Bian: Gillette ad about toxic masculinity was more than necessary

Andrea Bian, Assistant Opinion Editor

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The popular razor brand Gillette released an advertisement Jan. 13 titled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be.” The ad challenged the brand’s previous slogan, “The Best a Man Can Get,” by offering a reflection on how toxic masculinity manifests itself in everyday life. In the video, men stare at themselves in a mirror as news reports regarding #MeToo play in the background, young boys become the subject of cyberbullying, and teens watch media and entertainment figures objectify women on TV.

“We believe in the best in men,” the narrator says. “Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”

As of Jan. 17, the video has garnered over 18 million views on YouTube. About 66 percent of the reactions to the video are dislikes. High-profile personalities like Piers Morgan have criticized the video for unfairly attacking men, and some have threatened to boycott the brand.

The sheer backlash against the video only displays one thing: That video was necessary.

In releasing the ad, Gillette does not assume that all men are horrible; instead, it assumes that most men are good, and those who fall victim to toxic masculinity are capable of being better.

The #MeToo movement stems from men not holding each other accountable for their actions. It is because of toxic masculinity that men were able to get away with sexual assault for such a long time, and still do. Harmful behaviors that are displayed from a young age — that boys grow to believe are indicative of being a “man” — create a cycle of destructive actions that become accepted when those same boys grow into adults.

Women can be guilty of sexual assault, and some are — it’s an issue we all need to address as members of society. However, Gillette’s target demographic is men, and just because both men and women need to address sexual assault shouldn’t minimize men’s responsibility to do so.

Critics of the ad don’t seem to realize how toxic masculinity directly affects men. The American Psychological Association published new Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men. In it, scientists claim research supports that “socialization for conforming to traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior … and negatively influence mental health and physical health.”

These things should be reason enough for men to want to be better and to help each other do so. Toxic masculinity not only harms women, it also has implications that affect men — many of whom fight to uphold this masculinity without realizing its harm.

Gillette is aware of its mostly male audience, and to publish a national campaign calling out toxic masculinity is a big step. Still, the move was an obvious risk. Regardless of the reaction, the appearance of an ad like this one shows that the standards for men have changed. These changes should not be dismissed, but embraced.

To say that Gillette should have withheld the ad to “let boys be boys and men be men” is to say that being a “boy” includes bullying. It is to say that being a “man” includes objectifying women.

If nothing else, Gillette’s final message is the most important: Today’s boys will become tomorrow’s men. For men who understand this, a call to action should be easy to accept. Men are not all guilty of misbehavior — nor are they destined to a future of misbehavior. But it’s hard to say that men are at their best right now. It should be easy to believe that it’s possible to get there.

Andrea Bian is a Medill first-year. She can be contacted at andreabian2022@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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