About that Gillette advert… I’ll admit that at first I spent some time giggling at all your hurt feelings on Twitter. Then it dawned on me that many of you have women, girls and boys in your real lives and it stopped being funny.
I get it. You’re not used to this. It’s a relatively new phenomenon for men to be made to feel shit about their entire selves, especially through the medium of advertising. Us women are used to it – so used to it in fact that most of us forget to get angry and just think we are fundamentally wrong.
The thickness of our waists; the size of our breasts; the hairiness of our faces, legs, pits and bikini lines; whether we’re beach-ready or too-heavy; how easily we succumb to the sickly scent of cheap aerosol; that actually we can do the things when our uterus is bleeding (who knew?) – it’s all been up for grabs (sometimes literally) for so long that many of us don’t even know it doesn’t have to be this way.
We see the adverts for cleaning products that just happen to be packaged in candy colours and we don’t ever wonder why pink and purple are suddenly the hue-de-jour for hygiene. We see the ads for low-fat yoghurt and don’t stop for a second to think, why are so many women sitting around on clouds when surely we should be busy orgasming while washing our hair?
For hundreds of years women have been told that success and happiness depend on our ability to bag a man. One modern manifestation of this is a constant stream of adverts that reduce us to facile stereotypes, the volume of which is so great that only the very worst get any attention.
This is new for you so I can understand how much it must hurt. Perhaps, like everything else, it’s the fault of women because we haven’t criticised you harshly enough over the centuries to build your resilience… It reminds me a little of how my six year old wails when she gets a papercut: she hasn’t yet learned that taking a breath and waiting a few seconds eases the sting, at which point she realises it isn’t actually that bad…
In the ad the boys chasing another boy are stopped by a man, who is looked on adoringly by his son. The boys tussling on the ground are separated by a man. It is a father telling his daughter she is strong. It is curious that these positive actions by men are so offensive. Are you happy for our boys to be bullied and bullies? Do you think it’s a good thing that our boys learn to resolve their differences through violence? Is it a mistake for a father to tell his daughter she is strong, because actually women are weak?
The men chanting boys will be boys stare into the middle distance while standing in front of the ultimate stereotypical symbol of male pride: the BBQ. But the advert isn’t really criticising men who enjoy cooking with fire (although add the word “only” before “cooking” and perhaps they are having a teeny dig), it is the monotone chorus of the ubiquitous phrase that is under attack. It is perfectly indicative of the unthinking, unquestioning way in which we repeat it. But seriously, what does it even mean?
Where do we get these ideas that men should behave in one way, while women behave in another? Who do these ideas serve, and why are we so afraid of change?
Because that is what the ad is suggesting: change. Contrary to what some of you have claimed, the ad does not suggest that men, ALL men, are bad. In fact, at one point it explicitly states that some men are already challenging toxic behaviour, and there are a number of men in the advert who act in ways we should all be emulating. We can acknowledge the needles of cynicism that whisper what a clever piece of marketing, at the same time as valuing the idea that men can do better – for women, girls and boys.
For centuries human beings have been changing our minds about things we once held to be true – why should this be any different?
Women should be able to be ambitious and competitive without being judged as “behaving like a man”; and men should be free to express their emotions without being told to “stop crying like a girl”. A woman should not be judged as inherently “good” for staying at home and raising her family; a man should not be valued just because he brings home the bread. These qualities and roles are not inherently male or female – they are masculine and feminine. It is time we learned the difference.
Unshackling a person’s genitals from expectations of their identity and behaviour will benefit people of all genders. Underneath these layers of unnatural, constructed ideas, every last one of us is a whole and complex person.
This advert does not attack men. What it attacks is the toxicity of a particular version of masculinity that means men are less likely to visit a doctor and are more likely to commit suicide.
It is telling us that men are victims of gendered norms too.
Gillette is a brand who’ve made millions by propping up the image of a “real” man as someone whose morning routine consists of bare-chested-blue-steel-staring into a mirror while shaving.
They are trying to change, soften, and melt a little – why can’t you?
Ps Gillette – I’m assuming your razers “for women” now cost the same as the mens’…