Shaving away toxic masculinity

By: Kenyan Carter | Web Editor


The well-known razor company Gillette stirred up substantial controversy with its new ad titled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” taking on bullying, sexism and violence through the lens of toxic masculinity.

The ad was very polarizing, receiving 753,000 likes and 1.3 million dislikes on YouTube. According to a Fox News report, the ad’s criticism comes from the idea that it “delivers an insulting message that assumes misogyny is rampant among men.”

So it’s the typical “not all men” defense that’s pervasive on social media. As a man myself, I don’t really understand how someone can watch the ad and feel insulted. The ad features many examples of men doing good things; the entire idea behind it is guys keeping other guys accountable. The only way someone would feel insulted is if they related more to the “toxic” examples of guys depicted and not the let’s try to do better guys. In that way, the ad works brilliantly to expose people to themselves.

But, what exactly is toxic masculinity?

In a general sense, toxic masculinity can be defined as the socially-constructed attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional and sexually aggressive. (Note that this doesn’t mean all forms of masculinity are bad hence the toxic part.

The Gillette ad depicts some of these socially-constructed attitudes. One scene showed two young boys angrily fighting, and then pulled back to dozens of fathers causally grilling and repeating the age-old cliché, boys will be boys.

Later in the ad, this scene is revisited but instead, a father breaks up the fight and says, “That’s not how we treat each other ok?”

This is a powerful scene in particular because it exposes the subtleness of how boys are typically raised and how those subtleties can encourage or normalize toxic behavior at a young age; in this case, it was violence.

Violence perpetrated by men is a problem in our society. According to the Guardian, “Of 95 mass shootings carried out in the U.S. between 1982 and 2017, 92 of the perpetrators were male.”

This obviously doesn’t mean all men are capable of something like this, but it does show that men are more likely to commit a mass shooting than women, and some believe toxic masculinity can be a contributing factor as to why.

This doesn’t just apply to mass shootings, however, according to the United States Department of Justice, “men commit violent crimes more than three times as often as women.” Violent crimes are described as homicide, rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence.

Aspects of the #Metoo movement were also highlighted in the ad. Terry Crews, an actor and outspoken victim of sexual assault was featured saying, “Men need to hold other men accountable.”  

As much as I like to see topics like toxic masculinity brought into the mainstream conversation, Gillette ultimately released the ad to get people to talk about Gillette.

Similar to the Nike Colin Kaepernick ad, Gillette was aiming to expose itself to a younger demographic, and according to the Chicago Tribune, they were successful. “Among millennial’s and Gen Zs, 57 percent said they’d be more likely to consider purchasing Gillette products. Nearly two-thirds of Gen X men said the same.”

However, the ad alienated Gillette’s older customer base with roughly the same 57 percent feeling the opposite.

Even though this ad isn’t going to change the country overnight, exposing more people to the concept of toxic masculinity is a good sign for our society going forward.