Every human problem has an explanation that is neat, simple, and wrong. — HL Menken
Okay, after a few days of seeing the social media meltdown over the Gillette ad spot, I had to see it for myself.
The advertising itself is amusing, considering that it comes a week after the American Psychological Association released a new set of guidelines on how to deal with issues of “toxic masculinity” in boys and young men – an event which also caused a social media meltdown, and more talk about the “war on men/boys.”
I’m not saying that having a media meltdown is wrong; in fact, I think that it’s probably overdue. My contention is that we need to really think about what we’re melting down over.
To be fair, the content of the ad is pretty simple. “Hey men: treat women well, treat each other well, and set a good example for your sons.” Or, to pare it down even more, “Don’t be a dick.” Really, that’s all the content of the ad was about: Don’t let your idea of masculinity cause problems for other people.
Some perspective: Since the 1960s, elementary schools, and later, high schools have seen fewer men in teaching; women now make up about 3/4 of all teachers. In the counseling professions, the ratio is similar, with women almost 3/4 of the mental health professionals. One third of children now grow up in a single-parent household (overwhelmingly the mother).
It would be facile, and most likely wrong, to suggest that the rise in boys being exposed mainly to women while growing up is the cause for the “toxic masculinity” decried by the Gillette commercial, and similar social activists, but it may be a factor. Likewise, what may also be a factor is, ironically enough, the flood of commercials aimed at boys and men; commercials that sexualize and objectify women, promote violence as a solution to problems, and tout alcohol, fast cars, or risky behavior as typical male pastimes. Not that the latter aren’t typically male pastimes, but it seems disingenuous for marketing agencies to shame men for doing exactly those things that marketing companies push in their advertising.
So, why are a lot of men (and a surprising number of women) complaining on Facebook, Twitter, and downvoting the hell out of the YouTube video? It’s because men — the vast, overwhelming majority of men — who are already trying to live up to these ideals, don’t care for the implied tone: “You aren’t doing enough.”
Men — real, masculine men — have already been socialized to take responsibility for a lot of things, both good and bad. But there’s no question that the vast majority of men in Western society do their best to hold down jobs, parent their children, and to set examples for them. The fact that Western society continues to build and innovate in science and technology, and in various related trades shows that men, overall, are continuing to hold up their responsibilities, despite the claims of social justice activists.
Gillette, in trying to capitalize on the marketing trend of being “woke;” that is, to show how much they support an agenda of social justice, only proved themselves to be the latest in a series of what are now being known as “wokescolds;” the modern version of the Victorian finger-waggers, who seemingly have little better to do than to caution those who do not live up to their peculiar ideals of moral sanctity.
Woke marketing may sound good in the conference room, but the last several years have shown us that it rarely is perceived in the sense in which it was meant. In this case, Gillette, or more correctly, their marketing team, decided to wag their fingers at the millions of men who are already living up to their own ideals of masculinity, and who don’t need a marketing campaign to remind them to continue on. Men — real men — have already been holding to their responsibilities, and will continue to hold to their responsibilities long after this trend dies out.