In early 2019, Gillette decided to run an ad catering to their entirely male customer base. So then, what good trait can be associated with masculinity to talk about?
Well, whoever was in their ad firm decided that there is nothing good about masculinity, it was an entirely toxic thing, consisting mostly of bullying other males and oppressing women, and the best a man could be would be to rein in other males engaged in these offensive behaviors. The ad also made very clear that it felt that it was not a minority of males engaged in the problematic behaviors, in fact the “good” males solving the problem were in the minority.
There was a lot of negative press following the ad, and some positive press from women’s magazines. Notably, the ad came out at the height of the #metoo movement.
While it is clear that bullying and oppressing women are bad things, the allegation that a majority of males participate in these things is just not credible to most of them, and strikes many as a grossly unfair accusation. Furthermore, the allegation that it is exclusively the domain of males to rein these behaviors in is just factually incorrect — if bullies and sexist men were having a lot of trouble when it came to getting girlfriends and wives, there would be very few of them. It is widely observed by males that those males who behave as feminists would have them do are usually actually last in line for female affection.
The stupidity of such an ad campaign was staggering. You don’t sell things by insulting the demographic you’re selling to. I wondered “Didn’t they show it to any focus groups before running it nationwide?” I looked it up, and actually, they did, and a lot of people, including men, liked the video. But what their focus groups were not keeping track of was the fact that a large share of the people who disliked the video felt strongly enough about it to boycott the product. This was especially a problem since there is pretty much no detectable difference between the quality of Gillette’s shaving products and those of their competitors, so switching brands took little effort or sacrifice.
I was not a Gillette customer at the time, but if I had been, that would have stopped, and I have a friend who had been shaving with Gillette all his life and responded to the ad by permanently switching to another brand. Gillette announced a $5 billion loss soon after running the ad, which set records as being one of the most disliked videos on YouTube.
I made a post on Facebook criticizing the stupidity of the 2019 ad campaign, soon after it came out and long before the $5 billion Gillette loss, and something very strange happened. A Facebook friend who I barely knew from college, who had never before said anything in response to any of my posts online, replied with an absurd cheap shot that questioned my masculinity. His reply was immediately “liked” by my two most feminist female Facebook friends, in fact one of them “loved” it.
This was followed by a long argument with the women not saying anything, with the guy exposing that he really was profoundly ignorant of gender issues, having accepted everything the mainstream media said on the subject without question – no wonder he liked the ad!
One point I made that never got a reply was, suppose Afro-Sheen had run an ad showing African-Americans acting out negative stereotypes, with the only good representatives of the group (clearly shown to be a minority of them) being the Afro-Sheen customers, who reined in the destructive behaviors of the others? Clearly that would be a highly offensive ad, so why wasn’t the Gillette ad offensive in the same way?
Clearly, my college acquaintance and my feminist Facebook friends were punishing me – his post was so snarky, unfair, and outright vicious that that was clear. Why did I, in their minds, deserve to be punished?
Well, I think in the social justice mindset, members of “privileged” demographics have a very strong moral obligation to despise and disavow their own demographic. “Privileged” demographics are to be slandered and insulted at every opportunity, and anyone who gets in the way of that is obstructing progress. Someone who openly identifies with a “privileged” demographic, takes pride in it, and defends it against criticism, is a highly offensive person. And the reason the hypothetical Afro-Sheen ad that I discussed was obviously offensive while the Gillette ad was not was because males are “privileged” and African-Americans are not.
But one has to think about the conundrum that the makers of the Gillette ad found themselves in. How could they have made an ad about positive aspects of masculinity? Suppose they had shown shots of men climbing a mountain, hunting, designing a spacecraft, or winning a dogfight in a jet? That would have been offensive to feminists – we have women doing all those things. While most of the people doing those things are males, the reasons for that being the case are highly controversial – saying that the reasons have anything to do with innate gender differences is a good way to get fired – feminists feel, quite strongly, that the under representation of women in such endeavors is all because of “the patriarchy” – a global conspiracy of evil males to oppress women.
Gillette had had a highly successful “The Best a Man Can Get” ad 30 years earlier, depicting men succeeding at various things, especially at getting the approval of women, including several wedding scenes. But the focus was not so much on the nature of masculinity, but rather just success in general.