In the age of social media, it seems that there’s always a burning controversy over some idiotic thing or another. Rage mobs are as ubiquitous as memes on the internet, and not one news cycle goes by without someone blowing something out of proportion.
Among the latest in this never-ending line of faux-controversies is a recent ad put out by Gillette, which calls for men to be “better” and censures the “boys will be boys” approach to child-rearing. Conservative portions of the internet then began to go into hysterical conniptions, with some interpreting the ad as a declaration of war against the male gender.
The ad is without a doubt pandering, and it's slightly obnoxious. Razor companies shouldn’t attempt to be the moral arbiters of our society, and I don’t believe the executives of Gillette are actually die-hard feminists rather than corporate hacks looking to exploit the woke crowd. Still, the frothing at the mouth from right-wing men is deeply embarrassing and, in my view, seriously misguided.
I consider myself to be right of center and broadly sympathetic to conservative viewpoints, but the conservative party line here is way off the mark. Whether it’s The Federalist decrying the ad as an “assault on men” or Tomi Lahren wringing her hands over this perceived “man-bashing,” conservatives of all stripes and of all levels of respectability seem unanimous in their chagrin over what really is no big deal.
Nowhere in the ad is there any sort of blanket condemnation of all men. This makes sense given that Gillette primarily sells to men. I’m no marketing expert, but I can’t imagine that making unqualified attacks on your customers is a good idea.
What the ad does set out against are the worst manifestations of masculinity, namely sexual harassment and bullying. By construing the ad as some sort of attack against the male gender, conservative commentators seem to be implicitly conflating these base impulses with masculinity itself, and ironically end up doing more to smear men than any ad ever could.
While I disagree with feminists in that I think traditional masculinity is generally good, I do agree with them that there are healthy and harmful manifestations of masculinity. I’d personally refrain from using the term “toxic masculinity” due to its political baggage, but there is some truth to the underlying notion.
Conservatives, of all people, should realize this. What is valuable in traditional masculinity (like self-discipline and being a good father) and the kind of things attacked in the ad are obviously at odds with one another. Not only is sexual harassment morally repugnant, it is also a malignant form of masculinity and not at all what conservatives should promote.
In conflating things like bullying and sexual aggression with masculinity itself, it is conservatives who are truly denigrating men. Decrying the Gillette ad as anti-male is to tacitly state that the kinds of behavior called out in the ad are endemic to men, and that to attack them is to attack the male gender.
Instead, conservatives should call upon men to be better and to live up to the lofty ideals that define a healthy masculinity. Choosing to rage over an ad calling out sexual assault is not only embarrassing, it also does a disservice to men.