Gillette’s new ad may have missed the mark

Photo by Jackie Vang

Gillette recently published a short film ad titled “We Believe: The Best a Man Can Be.” This is a change from their familiar slogan, “The Best a Man Can Get.”  At the time of writing, there are 545 000 likes and one million dislikes.

Gillette’s attached commentary says:

“Bullying. Harassment. Is this the best a man can get? It is only by challenging ourselves to do more, that we can get closer to our best. To say the right thing, to act the right way.”

The ad continues, touching on topics such as mansplaining and the phrase “boys will be boys.” It concludes by saying; “The boys of today will be the men of tomorrow.”

Within the first few seconds of the ad, we hear “bullying,” “the Me Too movement” and “toxic masculinity,” as a montage of news men hear while looking at themselves in the mirror, dissatisfied.

Toxic masculinity is understood to be a set of behaviours and thoughts within the typical male gender role that are violent, aggressive and disrespectful, particularly to women. Messages of men exemplifying this in their everyday behaviour increasingly dominate much media, and now, Gillette.

From this first scene and the ad’s descriptor, we see immediately that this language attempts to tie these negative concepts to how men should perceive themselves. There is clearly a right way of doing things and men aren’t measuring up.

Gillette has altered themselves from being a provider of service for men to prescribing values to which men ought to oblige.

They’ve decided to become a political advocate, targeting their biggest customer as dissatisfactory beings (good business strategy, Gillette!). Formerly, they advertised like this; “You’re the best, so you deserve the best!” Now they’re saying; “You’re not good enough, and here’s what you have to do to fix that.”

Not fighting back, not standing up for yourself and not speaking your mind gets people bullied more. It makes you feel helpless and mad at yourself and the world which is, dare I say it, toxic. So if Gillette really wants to end bullying, it should not encourage men to stop doing the things that end bullying.

A razor company should not be targeting men (or anybody) politically. Enough sources already do that. This politically charged advertisement is disgusting. This is not how we treat men. It will not solve any problems.

The goal of this ad is clearly to deconstruct this concept. In the ad, we see one man moving to check out a woman as she walks away, and another holding him back, telling him that’s not cool. We see a few boys push away others that are ganging up on a smaller boy. Dads break up their boys wrestling each other. This is how men should be, right? Stop bullying, fighting and dominating?

Apart from the fact that bullying is not a strictly male problem so males should not be targeted as solely responsible to fix it (I won’t even go there), there is a common concept in psychology known as classical conditioning. If you get an A+ on your exam, I’ll high five you and say “that’s awesome” so that you associate that good feeling of reward with the act of doing well, and keep doing well. That’s classical conditioning. But it works both ways.

If we keep telling men that the behaviours they feel come naturally to them are toxic, they begin to believe they are toxic people. Perhaps this is the goal so they feel like they should fix themselves but that’s not a good approach. Breaking down mental health so men will subscribe to ideological messages is blatantly unethical.

We all agree that the boys of today will be the men of tomorrow. If young boys are growing up while constantly being told how toxic, rude and harmful they are, what will they grow to think?

They will be classically conditioned to believe they are damaged.

Not fighting back, not standing up for yourself and not speaking your mind gets people bullied more. It makes you feel helpless and mad at yourself and the world which is, dare I say it, toxic. So if Gillette really wants to end bullying, it should not encourage men to stop doing the things that end bullying.

The message has good intentions. Let’s help people overcome bullying. But the solution prescribed makes the problem worse. Men will not become better by being harshly told their faults. They will become better by being shown their virtues and encouraged to develop and learn their strength.

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