BritMums on the Gillette ad on masculinity that created the backlash

Gillette ad collage - BritMums

Stills from the Gillette ad. Courtesy of Gillette

Here at BritMums we love good ads — ones that make us laugh, ones that make us cry. We’re not above spending leisure time watching our favourite advertisements on YouTube.

The latest one to hit our playlist is the new Gillette ad, entitled We Believe: The Best Men Can Be, about the role of men in these #MeToo times.

Before you do anything, watch it.

What’s astounding is that there is now a backlash against this ad. Men are angry, saying they will no longer buy from Gillette or P&G, its parent company. Piers Morgan, never one to let pass an opportunity to spout utter rubbish, has said he will boycott Gillette. ‘Men these days don’t know what the hell they’re doing…all the qualities that were good in men are being portrayed as evil.’

Right. All those good qualities like talking over women in the office, harrassing them on the street. All those wonderful childhood moments for boys when they gang up on other kids, use their fists or social media to make others feel terrible about themselves.

It all has us stroking our chins at BritMums with the idea that somehow this ad — they’re calling it a short film — is against ‘masculine’ men because it advocates men stepping up to call out bullying and sexism and be role models. This certainly would have surprised our own dads, who even in the generation before ours would not have countenanced their children or their friends menacing other kids, catcalling women or using physical force whenever they got angry.

We love that the ad shows men in a range of ages, a range of ethnicities, and is affirming caring masculinity. It references the #MeToo movement. It features the actor and former NFL player Terry Crews, himself an outspoken victim of sexual harassment and, you better believe, a masculine man.

We love that ‘Gillette has partnered with the Building A Better Man project, which seeks to reduce violent behaviour in men, and The Boys and Girls Club of America, which helps young men develop better social and communication skills. It’s also donating $1m (around £778,000) a year for the next three years to US charities aimed at supporting men,’ as the BBC reports. That’s real positive action.

No wonder men are angry, says Rebecca Reid, writing in the Telegraph. They’re suddenly being told what advertisements have been saying to women for ages: you have to change. We’re not advocating that men should be talked down tor lectured the way that women have for decades about their body hair, their weight, their personal hygiene. But we do believe it’s a positive step that one of the world’s mega-brands is talking to its consumers and asking them as a group what kind of people they want to be. (Or be with — Gillette can’t have overlooked the fact that a lot of the people buying the razors and replacement blades during the weekly shop are women.)

Reid wonders: ‘Why are men so unwilling to engage with a discussion about toxic masculinity? Why are some men so unwilling to understand that the expression ‘toxic masculinity’ doesn’t mean that all masculinity is toxic, rather than some aspects of masculinity – such as repressing your feelings and expressing anger through violence – are oppressive to both men and women?’

We agree with Reid that the moment for point-scoring is over. Change is difficult and it’s hard to have your beliefs — like ‘boys will be boys’ — challenged. (We still hear this phrase from fellow parents, who use it as an explanation for everything from a boy’s desire to play outside to ‘roughhousing’ to a taste for playing with trucks. Even while our ideas about what girls can do, wear and be has expanded, expectations for boys have lagged. There is still great pressure for them to act, dress and live certain ways.)

This isn’t merely about preferring a certain type of toy. It’s an opportunity to show our children what a real man is. One who loves and protects. One who provides and shares. One who respects himself and others. One who is strong and caring. ‘Because the boys of today will be the men of tomorrow’, as the Gillette ad says.

That’s a great message to promote, no matter how you slice it.

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6 Comments

  1. 15 January 2019 / 16:01

    I’ve watched this ad a few times and each time it makes me a bit emotional. Yes these are actors and this is messaging from a huge company, but we should celebrate the moments with corporations address big issues and take a stand. It’s refreshing to see a brand aimed at men that isn’t just doing the same old messaging simply because it is the same old messaging and they want to play it safe. Time to pick up a new Mach 3?

  2. 15 January 2019 / 16:17

    Of course, it’s easy to be cynical and view this as commercially-driven virtue-signalling. That may or may not be the case here. But what this definitely does is to promote conversation, which is a good thing.

    As a man, I don’t feel threatened. The underlying message is simple enough – “let’s be good people” – and it makes you wonder why people are getting so upset about it. It’s not preachy and I certainly don’t see it as it making a sweeping generalisation about all men. I think I’m a good person; I could be better. What of it?

    Brands can’t win, can they? If they don’t promote social messaging, some people will accuse them of not using their platform to influence consumers to serve a greater good. If they do promote a social message, they are told by others to mind their own business.

    Let Piers Morgan spout off in his Fortress of Self-Publicising Outrage. His reaction – and that of others who have condemned the campaign – says more about them and their insecurities than it does about anyone else. They certainly don’t speak for me. Well done, Gillette.

    • 15 January 2019 / 16:52

      Well said Tim. Your last paragraph in particular says it all. The reaction of people who condemn the campaign speaks more about their insecurities.

  3. 15 January 2019 / 16:17

    I think it’s a conversation that needs to happen. Good for P&G for leading it! They surely knew it would controversial.

  4. 15 January 2019 / 16:36

    I saw this morning’s debate on Good Morning Britain before I had seen the Gillette advert, and the way Piers Morgan was talking about the advert and his strong opinions about how it portrays men, complete with the video clips from the advert, made me think that ‘I’m not going to like this’.

    I am married to a masculine man and am raising a son, a sensitive boy who is quirky and kind and gentle – qualities I don’t want him to lose or feel he has to hide as he grows. My husband is a builder and ex rugby player and has the stocky muscly appearance of someone you probably would not want to walk behind you on a dark street as a woman, however he would never harm another person except in self defence, and would never dream of talking down to, belittling, objectifying or otherwise treating a woman as anything other than an equal human being.

    When I went to YouTube and watched the advert – I didn’t like it at the start, the men objectifying women and the aggressive tone of the first 40 seconds of the advert. But then the advert changed mood, and showed us the future. The way I hope that men will relate to other men and women in the future and the way that many men these days actually do. That there is nothing wrong with being gentle, and that it’s ‘not cool’ to catcall women.

    I don’t think that all men are like the men portrayed in the first 40 seconds of the ad. Some are, and thankfully they are being challenged by the altering mood of society in the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp. But it is important I think to acknowledge that this is the way society has been in the last 30 plus years, and that times are changing. By Gillette documenting these old stereotypes and showing us how far we have all come, I want my teenage daughter to see it and know that she is growing up in the company of caring, progressive men and not have to put up with the kind of intimidation that my generation and women before me have had to endure.

    Well done Gillette on this advert. The fact that is has us all talking proves that this is a discussion that needs to be had.

  5. 15 January 2019 / 18:42

    I think it’s a great advert. What dad doesn’t want their sons to grow up to respect women? That’s the overriding message I took from the advert. That we men have a responsibility to raise our own future men to be respectful and treat everyone as equal and that we should also take a stand against our peers continuing these outdated views and actions towards women.