When it comes to the culture wars, no one is better at “owning the cons” than conservatives themselves. A new ad from Gillette sparked controversy and drew the ire of conservative commentators and online audiences while drawing applause from more liberal observers. At issue is the question of “toxic masculinity” and whether or not Gillette is taking sides against men in this #MeToo moment in our culture. It’s a disappointing controversy because there should be none. Conservatives have twisted the ad’s message to match their intense and longstanding feeling of victimization by the Left, and it does their arguments about masculinity a great disservice.
Gillette’s ad is not complicated. It begins with several men looking in the mirror, hearing news coverage of #MeToo stories replaying in their head. Buzzwords abound. “Bullying,” “harassment,” “the MeToo movement,” and most importantly, “toxic masculinity,” setting the tone of the ad and defining what men have been called to reflect on in the last year. It goes on to depict men and boys engaging in objectively bad behaviors, robotically accepting those things as normal, and then correcting course by the ad’s conclusion. Gillette says “we believe in the best in men” and notably does not attempt to define masculinity. It seeks distance between men and the worst of what we’ve seen on the news since Harvey Weinstein came crashing down.