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Is Gillette Attacking Masculinity?

19th of January 2019

Gillette recently launched a campaign that poses as the next step of the #MeToo narrative. In 2017, actor Alyssa Milano encouraged survivors of sexual violence to post the hashtag #MeToo, in a simple but effective way of drawing attention to how widespread this issue of sexual violence actually is.

Note: One in five women in the UK have been sexually assaulted.

Following the realisation amongst women and men that sexual violence is pandemic globally, the idea of toxic masculinity has become prevalent as one of the main causations of issues of this nature – along with a plethora of other issues.

Toxic Masculinity
The term toxic masculinity or hegemonic masculinity is the idea of a male tradition that legitimises a male dominance by accepting and rewarding violent superiority in men and shunning traits that are not considered to be masculine.

Since then, popular culture has seen discussions about this particular brand of taboo become increasingly predominant on social media, amongst celebrities and in film and television. The latest contribution to the discussion is the Gillette advert, which painstakingly addresses each common example of toxic masculinity within society, and puts the onus on men to both look internally and change this behaviour, and actively point out these problematic behaviours in other men.

Furthermore, they’ve changed their iconic tagline from ‘The best a man can get’ to ‘The best a man can be’, shifting the slogan from an externally competitive mantra to an internally motivational one.

As well as a great deal of praise for their new initiative, the ad has generated uproar and ridicule from men online who claim that they feel as though Gillette are stripping them of their natural masculinity and even oppressing them.

Of course, Gillette hasn’t always been so forward thinking about gender issues. Pictured below are some of their less contemporary ads, which call on a competitive nature in men and an element of shame in women. In the women’s razor ad, Gillette refers to body hair on women as an embarrassing problem; in the men’s ad it suggests that men should be struggling to keep up with their neighbours. Whether this change in brand motif is an effort to retain pace with the society narrative or a genuine change of heart, we’re not sure. But the new ad has certainly sparked more outrage than their older ones.

The new ad has may more dislikes than likes on YouTube – and there’s been no shortage of men threatening to boycott the brand entirely. But all publicity is good publicity, right?

More pressingly, we’re interested to know which part of the advert was particularly triggering to men on the whole. Did they feel called out by the advert’s shining example of workplace sexism wherein a woman is patronised while a man ‘explains what he thinks she actually means’? Are they worried that their right to bully other men who they consider to be weaker is in danger? Or do they just feel as though the problem lies with those who feel threatened, violated or afraid because of these normative male behaviours, and that they should toughen up before men take responsibility?

Either way, the whole fiasco adds another dimension to the discussion about to what extent brands carry the burden of social responsibility, and furthermore to what degree they’re obligated to speak on them. From an exposure perspective, the advert is overwhelmingly successful – and that’s sure to have an impact on sales in some way. Though the advert is a refreshing take on the issue of toxic masculinity and promotes men taking responsibility for key issues, can an ad really be deemed successful unless it converts to positive growth in sales?

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