Talking Past One Another: People Still Don’t Understand Toxic Masculinity

Gillette: Youtube

A little over two weeks ago, Gillette aired an ad that received a significant amount of pushback from the public. As of this writing, the video has 741k likes and over 1.3 million dislikes, putting its approval rating at somewhere around 36%.

Though the words “toxic masculinity” are never uttered clearly (there is perhaps one mention of it, but garbled, a tinny voice over a radio), it quickly became known as “Gillette’s toxic masculinity ad.” And the reaction to the ad was largely negative.

But why?

In the days after the ad’s airing, I came across this analysis by Thomas Mitchelhill.

Mitchelhill’s take on the situation can be boiled down to one simple quote:

People do not want to be instructed on morality by corporations that sell consumer goods. Advertising is not the realm of moral instruction.

And that does have a ring of truth to it. The media savvy among us have long been trained to view any form of advertising with a large dose of skepticism. After all, its primary goal is to sell you something, and to generate profits. Do I believe that Nike really “stands with Colin”? No. I think they chose to make Colin Kaepernick the new face of Nike because they believed he was who would generate them the most profits.

So, yes, Mitchelhill’s explanation made perfect sense to me, and I was willing to accept it.

Until I started digging into the comments, and came across this:

At the time, it was the phrase “toxic femininity” that jumped out at me, and I attempted to engage with this individual by asking him to define just what he meant by “toxic femininity.” He could offer no coherent response, other than pointing back to the ad itself.

Looking back on it, though, there’s a much more telling phrase in there:

“I would never want women to feel bad for being women.”

Still, that was just one comment from one guy. Mostly, I still bought into Mitchelhill’s reading of the situation.

And then I happened to catch Joe Rogan’s reaction to the Gillette ad. He calls it “disturbing” and characterizes the ad as “anti-masculine” and says that it “makes every man look like a misogynistic piece of shit.”

And then the next day I came across this video:

This is an ad from Egard Watches, made as a response to the Gillette ad.

The Egard ad asks, “What is a man? Is a man brave? Is a man a hero? Is a man a protector?”

The narrator’s voice is juxtaposed against images of firemen and soldiers. And if the ad had stopped there, I might have rolled my eyes at this idea of proto-masculinity, but the ad goes on.

It shows the image of a tearful father hugging his children, while the same voice asks, “Is a man vulnerable?”; the image of a bearded homeless man, and the voice asks, “Is a man broken?”

Taken altogether, I think it’s a beautiful ad, and it has a beautiful message.

But then, near the end of the video, there’s this:

And therein lies the problem.

Given the fact that this video was posted by Egard Watches as a direct response to the Gillette ad, the implication is that Gillette does not see the good in men.

But there is nothing in the Egard ad that contradicts the Gillette ad, and there is nothing in the Gillette ad that contradicts the response from Egard.

These are not mutually exclusive messages.

The common thread that runs from “toxic femininity” guy, to Joe Rogan, to the ad from Egard Watches, is that they all see the Gillette ad as an attack on all men.

They hear the phrase “toxic masculinity” and they think it’s an attack on all masculinity.

And I’m starting to suspect that the number of people who are falling prey to this misunderstanding is quite high — as of this writing, the Egard Watches ad has 378,000 likes and fewer than 6,000 dislikes, giving it an approval rating of 98%, compared to the Gillette’s 36%— and that this is what’s responsible for the poor reception of the Gillette ad.

Because it is a misunderstanding.

The Gillette ad is a message against bullying and sexual harassment.

It is not an attack on all men — unless you believe that all men engage in that sort of behavior.


Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store