Gillette’s new ad is a big step for men’s grooming but we still have a long way to go
We might not tend to look to our medicine cabinets in our search for social progress—but maybe that's changing. This week Gillette released a new ad (sorry, "short film") dedicated to challenging "toxic masculinity," "sexual harassment," and "bullying." The core question, playing off the brand's long-held tagline: "Is this the best a man can get?"
The answer: not really. At least not yet. But the video and an associated site encourage guys to speak out and stand up against those men engaged in the sort of behaviors that make the world worse for others, explicitly referencing the #MeToo movement and Terry Crews's plea before Congresss for men to "hold other men accountable." Unless you're of a particularly retrograde ilk—and we'll get to that in a minute—it's the kind of messaging that seems like a no-brainer right now.
So, good for Gillette! This is a great step forward. But make no mistake: We still have a long way to go.
Because, while Gillette has turned over a new leaf in very public fashion, it's important to remember that the brand—and the marketing for men's grooming in general—has also been a major contributor to the pervasiveness of toxic masculinity in American culture. Just look to an ad from 2013, which features Kate Upton and Hannah Simone, and encourages guys to use Gillette products because they will totally get you laid, bruh.
Now, in fairness, Gillette knows what it's done—and what it's doing with its latest ad. The clip even includes old advertising footage of a woman kissing a man's freshly shaven mug. It's admirable that the brand is acknowledging the missteps of its past—that is, suggesting that using the right razor entitles you to sex or affection from women—and is taking steps away from that kind of attitude. But unless Gillette and the grooming world in general want this to ring hollow in a couple months, we need to keep dismantling the pervasive, hyper-masculine tropes of grooming marketing.
That includes more pernicious, highly sexualized advertising (remember those Tom Ford For Men posters?). But it also the absolute silliness of calling something a "shower tool," presumably because dudes can't abide the word "loofah." Or a brand like Ab Crew calling a body oil, instead, a "shredding oil." ("It's a body oil that makes you look shredded.") The implication, of course, is that grooming is unmanly—that it needs to be un-feminized, sometimes to a laughable extent, in order to be consumed by guys. That's ridiculous, and it inherently pits male against female values. That's a problem.
But ads like the one from Gillette—or Schick's "Locker Room Talk" series, which premiered last year and focuses on mental health—are at least one small way to help move culture past a now-outdated "boys will be boys" mentality. Of course, some folks don't like that. To wit, noted undercooked blob of bloviating dough Piers Morgan:
I've used @Gillette razors my entire adult life but this absurd virtue-signalling PC guff may drive me away to a company less eager to fuel the current pathetic global assault on masculinity.
Let boys be damn boys.
Let men be damn men. https://t.co/Hm66OD5lA4— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) January 14, 2019
Also of note, the nearly 350,000 "dislike" reactions to the recent ad on Gillette's YouTube channel, versus 83,000 likes. Some guys, it seems, aren't ready to listen. And that's where the second part of this whole endeavor comes in. Because it's not just brands that need to do better (and a lot of them still need to clear the relatively low bar set by companies like Gillette and Schick and simply stop contributing to the problem).
We, the guys who are watching these ads and buying these products and helping shape the world around us and the next generation of men, we need to do better too. And considering the massive negative reaction to an advertisement that essentially just asks us to be decent members of society, we're not there yet.