I’m hardly the first person on the internet to talk about the Gillette commercial. It seems to be quite a popular topic at the moment, and for good reason. As far as commercials go, it’s quite a weighty one, and it has a message to send the world that stands out far stronger than simply asking people to buy their product.
Now, there’s quite a lot to unpack in this commercial, so I’ll start from the beginning.
The “Me Too” movement.
“Is this the best a man can get?”
The commercial starts with buzz words that are incredibly topical for the world at the moment. These are all big problems that people face in the world today.
I was bullied throughout most of my school life. Halfway through grade 2, I moved schools because I was being bullied. It was stupid stuff. It always is in primary school. All because my last name was McDougall and I was chubby. I remember they called me “Marlee McDonalds.” So creative, I know. That didn’t mean that it didn’t have an effect on me.
Being bullied is hard. Particularly when you’re young. You don’t know why it’s happening to you, and you have no methods to deal with it. It can be hard to talk about it to other people, be it older kids, parents, or teachers. And when it’s over something as silly as that? There’s not much a teacher can do. “Stop calling each other names.” But there wasn’t much in the way of reinforcement. Not when I went to primary school. Just telling me to ignore the people who called me that.
I don’t remember much bullying happening in my second school. I don’t remember much about that school at all, really, except that I would frequent the library. Already I would retreat into books to escape what felt like an unfair reality. No bullying, perhaps, but I didn’t exactly make any wonderful life long friends that I can remember. I was already isolating myself from other people even that young.
My third school I remember a bit more clearly, and there was more bullying here. It’s never helpful being the new kid at school. It also didn’t help that I was the new kid who frequented the library and made friends with teachers. I did manage to make some good life long friends at this school. Though I can vividly remember one incident where a friend of mine was being bullied because she was my friend. Student council elections were coming up, and one of my friends was going up against one of the “popular” girls (a bully, with her bully friends). The other candidate made sure to point out that she was friends with me, and that therefore the other students shouldn’t vote for her. Of course, this was all on the playground, out of teachers’ earshot.
Although I wasn’t aware of it then, I know now that even in primary school I had anxiety. There was one time when a particularly antagonistic girl was annoying me in class, and I gave up trying to ignore her and confronted her instead. The teacher saw this, and sent the girl to see the principal. When she came back, she told me that the principal wanted to see me after school.
So, dutifully, I sat outside waiting to see the principal after school. I knew that my Mum would be coming to pick me up that day, so at least I didn’t have to worry that I was missing the bus. But as I sat there, wondering why I was in trouble, and how much trouble I was going to be in, I started to panic, and it was quite a while later when another teacher saw me waiting there, crying. She asked me what the problem was, and went in to see the Principal for me, only to come out and tell me that the Principal had never wanted to see me in the first place. Stupid, and petty, I know. Childish, would be the word for it. And when you’re a child, even silly little things like that can have a big impact.
High school didn’t exactly lessen the bullying. I went to the same high school as most of the people from my third primary school. I managed to make a few more good friends there at least, and I managed to find myself slightly more equipped to deal with things by this point. Of course, by this point, I’d been bullied for so long that I just ignored it. There was never anything physical, or anything too bad. It was all still so childish and stupid. What would the teachers care if such and such called me fat?
The “Me Too” movement and sexual harassment can come under the same banner for the most part. I know so many people who have their “Me Too” stories. I even have some of my own. My own may not be as bad as many other people’s, but they’re still there. Some of these stories are big. I have friends who have been raped, or otherwise sexually harassed. Others may seem smaller, people not accepting “no” for an answer so easily. People taking advantage of younger people because they don’t know better. People pushing others into things even though they’re uncertain about it.
I say people here for a reason. Girls aren’t the only ones with “Me Too” stories. Just as boys aren’t the only ones who bully. Though, that’s neither the purpose of the ad, nor my blog.
Toxic masculinity. The best example I can come up with for this are those who are reacting negatively to the commercial. It’s much like the “Boys will be boys.” It’s a mentality that has been drilled into us. A boy pulls on a girls hair because he likes her. A man who is weak is “girlish”. A man can’t get a manicure or a pedicure. Real men don’t cry.
One of the most poignant comments I’ve seen about the commercial is how men are reacting poorly to being told to act in a certain way, when that’s almost all women’s commercials ever do. We’re told we can’t have body hair, or that we can’t be too fat or too thin. If we don’t show off our bodies something’s wrong with us, but if we do we’re whores. That’s just what toxic masculinity is, too though. Men are told how they have to act. They have to stand tall, and be strong. They need to be smarter and stronger than girls. The biggest insult to them is to be called a girl.
Personally, I think the commercial is brilliant. It’s making a stand. It’s stating that Gillette is firmly against bullying, sexual harassment, and toxic masculinity. The commercial isn’t demanding that men stop being who they are. All it’s asking is that they understand that the world is progressing forward, and that people (in this case men) aught to do so also. It challenges men to be “The Best a Man Can Get” by breaking the habits that have been formed over so many generations. By standing up for what’s right, and against something you know to be wrong.
Something so many people don’t seem to understand is that the ad isn’t calling men bad. It’s simply stating that these are problems that exist in the world. It’s not saying that all men bully, and rape, and are involved in the spread of toxic masculinity. What it is saying is that Gillette doesn’t support that. It’s saying that standing by when you see something not right, and allowing it to continue, is also wrong.
No, men aren’t the only problem. Nor is it saying that all men are part of the problem. But every small intervention can help.