Authors: Rachel Finlayson and Oscar Cordón Espinoza
On January 13th, the shaving company Gillette posted a video advertisement to its YouTube account titled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be.” The first half of the video depicted men contemplating current events surrounding the #MeToo movement, boys as both bullies and victims, scenes of sexual harassment and discrimination, and more. The second half of the film showed these same actions, but with other men stepping in to stop what was happening. The video received over 25 million views and over one million dislikes. Hundreds of thousands of users commented their reactions, many of which were extremely negative. These comments mainly lamented the fall of masculinity and accused Gillette of sexism. Users claimed the ad infantilized or feminized men, attacked masculinity, and unjustly blamed men for violence, sexual assault, and discrimination. Some called for an apology to men everywhere.
This reaction to the video shocked some, including these two authors. We thought the short film showcased and praised the best parts of men and masculinity, including courage, fatherhood, and physically protecting others. We agree with critics of the ad that not all men are to be blamed for misogyny and machismo, but we diverge from detractors on an important point: more men can and must use their unique influence on the world to stem violence and sexism.
Masculinity And Its Toxic Forms
Some men felt the video feminized men or condemned all forms of masculinity. For example, some felt the film was overly critical of boys wrestling to resolve their differences or chasing and teasing each other. However, both men and women suffer as a result of American societal standards of masculinity, which can pressure men to be controlling and dominant. Both men and women should protect each other and stop inappropriate behaviors, but we cannot ignore that in the United States, men are convicted of the vast majority of homicides or that females are significantly more likely to be victims of both domestic violence and sex-related homicides.
Aggression, defined as hostile behavior or attacking without provocation, is an immature and toxic form of true masculine qualities like strength and confidence. Encouraging boys and men to consider aggression to be a core part of who they are is harmful. We applaud the ad for discouraging hostile, unprovoked aggression, and instead showing how good men regularly exercise their strength to protect rather than attack.
One video response to the Gillette ad aimed to defend men by showing a montage of statistics about the burdens men bear in the United States: men are 79% of homicide victims, support their children without visitation rights, comprise 80% of suicide victims, and are 75% of the homeless. The response video claims that it “sees the good in men” by giving kudos to men for enduring violence, isolation, and even premature death. We wonder if this really is the best defense we can give to men. If given a choice between an ad like Gillette, encouraging men to help women and each other be whole, or urging men to stoically endure suffering without searching for solutions as in the response, we would choose the former.
Individual Thoughts on Reactions
Oscar: I think the Gillette ad is great, but I can see how most men have a negative reaction, thinking it is an attack on masculinity. I agree that not all men are to be blamed for misogynistic behavior and machismo, and yet I do not feel offended by seeing an ad telling men to stop doing those things.
Why? Because it is men who rape women, catcall them, and objectify them in the media. I highly disagree with the statement that the common man is not responsible for what is shown on T.V. In a free country, media is always a reflection of a society’s values and standards. Ads and T.V. shows from the 1940s are far more sexist than today’s because people were more sexist back then and those behaviors were acceptable.
Yes, maybe you and your immediate circle of friends and family are not condoning those behaviors, but a lot of people out there are okay with them, and it is everyone’s responsibility to do something about it. You might not be the one who does those things, but chances are you know someone who does them or who thinks it is not an issue, and you can educate them on why it is bad, ask them to stop it, and teach them by example. In summary, no one should feel offended or bothered for being asked to spread awareness on a real issue.
Rachel: Trying to silence a conversation about the reality of this dangerous and harmful dynamic because we personally feel we are not at fault only hurts male and female victims even more. Allowing our own feelings to supersede the facts is counterproductive. Men and women must acknowledge that there is an issue of men abusing each other and women. Saying “not all men” completely misses the point that all women have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault (for example, in Utah, one in eight women will be raped, not “just” harassed, in her lifetime). For men who would not dream of intimidating or pressuring a woman, this may feel like painting with overly broad brushstrokes. However, since few people openly identify as misogynistic or publicly advocate for sexually aggressive behaviors it is difficult to effect change without addressing messages to people or our culture generally. We are all susceptible to bias or even hostile behaviors, including conscious or unwitting harassment or discrimination. Because we all share a society, mainstream society must face these issues together.
This is a sensitive issue, but taking offense at the message is like wanting to stop ads about drunk driving because the ads paint drivers, parties, or recreational drinking in a bad light. Even individuals who don’t consider themselves part of the problem should be glad to see those ads because they encourage everyone to be aware, they could impact the life of someone we know, and they may help us find opportunities to prevent a bad situation.
Saying “Men, we can do something about this problem” does not discourage men from being their best. It highlights the fact that good men need to work with other men to stop aggressive and violent behavior toward women and each other. We are glad that the video honored the great parts of men and masculinity and criticized the toxic and immature forms of it.
Men are inherently good. The issue is a harmful societal standard which encourages men to be dominant to the point of violence. Men and women alike have the opportunity to identify problems in society and try to fix them. If we consider ourselves part of the solution, we will not feel attacked when these issues come to light. Instead of getting defensive when these things come out, it would be better to acknowledge the issue and start looking for solutions.
If every woman experiences harassment and discrimination, then every man has many opportunities to take a stand and tell other men they are out of line. There are a lot of things men and women can do at BYU to be a part of the solution. Educating yourself on gender issues through online resources and campus events, learning from different perspectives, and listening to understand rather than to react can help both men and women know how to have a healthier society. Understand positive masculinity and avoid its mischaracterization. Avoid being a bystander when you see someone treated disrespectfully. Discourage sexist attitudes by speaking out when you see people do things such as making assumptions based on someone’s gender, questioning other people’s masculinity or femininity, and discouraging conversations on the topic.