Q: Have you seen that new television commercial that aims to get men to treat women better? I think it’s great and even recorded it and am playing it for my husband and son. What do you think?
A: For those who missed it, the ad in question is from Gillette — a Procter & Gamble brand — and essentially invites men (and boys) to shave away their “toxic masculinity.” It’s a take-off on the tagline that the company has used for decades: “The best a man can get.” Personally, I’m disgusted by the ad and the bigoted thinking behind it. Why? Because it strongly implies that masculinity, by definition, is toxic, and that ALL males — or at the very least, all the ones who can shave — are jerks who need to change their behavior.
While there’s no question that some men — a tiny minority — behave in a toxic way, there is nothing inherently toxic about masculinity itself. The far bigger problem is a general SHORTAGE of masculinity. The overwhelming number of men who are involved in violence, gangs, drugs, and so on, have grown up without a positive male role model in their lives and have had no one to show them what it means to be a man or how to treat women.
We fault men for not being more actively involved with their children, but we pigeonhole them into the role of provider/protector (and yes, that’s still what most men and women expect from men) and rate them based on how much money they make. We knowingly laugh when women complain about men’s shortcomings and failings, but in my experience, for every woman who’s had a bad experience with a man, there’s a man who’s had an equally bad experience with a woman. But when those men complain about the way they’ve been treated by women, they’re criticized as being misogynist.
In general, when men — especially white men — raise legitimate issues, such as the fact that our life expectancy is five years shorter than women’s or that two-thirds of opiate overdoses and three-quarters of suicides are male, we’re accused of having “angry male syndrome.”
Imagine the outrage if Gillette (or any company) would have come out with a commercial questioning whether women today are truly “the best they can get” and asking them to shed their “toxic femininity.” They’d have to talk about the “mean girls” who bully, demean and terrorize their (mostly female) classmates — sometimes to the point of suicide — and the female teachers who prey on teenage boys. They’d have to talk about the women who falsely accuse men of rape or domestic abuse or who commit “paternity fraud.”
Neither masculinity nor femininity is inherently “toxic.” When it comes to racial and ethnic minorities, members of religious groups, and women, we recognize that blaming all the members of a particular group for the bad behavior of a few of its members is wrong. It’s about time we applied the same logic to men.