Let’s take a long look in the mirror: Gillette and gender

As we reported earlier this week, Gillette has released a new ad and it’s proven divisive. Now I don’t know whether the ad, which was directed by Kim Hehrig, was conceived to create controversy or whether the outrage it has provoked has come as a surprise to Gillette parent company, Procter & Gamble but, if it was the former, well #missionaccomplished. Although I strongly suspect it was the latter as P&G has been no stranger to this particular format of awareness-raising ad and it’s never received this amount of flack in the past. Its critically acclaimed The Talk picked up an Emmy.

And perhaps that’s why it is bemusing that so many people’s objections center on the assumption that Gillette, a shaving brand, should stick to razors and butt out of conversations about toxic masculinity. I don’t understand how it’s fine for a company that sells sanitary products, razors and laundry detergent to provoke conversations about racial bias but not about gender. I also don’t understand why the biggest consumer goods company in the world and the world’s biggest advertiser by revenue wouldn’t use that platform to talk about the things that matter.

After all, if we’re saying that investigative journalists should be able to front make-up shows without being accused of being ‘trivial’ then surely we can flip that on its head and say beauty behemoths can also talk about ‘the serious stuff’.

As Marc Pritchard, P&G Chief Brand Officer, told The Drum last year, “The outpouring of support for ‘The Talk’, as well as the critical responses we received strengthened our resolve in the value of these conversations between people of all backgrounds and experiences, which we hope lead to greater understanding, common ground and positive change.”

It’s therefore no leap that the company produced We Believe: The Best Men Can Be not as a cynical attempt to get the tills ringing but as a genuine attempt to address the issue of toxic masculinity.

And talking toxic masculinity, Piers Morgan was one of the first to get on his high horse. Fresh from objecting to the addition of a vegan sausage roll at bakery chain Greggs, he’s now protesting the ‘current pathetic global assault on masculinity’ by boycotting the brand, according to his Twitter account.

I mean, we get it. Morgan objects to anything that threatens his white, male privilege – and sure, if we had it, we’d probably defend it with our lives too. It’s just bizarre that anyone would watch P&G’s ad and conclude that, instead of standing up to bullies, letting mansplaining pass and being an accessory to sexual assault, they’d rather be, if not an active participant in all the above, at least be a passive bystander.

For when I watch the ad, I see men being heroic. I see them doing what I have always considered to be the very definition of ‘manning up’, which is confronting their behaviour (or to be fair, the behaviour of a select few), head on and doing something about it. As Terry Crews, Actor, Activist and Former NFL Player is shown saying, “Men need to hold to other men accountable.”

So shall we let bad behaviour go because ‘boys will be boys’? No, we should teach them to be real men. Men who don’t hide behind 140 not-particularly-pithy characters but will stand up and be counted. I know which definition of masculinity I prefer.

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