What do the new Gillette commercial and This is Us have in common?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on January 16th, 2019.

Yesterday I woke up to flurry of texts and emails that read, “Did you see it?!” These messages were followed by a link to an ad for, you guessed it, Gillette. I clicked. I watched, and I immediately teared up. I really did. Weird, I know. I mean, it’s only a corporate commercial, right? But for the record, whenever I watch an episode of This is Us, which I happened to do yesterday as well, I require a whole box of tissues. The reason I cry watching This is Us is often for the same reason that I teared up watching the Gillette ad. They are both displaying a fresh take on masculinity, and I love it.

Before we continue, take a moment to go and watch the Gillette ad. It’s less than two minutes long. I’ll wait. Now, take a moment to think how you feel about it. Honor that feeling. Now, ask yourself why you feel what you do. If you’re like me, and you loved it, perhaps it was because it was inspiring to hear male voices challenging the behaviors associated with toxic masculinity. Better yet, it put forth examples of what healthy masculinity looks like.

However, maybe you didn’t like the ad, and if you fall into this camp you are certainly not alone. A simple scroll through google news this morning include lots of headlines that read “anti-men”,”backlash”, and “boycott.” In addition, some public figures have denounced the brand, including professional troll Piers Morgan, who publicly declared that this ad is part of a war on masculinity. As of this writing the ad has over twice as many dislikes on YouTube in comparison to likes, so clearly it has touched a nerve. If it provoked a negative reaction, I invite you to share the reasons why below because I’m somewhat baffled as to why an ad urging men to abandon toxic behaviors and replace them with more positive ones is controversial. I did read through many of the negative comments on Youtube but struggled to find any that were either thoughtful, or helpful, in terms of articulating the objections. 

In a fortuitous twist of timing, this ad comes on the heels of the American Psychology Association’s release of their first ever report on the harmful effects of toxic masculinity. Titled the APA Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Men and Boys, this report was 13 years in the making and drew on over 40 years of research. The conclusion? Toxic masculinity is killing men. Literally. The report outlines how traditional masculinity, which is marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression, is psychologically harming men to detrimental degrees. In the US, men commit 90% of homicides and represent 77% of the victims of homicide, including 85% of the victims of gun violence. Men are the group most likely to become the victims of violent crimes in general, and suicide rates among men are three times higher than that of women. Overall, men have a lower life expectancy than women, and this is true in every country in the world.

The data clearly shows that toxic masculinity is exactly that: toxic. However, once again, judging from the reactions online, it’s clear that a lot of people have missed that point. The goal here is not to take away men’s masculinity. The goal is to challenge men to recognize the toxic aspects and arrive at a better expression of masculinity. You know, one that isn’t literally killing them. That being said, we all know that change doesn’t happen overnight, so I can only hope that enough men are inspired by this ad, and indeed by all the conversations taking place in this new #MeToo era.

Because it is January, the Sundance Film Festival is just around the corner, and while I was watching the Gillette ad, I was reminded of being at the premier of The Mask You Live in 2015. This landmark film by the accomplished film-maker Jennifer Siebel Newsom, “follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Pressured by the media, their peer group, and even the adults in their lives, our protagonists confront messages encouraging them to disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence. These gender stereotypes interconnect with race, class, and circumstance, creating a maze of identity issues boys and young men must navigate to become “real” men. Experts in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, sports, education, and media also weigh in, offering empirical evidence of the “boy crisis” and tactics to combat it. The Mask You Live In ultimately illustrates how we, as a society, can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men.” I cannot recommend this film more, so find out how to see it here.

While it is easy to get discouraged by the outrage the Gillette ad provoked, I find solace in the fact that popular culture seems to be making a positive shift. Last week, the New York Times profiled numerous musicians who are racking up hit albums and critical acclaim, all while specifically targeting toxic masculinity in their music. Earlier this month, the most lucrative franchise in Hollywood released a trailer for a superhero movie that featured zero action shots. Instead, it focused on the depression and grief of its overwhelmingly male cast, including a poignant shot of Captain America crying. And week after week, hit television shows, like This is Us, feature male characters who shy away from the stifling bonds of traditional masculinity. As Barbara Annis from Gender Intelligence Group notes in response to the ad, “We are entering a powerful paradigm shift, and I invite men and women to truly embrace these messages. I understand the inclination to react negatively when it lands as generalizing men or stereotyping male masculinity, but there are some beautiful messages in this ad that can inspire people to action. Think of this: women and girls all over the world have been hungering for men to engage and take action, and any boy who has been bullied will feel a sense of relief that there are men in the world ready to notice and take action. The critical approach is for us to move away from blame to a new kind of understanding.”

