Conservatives Are Freaking Out Over Gillette’s Surprisingly Honest Viral Toxic Masculinity Ad

Gillette released a new ad campaign called “The Best Men Can Be” encouraging men to reflect on toxic masculinity and to challenge themselves and their peers to be a little better. Naturally, it caused a five-alarm freakout on the right.

The ad starts with audio of news reports discussing the #MeToo movement, bullying, and toxic masculinity played over scenes of men looking at themselves in the mirror. “Is this the best a man can get?” a narrator asks while the playing the jingle that’s firmly lodged in the brain of any man over 25.

The ad then plays scenes of toxic male behavior like bullying, sexual harassment, belittling female colleagues, laughing at sexist jokes, and dismissing bad behavior with the same tired “boys will be boys” excuse.

Then it pivots to more news reports, more men reflecting on them, and scenes of men confronting one another about their behavior, interspersed with viral video footage of similar “men behaving well” moments. The overall message of the ad is, “Hey, here’s some sh*tty things too many men do, but it doesn’t have to be that way, and it’s up to all men to hold one another accountable to change it.”

It’s a powerful ad and it is somewhat risky (rule #1 of advertising is to associate your products with positive feelings and not negative ones). It’s also nakedly opportunistic, seeking to piggyback on an existing movement instead of leading the way. (Also there’s the stubborn fact that Gillette’s parent company Procter & Gamble still advertises on the Tucker Carlson “Men Are Being Victimized By Feminism” hour.)

Gillette’s ad went viral and—because toxic masculinity can’t be separated from fragile masculinity—the dead-end misogynists had some negative feelings of their own.

Fox and Friends got in on the action too. Ainsley Earhardt (surprisingly) liked the ad and thought it had a good message. She also thought it was a savvy business move because women are the ones shopping for their husbands (that’s part of the problem, but partial credit).

Brian Kilmeade, on the other hand, was very angry about it.

“If you want to get a man to buy it, it’s like, to me, in a way, you’re saying—showing a man breaking into a house, knocking over the furniture, stealing the money out of the safe, and saying, ‘Let’s stop this bad behavior, buy my razor,’” he said, entirely missing the point. “So, let’s point out all the bad things that you might say about men, put them into an ad, make men feel horrible, and then say, ‘Overpay for a razor because it’s so hard to match the handle you have anyway, you end up buying the whole unit.’”

(Seems like Kilmeade’s got some razor buying issues that extend beyond the ad messaging, so maybe his wife should be making those decisions. Also if you cringed reading that Chuck Woolery tweet, just wait ’til you hear Doocy read it out loud.)

The backlash to the ad perfectly demonstrates why its message is so necessary and it all comes down to your definition of “masculinity.”

To the whining men who can’t stand the criticism in the ad, “masculinity” is defined by doing all of these abhorrent things, or at least not challenging guys who do. “Real men,” in their understanding, never worry about the feelings of others (or even their own, aside from anger), and they certainly don’t police objectionable behavior in their peers. “Real men” should be “tough,” which usually means both enduring abuse and tolerating the abuse of others.

Here’s a good example of this dynamic in action:

In other words, “real men” perpetuate the cycle of toxic masculinity, or at least allow it to continue unchallenged. Conservatives are right that men are being victimized, but it’s this backward conception of masculinity, and not feminism, that’s doing the damage.

Prizing women as sexual objects to be accumulated leads to men valuing themselves based on their ability to do so—and curdles into violent frustration in the incel community when they can’t. The traditional masculine ideal of the man as sole breadwinner causes similar frustration in an economy where wages are stagnate and women are finally getting more opportunities. Furthermore, the masculinist rejection of nurturing, empathy, and jobs that involve both prevents men from entering growing sectors like healthcare (we’re all familiar with the stigma against male nurses). I could go on.

Just because certain behaviors are tolerated or encouraged under the prevailing notions of traditional masculinity doesn’t make those behaviors “right” and questioning them doesn’t make men less masculine. Breaking that false choice and the damaging cycle it reinforces is going to take more than a razor ad, but it’s an encouraging step.

h/t: Media Matters