complex mix of different behaviours, and we need to recognise that ‘good’ men are also capable of doing harmful things.
  • Why would Gillette try to market to men by telling men how bad they are? It’s an absolute disgrace that Gillette thinks all men are bullies and sexual predators!

To be honest, I think you’d have a point on all of these arguments except the last one.

What difference does a Gillette ad make?

Ultimately, I don’t think many men are going to watch this advert and go ‘holy shit! I have just realised that although I aspire to be a good person, I rarely challenge bad behaviour from other men in my life, and I think I will have to start doing so!’ That’s rarely how this stuff works. I also don’t expect many men who have done bad things to read blog posts I’ve written about Brett Kavanaugh or the MeToo movement and suddenly decide they’ve been Doing Everything Wrong and must immediately re-evaluate their lives. This isn’t how people work, and this isn’t how cultural change happens.

But messages like this do make a difference. Let’s begin with the very basic fact that the money spent making this wasn’t spent on an ad with the message ‘shave your face, bench press a killer whale, punch six grizzly bears and never, ever cry.’

It adds another perspective on masculinity – one which, contrary to the angry YouTube commenters howling that ‘I love being told how bad of a person I am just because I am a male’ – actually shows a men in a powerfully positive light. A far more relatable perspective than I usually see in a razor ad. The men in this ad more closely resemble the men I know in real life: men who struggle with the way society tells them they have to be, and who want to do the right thing. I think that’s most of us, right? We fuck stuff up and we live within terrible systems, but most of us want to do the right thing.

Does this mean it’s perfect? Fuck no! As others have already explained very well, there are some serious problems with the way the ad presents the problem. The problem isn’t that ‘men do bad things and don’t stop other men doing bad things’, the broad problem is that we exist in a society that expects certain behaviour of men, and men who step outside those lines are often punished, while those who perform ‘masculinity’ in the ‘right’ way are often rewarded. As I’ve said a million times until I’m blue in the face, the problem is not ‘men’, it’s patriarchy. Patriarchy harms men, and it hates men – with a far greater zeal than a ranty feminist like me could ever muster.

Then you have all the problems with the fact that it’s cause marketing: something lots of people disagree with purely on the basis that companies should avoid touching on social justice issues, or because it’s cynical to sell razors by poking at someone’s social conscience.

All this is worth considering, and all of it’s important. But ultimately I keep coming back to the fact that the new Gillette ad simply wouldn’t have existed ten years ago. No one would have put forward the idea, let alone got sign off, on an advert that essentially said ‘our rigid and false notions of masculinity are causing serious harm, and we’re calling on men to help stop it.’ This message wouldn’t have made sense to people when I was young.

Fuck it – when I was young, you wouldn’t even have been able to convince me that this shit was a problem.

It takes years to change minds. Decades. It takes a sustained, intense effort to get people to recognise problems, then more sustained, intense effort to get them to agree on solutions and start making change. It takes people and charities and governments and human rights lawyers and protesters and parents quietly getting on with lives that inspire their children. It also takes magazines and newspapers and massive corporations and books and TV shows and adverts. Some of these things will change laws or minds, others might function simply as markers to show us how far we’ve come.

I’m not sure if the Gillette ad will succeed in changing minds, but it’s given me hope that we’re going in the right direction.

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