I recently read an article on the Washington Post about the Gillette company. The article featured a short video addressing male toxicity. It showed men intervening on behalf of others, and calling some out for their toxic behavior. It shows men stopping bullies, keeping women from being leered at and not accepting the ‘boys will be boys’ excuse. You can view it here. For years, Gillette’s tag line has been ‘The best a man can get.’ Its adds included images of fit, handsome men with smooth faces. Beautiful women caressed their flawless skin. If not that, then the men succeeded in life because they used their products as evidenced by firm handshakes, smiles and obvious work advancements. The bottom line is that using Gillette products will make you a better man.
The same is true for women. For years women have heard messages about what different products will do for them. They will be more. They will be more successful, more beautiful, more fulfilled, more desired and the list goes on and on.
Every brand has a story to tell you. All of them want you to believe life will be better off if you purchase their goods. Every brand is trying to get our money. That is why they are in business, to make money.
Creating or capitalizing on a felt need the consumer has is one of the most critical rules in advertising. In our market, you have to answer the question, ‘How does this product help them solve their problem?’ If it doesn’t, it won’t sell. However, there is a story behind the story. It is about inadequacy. Consumers are led to believe they are missing out, inadequate or somehow broken. Without these products, we can never become more. We will never be enough.
This, to some degree, is the context for the Gillette company's video. Make no mistake; they are looking for market share, good-will, and dollars. They are also looking to make a statement about how men can behave in our society. Too long have we allowed toxic behavior to flourish. Too long have others been the victim of toxic behavior from men. Our culture is awakening to this fact, and people are trying to do something about it. The problem is, when we do so, we create other problems.
Calling behavior toxic masculinity is to miss label the problem. It makes it a man problem. Men are the issue, not the behavior. When this happens, we can simply objectify those who exhibit toxic behavior. When we turn people into objects, no one wins. We must address the toxic behavior in one another and make it a human issue. I think violence, sexual aggression, and brutishness are behaviors we can address in anyone, not just those identifying as male. There are other forms of toxicity which are equally damaging. Leading women to believe they aren’t enough, their beauty falls short, they are intellectually inadequate, or they are too emotional is every bit as damaging. We need to move past Male toxicity. We need to talk about what is toxic in general.
No one gets a pass. What we need is dignity. Behavior that removes the dignity of another person is toxic. Behavior that makes an object out of another human being is toxic. I don’t care if you are male, female, or identify in other ways, we must become people who value one another. We have to work hard at increasing dignity in our hearts, minds and our lives. Unlike marketing, our interactions need to create worth and value. Expressing dignity says 'You are valued' instead of 'Your lack can only be made up in our product.' Gillette, while its motives are undoubtedly mixed, is helping move the bar. At least we are having the conversation. However, it can’t end with men, we all have work to do. We can be more. We can do better.