Shaving Back The Rhetoric on Toxic Masculinity: Warrior Wellbeing Article
Recently, there’s been much discussion about Gillette’s ad and its portrayal of blokes. It’s not a particularly good ad for selling razors, but the intention was to spark debate, and it has certainly succeeded there. Whilst the intention might be admirable, it’s confusing. In particular, polarizing the group it clearly wants to unite for change.
Firstly, some traits targeted in the ad aren’t toxic. A man sees a beautiful woman walking by and works up the courage to introduce himself. He’s restrained by a bystander who says, “Not cool man, not cool”. If we remove confidence from the permitted range of male behaviour, then the world’s in a pretty poor state. This pigeonholes every bloke who ever worked up the courage to introduce himself to a girl, as “toxic”. The debate needs to more strongly acknowledge admirable male behaviour. Stoicism and confidence are traits some feminists deem “toxic”, but they’re traits I wish to see in my kids; male and female.
Secondly, it’s tarred the entire male population with the “Toxic Masculinity” brush. Many guys feel aggrieved by the fact that in the current climate and in this ad, even the “nice blokes” are made to feel guilty. This happens when gender rather than behaviour is the rallying-cry.
Boys bullying behaviour is a big part of the ad. Bullying is awful and should be condemned, but it’s behaviour, not gender that needs targeting. In 26 years of teaching, the ratio of girl / boy bullies was 50/50. Boys tended to be more physical, however in my experience, online gossip, texting and cyberbullying shown in the ad were mainly the preserve of girls. Imagine the outcry if an ad targeted girl’s “toxic femininity”.
The 1950’s style game-show / sit-com shots showing overt sexism and leering hosts are an obvious contrast in an otherwise modern, edgy ad. The reason they’re used acknowledges that the audience understands this is behaviour from another time and that society has moved on from this culture. The biggest risk is, if we portray “schmucks” as the majority and infer that this is the prevailing culture, we legitimize their behaviour. Good men doubt themselves and think “Geez are we all like that?” and those who need to change feel absolved because they believe that everyone else behaves the same way!
Navel gazing isn’t bad. Studying yourself with a critical eye encourages self-improvement. In the same vein, the Gillette ad opens with a man looking in the mirror as various headlines; “Me Too Movement; Bullying; Toxic Masculinity” are heard. You might say what’s in a word, but it makes all the difference. Change “toxic masculinity” to “toxic behaviour” and it unites rather than divides. We all agree that some abhorrent behaviours need changing, however blame needs to be apportioned to a minority, not an entire gender.
If the ad is a rallying call to unite, then it shouldn’t alienate those it’s calling to set the bar higher by displaying “The best a man can get”. The admirable traits of masculinity we all strive for, qualities of good character, including discipline, assertiveness, loyalty to a cause, teamwork, protection and care of others, as well as valuing our honourable role as fathers, have been omitted in what is, an overwhelmingly negative portrayal of manhood.
Glen and the Team
The Regional Men’s Health Initiative
delivered by Wheatbelt Men’s Health (Inc.)
PO Box 768, Northam WA 6401
Phone: 08 9690 2277