At the end of the day, Gillette knew this ad would provoke controversy, but so far they are not backing down. They released a statement saying that going forward they will be reviewing all public facing content to ensure that they “fully reflect the ideals of Respect, Accountability and Role Modeling.” Their website states that “It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.” They’re also putting their money where their mouth is by donating $3 million over the next year to nonprofits “designed to help men of all ages achieve their personal ‘best'”, with the first recipient being the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Personally, I applaud this initiative, and I hope it paves the way for more corporations to examine the content and ideals their advertising is putting out into the world. I hope there is more media on the horizon, from every medium, that portrays men as awesome, complex, loving, kind, and emotionally vulnerable human beings. I think we all want to live in a world where treating each other with love, kindness, and respect is the new norm. 

Below please find some resources focused on healthy masculinity. 

Non-profit organizations

A Call to Men – is a violence prevention organization and respected leader on issues of manhood, male socialization and its intersection with violence, and preventing violence against all women and girls.

MenEngage Alliance – made up of dozens of countries, alliance members work collectively and individually toward advancing gender justice, human rights and social justice to achieve a world in which all can enjoy healthy, fulfilling and equitable relationships and their full potential.

Next Gen Men –  a nonprofit organization focused on building better men through youth and peer engagement, education, and empowerment.

Promundo – Center for Masculinity and Gender Equality – is a global leader in promoting gender justice and preventing violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls.

The Center for Men and Masculinities – The Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, established at Stony Brook University (SUNY) in 2013, is dedicated to engaged interdisciplinary research on boys, men, masculinities, and gender. Our mission is to bring together researchers, practitioners, and activists in conversation and collaboration to develop and enhance projects focusing on boys and men. This collaboration will generate and disseminate research that redefines gender relations to foster greater social justice.

Books

The Future of Men by Jack Myers

Guyland: The Perlious World Where Boys Become Men and Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era by Michael Kimmel

The Man They Wanted Me To Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of our Own Making by Jared Yates Sexton (April 2019)

TED Talks

A Call to Men – Tony Porter

Why Gender Equality is Good for Everyone – Men Included – Michael Kimmel

Why I’m Done Trying to be ‘Man Enough’ – Justin Baldoni

To Be Of Use

I spent the last 2 weeks in Australia on tour with the Women Donors Network, which meant I was not here, in the United States, during the actual election.  As a feminist, and a humanist, I am upset by the results, and will continue to all I can to support women’s rights, and the dignity of all people.  This poem was posted somewhere and seemed a perfect one to post at this time.

To Be of Use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

by Marge Piercy

Happy Thanksgiving….. but

I was going to post a Happy Thanksgiving, nice, love and gratitude piece and then I read the below from someone I deeply respect, Paula Donovan of Aids-Free-World. I can tell you what I am NOT grateful for. I am not grateful when leaders have the opportunity to do the right thing, and do not. In fact I am down right tired of it. What will it take? Truly, what will it take?

Please read the below and take ONE ACTION at least. If you have time and passion, do more. If you want encouragement that male leaders can take a stand, watch this. 

Dear Jacki,

At the risk of sending this twice, this is so important and time-sensitive that we wanted to be sure it reached you directly. Your active engagement would be much appreciated.

The UN has promoted women’s equality for decades – in words, but not deeds.  On predictable dates, such as International Women’s Day and today, November 25th, the first of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, the Secretary-General takes to the world stage to preach about the full, equal rights and participation of women.

Throughout the rest of the year, his actions send a much louder and clearer message:  Equality for women? Not yet. Be patient.

We’re tired of waiting. It’s time for women to send back an equally clear message: As long as you ignore women, Mr. Secretary-General, we will ignore you.

Ban Ki-moon took his latest discriminatory action on October 31st when he appointed an “independent high-level panel” to review the way the UN and the world’s governments deal with peace operations. Given billions of candidates to consider, he selected 14 panelists: 11 men, three women.

