Patriarchy under threat: toxic responses to an ad about toxic masculinity
Jackie O'Brien | Wednesday, January 23, 2019
Gillette released a controversial advertisement last week positively challenging ideals of toxic masculinity; it promoted a new conception of what it means to be “masculine.” Rather than idolizing those men who have so long been valued in our society, the classic “man’s man,” it offers an alternative route. It highlights the best in men: helping one another, standing up for each other and treating women with dignity and respect and it does so in the context of the #MeToo movement.
Since its release, 1.2 million people have disliked the video on YouTube, compare to 689,000 who had a more positive perception. Based on the headlines, it is clear that to some, this came as an attack on all men and a certain type of masculinity that is expected with maleness.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In no way does it suggest that all men must be extremely open about their emotions and deny instincts and activities that society has deemed to be masculine: sports, beer, time with male friends etc. All men are still open to enjoy these things without fear of criticism. What the advertisement was attempting to target was a toxic sense of maleness that has pervaded our society and harmed all persons. That toxic masculinity that has dictated that “real” men dress a certain way, treat women a certain way, express their emotions a certain way and act a certain way.
Suggesting new ways to be masculine is not to assert that masculinity is inherently bad. Masculinity can be a beautiful thing. However, it is important to recognize that modern masculinity has been hijacked by a singular and exclusionary conception of what it means to be a man, which harms all of society.
The fact that so few men and women in our society can recognize this, and actually view the advertisement as an attack on men in general is a great example of how harmful toxic masculinity is. The negative reaction to this advertisement is proof that an unattainable, ridiculous version of manhood has dominated our societal perspective.
I am not surprised.
It seems to me that the anger is not about what the Gillette advertisement suggests about men: that they can be good, kind people. No, I think the negativity is a reaction to the threat that the #MeToo movement, among others, presents to the patriarchy of America.
To attack something as neutral as an advertisement suggesting that men should be kinder to women and one another is absolutely ludicrous. There must be a deeper motivation here. This reaction shows that changing our society to be more inclusive, accepting and supportive of all people and all identities: extreme masculinity, extreme femininity and anything on the spectrum will be an uphill battle. There are still people in this society who are so afraid of change, they fail to recognize the positivity that comes with alternative messages to the status quo.
However, I understand that this is a confusing topic. It can be extremely hard to grasp, especially for men who, like it or not, may view the drastic changes we are experiencing as a society with some apprehension. But this should be a call for productive, educational conversation. Just this past week, a fellow students on my study abroad program overheard me discussing the issue of toxic masculinity and approached me openly, explaining that he didn’t totally understand what the term meant. This is the type of interaction that we need.
Instead of recoiling with fear and anger, men need to take a step forward — to ask questions and understand the ways in which their behavior and interactions have been the outcome of a doctrine of toxic masculinity. It is on the men of our society, who have for so long benefitted from their superior positions and suffered from specific expectations of manhood, to change. And it is on all of us to support each other in making this change possible.
This is just the beginning of the conversation. There is so much more to unpack here, and this conversation of toxic masculinity is just touching the surface. But rather than viewing everything as an attack on their own manhood and societal identity — believing survivors, calling out toxic masculinity and empowering women — the men of our society have a new assignment: to listen, learn and accept change.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.