Is This the Best Gillette Can Do?


The internet, as usual, is angry.

This time over an ad from Gillette.

An ad that, basically, asks men to not be jerks.

But many were angered by what they felt was an attack against their character.

Gillette Razor. Image via 精選 好東西 熊老闆/Flickr

If you haven’t seen it, the Gillette ad portrays a few very common scenes: a young boy being bullied, a woman being told to smile, and two boys roughhousing. The ads asks: “Is this the best a man can get?”

Gillette doesn’t think so. 

We should’t laugh off jokes about sexual harassment, or simply accept the old adage “boys will be boys.” Men need to hold other men accountable. We need to confront rape culture and the toxic masculinity so prevalent in our society. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

But no one likes being told what to do. Especially not by a multi-billion dollar corporation. But women get told all the time that we are too skinny, too fat, too old, too dark, have too many laugh lines, or too much cellulite. Our value is constantly being evaluated by the same companies that profit from our insecurity. The messages that women are bombarded with every second of every day are negative and demeaning.  

Gillette, however, was trying to do the opposite, they were trying to empower. But rather than see the ad for the positive message it promoted, many people—mostly men—saw it as preachy and inauthentic. They felt it was an attack against all forms and expressions of masculinity. Apparently, catcalling women on the street and interrupting female coworkers during meetings are inherent to masculinity.

No Catcall Zone via Non-Euclidean Photography/Flickr

The ad isn’t belligerent and isn’t out to shame anyone. It’s simply asking us to be better people. Society is now attempting to redefine masculinity so it might no longer include harassment and bullying as “manly” traits.

Chances are the men who reacted so strongly—by throwing out their Gillette razors, and pledging to boycott Gillette and any products produced by it’s parent company—are the ones who need to hear the message the most. If a 90-second commercial about toxic masculinity threatens you, maybe it’s time to reexamine your actions and beliefs? 

Despite my support for the overall message, I do have one small issue with the ad: are Gillette really trying to effect change, or are they profiting from the #MeToo movement?

It feels a lot like commercialism and capitalism wrapped in the pretty pink bow of social justice. It feels a lot like neoliberalism. One of the many tenants of this political/economic viewpoint is to remove government oversight and let the market take its course. If there is something the people want, then the market will provide. This has led to the belief that corporations will be the ones to save us when government, which is clunky and inefficient, fails to do so. For example, the government doesn’t need to pass laws protecting the environment because, if the market demands it, the corporations will take steps to decrease their carbon footprint.

In theory, it works. In reality, not so much.

It often ends up being that corporations aren’t actually making change. Just money. They tend to jump on the social justice bandwagon and profit off of the hard work done by activists.

The situation sort of reminds me of the horrible Pepsi ad from a few years ago that made light of police brutality and portrayed Pepsi as the answer to systemic racism. Pepsi received a tremendous amount of backlash for making light of a very serious problem. Is Gillette doing something similar? 

While Pepsi missed the mark entirely, Gillette has managed to hit the bulls-eye. They don’t claim to be the panacea for misogyny and toxic masculinity. Gillette’s approach is much more tasteful and toned down. Which is why we shouldn’t dismiss them right away. Their message is important and their approach is much less antagonistic than was Pepsi’s. They seem to recognize that a single commercial isn’t going to change our entire culture—but it can encourage us to start making changes. According to their website, Gillette has pledged to donate $1 million a year for the next three years to non-profit organizations dedicated to inspiring and educating boys and young men to reach their potential. For a multi-billion dollar corporation $3 million is a drop in the bucket—but it does show a modicum of commitment to the cause. 

And this campaign, which can be viewed with skepticism, can be a small step in the right direction.