Gillette won the internet when it released a new ad yesterday called "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be." The short clip calls out sexism, bullying and other toxic behaviors often wrongly associated with masculinity, and calls on men to do better and to raise the next generation to be better, too. But with such a simple, inspiring message, there's no way Gillette could have known it would start a new war on social media.
The video starts with an old Gillette ad that shows a woman kissing a man's face and says, "The best a man can get."
Sound bites from news coverage of the "Me Too" movement play over the clip. Then, it launches into scenes of a boy being bullied, sexual harassment that gets laughed off, a man talking over a woman in a business meeting, a chorus of men chanting "boys will be boys."
But then the ad changes gears and talks about how we won't be going back to a time when those things were acceptable. "We won't be going back because we believe in the best of men," the narrator says. And it shows a montage of men standing up against harassment, raising strong daughters and stepping up to do what's right in hard situations.
Those ideas shouldn't be controversial, and yet people are furious. This video, which says men are capable of so much good, has 52,000 likes and 287,000 dislikes on YouTube.
Why? Well, because many are saying the ad is an attack on men and boys.
On YouTube, people said the ad was stereotyping and bullying men.
Others called it "hateful" and said they were going to boycott Gillette.
But the criticism doesn't make any sense.
The Gillette ad isn't hating on men. The ad is saying that men are better than we—men included—have been taught to believe. It's saying that society has excused harassment and bullying and waved it away with "boys will be boys," but that's not what boys really are. Boys are capable of being respectful and compassionate, of standing up for what is right, and of raising the next generation to follow in those footsteps.
Many also took issue with the phrase "toxic masculinity," but that's because they're completely misunderstanding what toxic masculinity is.
Toxic masculinity is not saying that masculinity is toxic. It's describing toxic behaviors—such as sexism and bullying—that get wrongly lumped in with what it means to be a man. Toxic masculinity is encouraging boys to objectify women, it's telling little boys to "man up" when they cry or show emotion, and it's making men believe that there is only one way to be a man and that the way is by acting hyper masculine, fighting, bullying, being aggressive, and degrading women and girls.
The Gillette ad says they believe men are better than that, and shouldn't we all believe that men are better than that? Shouldn't men themselves believe that they are better than that? The only way this ad should piss anyone off is if they're pro-bullying and sexual harassment.
There's not an ad about "toxic femininity" because women don't hold the same place in society that men do. Simply put, it's still a man's world. There are still more men than women at almost all levels of government. We still excuse sexism and blame women for their own assaults. The Me Too movement happened because men in power are able to get away with hurting people simply because they are powerful men. That dynamic doesn't exist for women.
Ideally, we'd all be on a level playing field and we could make videos telling everyone to just "be kind" and leave it at that. But in a society in which most women have either dealt with sexual harassment or know someone who has, in which one in five women is a victim of rape, and in which women are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than a stranger, the reality is that we have to address the societal attitudes that excuse this kind of abuse before we can even begin to address the issue that "sometimes women do bad stuff, too."
The only people with the power to change bad ideas about masculinity are men themselves, and that's what this ad is saying. It's saying, good men, we believe in you and your ability to stand up against people who give men a bad name.
And if that's offensive to you, well, you might just be in favor of bad men.
This post was originally published on mom.me sister site CafeMom.