I wrote about the new Gillette ad yesterday and focused primarily on the ad as a sales tool, i.e. a way to signal to millennials that Gillette is a brand worth paying a premium for because it cares about social justice. I thought that was enough but today there are lots of stories about the backlash to the ad. Here’s one from the BBC which notes the response to the YouTube clip has been pretty negative:
Comments on the video are largely negative, with viewers saying they will never buy Gillette products again or that the advert was “feminist propaganda”.
“In less than two minutes you managed to alienate your biggest sales group for your products. Well done,” wrote one angry viewer.
The full version of the ad (there’s also a 30-second edit) has been viewed over 6 million times. The bad news for Gillette is that it has 461,000 dislikes and just 149,000 likes, or roughly 3:1 negative response. Over at Reason, Robby Soave writes that some conservatives are over-reacting.
Yes, the ad invokes “toxic masculinity,” an ill-defined concept sometimes deployed by the campus left in overbroad ways. But most of the ad depicts men deciding not to bully each other, harass women, or commit violence. Are these really “leftist social priorities”? Do conservatives really wish to portray them as such?…
It made a very modest statement—treat people better—in hopes of selling more razors to people who agree. Again, why is this bad?
Similarly, Jill Filipovic at CNN also thinks the backlash is a bad sign:
It shouldn’t be a controversial proposition: The best a man can be is kind instead of cruel, generous instead of petty, protective instead of predatory. But already, Gillette is facing backlash for its latest ad, which takes on toxic masculinity, bullying and harassment…
It’s sad but predictable that imploring men to be better — not just for women, but for other men and boys — is met with such hostility from people who apparently accept the lie that cruel and predatory behavior is part of men’s natural makeup. There’s a stereotype that feminists hate men, but the opposite seems to be true: Anti-feminists who claim to be defending men are the ones who actually seem to have a fairly low opinion of them.
There’s a lot more stuff like this out there. Basically, if you find the ad offensive, there must be something wrong with you.
If you're a man who's outraged over a Gillette ad that encourages men to not be horrible selfish pricks PLEASE let the rest of us know who you are.
— John Fugelsang (@JohnFugelsang) January 15, 2019
I wasn’t particularly outraged by the ad as you can see in my initial reaction to it, but I think the complaints about the backlash are overlooking a bunch of things which are lingering in the background. The context is a razor company offering men a lecture on toxic masculinity. That lecture emanates from a leftist perspective with certain assumptions: a) masculinity is toxic, b) everything is political, even razors c) call-out culture is the appropriate response to social problems, and d) anyone who disagrees has proved their own guilt.
None of this is stated in the ad. Even a) is only mentioned briefly. But this is the broader context the ad is tapping into. You can, of course, overlook all of this and simply say the company is offering a heart-warming call for men to be better. But I suspect the same people would feel differently about the assumptions being made if all the men in the ad were, say, black or gay or Hispanic. Suddenly, the exact same message wouldn’t be heart-warming it would be correctly seen as condescending and racist (or anti-LGBT) to assume this subset of men needed a lecture from a razor company. The fact that the men shown behaving badly in the clip are white and straight doesn’t make the assumptions themselves any better, it just makes them easier for people to ignore. This is still a condescending message aimed at men from a razor company.
The bottom line is that most men aren’t bullying or condoning bullying or harassing or dismissing women in the workplace. There are certainly men who are and I’m not saying those problems don’t exist, but I remain extremely skeptical that this ad (or any similar ad) is going to change them for the better.