He made his announcement on one of the few annual dates when UN Secretaries-General typically make pronouncements about gender equality. He chose October 31st, exactly fourteen long years from the day when the Security Council passed Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security. That historic resolution makes it incumbent upon on all governments, and every part of the UN system, to ensure the equal participation of women in all aspects of peace and security.
The anti-gender equality message Ban Ki-moon sent on October 31st sounded like this to women:

 

Yes, yes, you’re “equal” and sure, your participation is vital—but not in the complicated geopolitical work of the United Nations! Not at the global level! Don’t misunderstand: we consult you when your issues come up–child health, maternal mortality, nutrition, sexual violence, that sort of thing. But when we men have to make decisions about really complex issues, like peace, security, militarism, global economics and politics, climate change…frankly, “women’s full and equal participation” isn’t just an abstraction; it’s a distraction.  I needed experts who could deal with troop deployments, chains of command, civilian protection, drones and helicopters—artillery and heavy machinery, and what to do with peacekeepers who rape civilians!  Some day, women may be ready to grapple with those ‘hard’ issues. But for now, men are the ones with the broad skills. Men have more impressive CVs.  Men are more diplomatic. Men are intellectual, not emotional. Men have credibility. Men know how to cut deals and compromise. Men belong on “high-level panels.” Men should make decisions. Women can provide “input”—for men to weigh.

AIDS-Free World sent a letter of protest to the Secretary-General, and demanded that he re-constitute the panel to include equal numbers of women and men: some men could step down, or he could enlist another eight women.  Other proponents of women’s rights joined in. The media asked questions.
Through a spokesperson, there came an apology: “we’ll have to do better.”
We wrote again to say that an apology was not enough; Ban must fix the panel, now.
On November 21st, a solution was announced: the Secretary-General added one additional woman—but as an “ex-officio” member rather than a bona fide panelist. And the panel’s chair, José Ramos-Horta, gave his assurances that no one need worry: the three women plus the ex-officio member and the eleven men would think about the links between gender and the panel’s issues every day.  Plus, he’d consult with women’s organizations.

It’s time for an ultimatum. Proponents of women’s equal rights are tired of being invited to “participate” through a “broad consultative process” in which male decision-makers “listen to the voices of civil society women” – and then retreat behind closed doors to make their decisions.  We’re tired of a UN operated by and for men; women are sick of being silenced and side-lined by a Secretary-General who acts as though appointing a gender-balanced panel is both impossible and unimportant.

Let’s refuse to condone sexism at the highest level of the UN.  Let’s show our strength by forcing the Secretary-General’s hand. Let’s send a message back: Until you correct the gender imbalance of this panel, we refuse to cooperate with it. We pledge to ignore the panel’s work, and we protest its very credibility. 

And let’s show the Secretary-General and the world that he is dead WRONG: women are not concerned exclusively with “women’s issues.” They have interest and expertise in peace and security.

Please join us by taking the following actions:

  1. Send your own letter by email and/or fax to the Secretary-General, or copy and paste the draft letter below.
  2. Send the names of women who could be invited to serve on the panel to [email protected] by Friday, December 5, 2014.  A name, country and (where available) affiliation is all that’s needed. We will compile and share the list with the Secretary-General.

 

Draft letter to the Secretary-General:
By email:

[email protected] ; CC: Susana Malcorra, [email protected]
Via Twitter:

#pledgetoignore; @UN; @UNPeacekeeping; @UN_Spokesperson

 

By fax:

1-212-963-7055

 

By mail:

His Excellency Ban Ki-moon

United Nations Secretary-General

United Nations Secretariat

First Avenue at 46th Street

New York, NY  10017

 

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,
We are outraged by your decision to blatantly ignore the principle of gender equality in your recent appointment of a High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations. By your actions, you effectively repudiated your prior statements to the General Assembly and ignored the importance—agreed by Member States and enshrined in Security Council Resolution 1325—of “increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict.”

 

Until you provide for women’s equal representation, women and others who take the equality of women seriously will pledge not to support or engage with the panel. We will not lend any credibility to a review undertaken or recommendations offered through a flawed process that ignores the legitimacy of gender equality.

 

Download this letter as a Word document.

 

Paula Donovan,

Co-Director

AIDS-Free World

Main: +1-212-729-5084

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @AIDS_Free_World

#pledgetoignore