As I approached, I determined these were siblings, possibly waiting for a parent inside the building. As I approached, the boy started smacking the girl again with his toy.
“Hey!” I snapped. “How do you know that’s not hurting her?” He shrugged. “It ain’t hurting her.” The girl, however, disagreed. “It IS hurting me,” she insisted.
“Maybe you should cut it out,” I told the boy. This earned me a menacing scowl. “These are MY people,” he declared.
Here I abandoned politeness. I pointed in his face and snapped in my sternest Dad voice, “I don’t care. STOP IT!”
He held my glare for only a moment. Then he averted his eyes and slipped the toy into his pocket.
That encounter went as it should: an abusive or bullying situation identified and stopped. Seemed reasonable to me then, and still so now.
So imagine my surprise to learn today that I might have contributed to the, quote-unquote, “demasculinization of America.”
What brings this to a head is the social media backlash over an advertising campaign by Gillette, the razor business of Proctor & Gamble, aimed at raising awareness among men of bullying and sexual harassment. Called “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be,” the campaign—including a video and other online elements—calls out men of all ages for fostering or ignoring these acts.
Said P&G President Gary Coombe, "We knew that joining the dialogue on 'Modern Manhood' would mean changing how we think about and portray men at every turn.” Coombe said Gillette would review all public-facing content against a set of defined standards “to ensure we fully reflect the ideals of Respect, Accountability and Role Modelling in the ads we run, the images we publish to social media, the words we choose, and more."
Fortune Magazine writes, “The ad explicitly hails the #MeToo movement as a turning point for men and—through the inclusion of some old Gillette advertising material—it implies that the company’s own messaging hasn’t always been on the right side of history.”
You’d think such a campaign would generate more positive vibes than negative ones, right? You’d think we could all agree that bullying kids, demeaning women or assaulting them are bad. Right? Right?
From Twitter: “I'm researching every product made by Proctor & Gamble, throwing any I have in the trash, and never buying any of them again until everyone involved in this ad from top to bottom is fired and the company issues a public apology.” …. “Just sell some damn razors and keep your social justice stupidity out of it.” …. “Gillette has made it clear they do not want the business of masculine men.”
From Facebook: “Your new ad campaign is so dumb, that a simple boycott isn’t enough. There should be very public firings and apologies to all the men you’ve insulted. But I still hope you go bankrupt.” …. “Go straight to hell, Gillette, Spare us your virtue signaling and FALSE accusations. Shame on you and I sure will watch MY spending habits as it relates to your (soon-to-be-defunct) company.”
On YouTube, where the Gillette video is posted, the thumbs-down votes were outpacing thumbs-up by more than two to one. Early on, the difference was six to one.
The controversy rages on. Some are hailing the effort as a giant step toward eliminating false constructs of manhood and historically reprehensible treatment of women. Others say it’s a threat to traditional masculine norms and strong male social models. Still others say it’s nothing more than an effort by Gillette to sell more razors by presenting itself as socially responsible.
Well … yeah, okay, that last one is at least partly true. Few businesses are altruistic for the sake of altruism. But the truth is, Gillette didn’t have to take this stand. Surely they knew it would be controversial—though perhaps not to this degree. They could have gone a safer route. They could have told their customers, “Hey, we’re against clubbing baby seals,” and that would have prompted little more than a collective “awwww!”
But they followed a path that was both courageous and dangerous—and, in this disturbing era where misogyny is “just” locker room talk, where "tough guy" bullying is celebrated, where “20 minutes of action” isn’t enough to keep a rapist in prison … it’s a path that needed to be taken.
I stand with Gillette on this one. Was it blunt? Yes. Was it insulting to certain people with certain attitudes? Absolutely. Is that bad? I don’t think so. Dangerous, yes. But right.
In a time where companies must be socially responsible, those that embrace only “safe” issues will be seen for the cowards they are; companies that take an honest, thoughtful stand on real issues may lose clientele, but they’ll build loyalty and respect—and, in time, a stronger customer base.
Most importantly, they’ll be doing the right thing.