For Dads, Gillette's Latest Campaign Points to Challenges of Raising a Son
While the brand tries to take on masculinity in the #MeToo era, one dad says it's up to parents, especially fathers, to continue this conversation in a way that prepares boys to be responsible adults.
January 18, 2019
Last week Gillette stepped into the ongoing national dialogue about modern-day manhood by turning its “The Best a Man Can Get” slogan into a commercial-turned-public service announcement. Aimed at showing men how to behave… well… better, the 90-second spot tackles gender-relevant issues like bullying, sexual harassment, workplace disrespect, and “boys will be boys” mansplaining for male aggression.
“We’re inviting all men along this journey with us—to strive to be better, to make us better, and to help each other be better,” the company said in a statement. Gillette also plans to donate $1 million for each of the next three years to non-profits with the noble (albeit somewhat nebulous) goal of “bettering men of all ages.”
Fatherhood looms large in the commercial. In one scene, a father pulls his son off another boy for playing too rough. In another, a man stands at a mirror with his son, who repeats after him by saying “I am strong.” The spot’s parting shot: “Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”
But in the cyber-age, of course, nothing waits until tomorrow. The backlash to Gillette's advocacy-slash-advertisement was fast and frenzied, mostly in the form of angry men declaring themselves new converts to competing razor brands.
This blowback is understandable. As a middle-aged man and father, I'll admit to feeling somewhat at a loss to neatly define the ever-evolving rules of sexual and social engagement. It's easy for today's men to feel like we’re being accused of microaggressions every time we open our mouths and worry about our sons' futures in a society where lone, even unsubstantiated accusations of inappropriateness are ruining lives.
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However fittingly, gender equality has accelerated at a head-spinning rate as society shuns chauvinism, aggression, and other behaviors now labeled "toxic masculinity." And while we know this progress is altogether positive, it still leaves us on uncertain footing as we navigate the new norms of manhood and fatherhood—especially for those of us raising boys, as I am.
The meaning in the message
What the Gillette spot represents is a legacy brand coming to terms with the whole new ballgame that is masculinity in the #MeToo era. Past the argument of whether or not a razor company should be offering parenting advice is the greater truth that the subjects covered—sexual harassment and catcalling, misogyny and bullying—are crucial for men to be grappling with, now more than ever.
I think most men—even those currently trolling Gillette's comment thread—know this, though have a hard time admitting it. I suspect the real thunder fueling the cyber-storm isn't PC overreach but rather corporate overreach. As a marketing executive by trade, I draw the closest similarity with Pepsi’s ill-fated plunge into civic discourse. Show me a man that wants fatherhood lessons from a shaving company, and I'll show you someone who thinks Kylie Jenner should be representing the Black Lives Matter movement.
But again: that doesn't mean the message shouldn't be heard. Men should be acting—and teaching their sons to act—more respectfully toward women, less physically aggressive toward others, and increasingly willing to firmly discourage other outdated testosterone-driven behavior. Despite the accelerated progress society is making in gender relations in the #MeToo era, there is still a long way to go and a lot of men to curtail, cajole and convince.
The stakes have never been higher. The gains made by women correspond with men being put on high alert. Our careers, reputations, and even freedom depends on our ability to treat women with a heightened level of respect that, just a decade ago, would not have been required. Times change, and any man fighting that fact has to wake up and grow up.
And as dads, they must also step up. Raising a son has never been more challenging because the lines of acceptable male behavior have never been blurrier.
Fathers raising sons today find themselves needing to convey new rules to their children they themselves don't fully comprehend. Is it still OK to hit a bully back when provoked? Still OK to compete fiercely on the field of sport? Still OK to even tell a girl you like her, let alone try to kiss her?
Despite The Best Gillette Could Get being a saccharine spot destined to instigate divisiveness and derision, it did accomplish one important goal: in the days since the ad’s airing, it has been among the Internet's hottest topics. And considering the subject matter, that can only be a good thing.
Maybe this wasn't the best medium for the message. But we, us dads, can make it better—by embracing the new rules of manhood with an eye toward teaching our sons how to function in this much-improved yet more tenuous world. A shaving company can start a conversation; it is up to us, as fathers, to continue it in a way that prepares our boys to be responsible adults. That's The Best a Man Can Get out of Gillette's poorly-executed—yet also excellent—message.