In 2019 Gillette stirred up a hornet’s nest with a commercial that was dubbed the “Toxic Masculinity” ad.
I do not watch network television, and I do not follow sports, so I missed the commercial, which I believe first aired during some sporting event involving balls. However, I couldn’t avoid hearing about it at the time. When I finally took the time to find and watch the ad, I had to laugh. How is anyone offended that men are being told to be better? To do their best?
One of the most provocative commentaries I read on this commercial is one that pointed out our society’s double-standard. Women have been told by advertisers for their entire lives everything that is wrong with them. They’re too fat, they’re too skinny, their hair is the wrong texture, their skin is too rough, they should be able to do it all, they should step aside and let their men run their lives; the list is endless and contradictory. Women who complain are shrill feminists. But run one commercial aimed at telling men how to behave and all hell breaks loose.
Interestingly, the conservative women I knew seemed to be even more offended by this commercial than the men. At the time I read numerous posts how “the men in my life are protective” or “my man always takes care of me.” How wonderful for them that they are fortunate enough to have these paragons of virtue in their lives. However, that does not mean that those same men are incapable of giving a woman’s opinion less consideration than a man’s. Men in our society, especially white men, have had such an open invitation to behave however they want, that being asked to behave in a civil manner is considered a damning criticism.
Ironically, right after watching the Gillette commercial while at work, I heard someone talking about a potential snow storm in the Kansas City area. Since I had to drive all over town to teach regardless of the weather, I stepped out of my office to hear the latest forecast. While we were talking about the predicted storm, the previous weekend’s snowstorm was brought up in the conversation.
I was explaining that I had driven through numerous parts of town in that storm while going from yoga class to yoga class and that in parts of town the roads were horrible. An older man interjected that he hadn’t been able to get out of his driveway that morning, but he’d heard the roads weren’t bad. I agreed that they probably weren’t bad where he lived, but that there were some really dangerous areas. This same man interrupted me to declare that the roads had been fine. End of conversation.
A male who had not spent a single second trying to navigate the roads, felt comfortable talking over me to give his opinion that the roads were fine. Even though I had been out driving on them numerous times during the day, feeling worried and unsafe.
He knew better than I did even though he had no personal experience to relate. This does not necessarily make this guy a bad guy. It makes him a man who is so used to thinking his opinion is the end all of all conversations that he didn’t think twice about correcting me on my own lived experience.
I have heard that If a man behaves in a toxic manner you should call him out. Good or bad, I tend to speak my mind whether it’s a good idea or not. I also know when it makes no sense to waste my time or breath correcting someone whose behavior is so firmly planted in an archaic thought process. If in the sample conversation I just gave I had chosen to make a scene and call this man out on his behavior, he honestly would not have understood why I was upset. Nor would it have changed his behavior.
This attitude and behavior is a small microcosm of what happens every day. Is that one incident a big deal? Not really. Is this just one facet of the many ways that toxic masculinity impacts our lives? Yep. Is it a big deal that this happens every day? Damn straight it is.
This post was originally written in January of 2019. I wish I could tell you that the high hopes of that commercial became a fact and that we have made strides in understanding and relating to each other. Unfortunately, a pandemic and shifting political sands seem to have caused our society to regress rather than progress.
The Gillette commercial did a great job of showing many ways that many men behave without any expectation of consequences. None of them are acceptable, but they continue to occur all around us. Every day. Still.