Gillette’s act of taking a sharp blade to toxic masculinity surely is full of controversy. It is hard to be part of the conversation if you have not seen the short film the company created. Please watch it. Despite its short duration, under two minutes, this has created a significant social divide that took social media by storm. Like many others, I knew that I would want to write about this, because it is newsworthy. Rather than comment from a knee-jerk reaction, I am glad to have taken the time to be with my thoughts.
Even if people do not like the short film, it may have already proven to have done its job. Proctor & Gamble, the corporate behemoth that owns Gillette, might literally live up to its name in the oddest way. By commissioning this marketing piece, it appears that P&G is supervising a bet with an uncertain outcome. [If you love language as I do, you really cannot make this stuff up.] After all, Gillette sells razors. Will it shave off market share, or will it grow like weeds? An online survey of dissenting comments suggests that this has turned off over a million YouTube viewers alone. Ouch, that’s quite a nick to the bottom line.
Then again, maybe this is exactly the kind of corporate calculus that P&G and Gillette wanted. By taking a sharp blade to toxic masculinity, these big businesses demonstrate the risk required to take a stand. Through this film, two corporations ask men to step up and shift their attitudes and behaviors in the #MeToo era. The piece also demonstrates a strong message about bullying, a topic that is also very close to my heart.
Marketing and messaging like this would never have existed back in the 1970s when I was a very young person. It was during that time, and into the 1980s when I faced bullying like you could not believe.
I remember my dad as a strong, masculine person. His involvement in my life grew as my interest in Scouting grew. He taught me how to do many things that, looking back, taught me self-sufficiency. But, one thing he didn’t do was teach me how to fight or to encourage it. I do recall that he and my mother did sign me up for judo lessons to help me establish self-confidence. However, during that era of my life, I never gained self-confidence, and never felt strong enough to fight back. The bullying was severe and took quite a toll on me. Years later, as a high school sophomore, a bully confronted me to the extent that I had to fully defend myself. Although I hated judo, I do recall doing a lot of kicking to defend myself!
My mother was also very much in the picture, as I recall, though. And her role was direct and pivotal. She was fairly well acquainted with the mother of one of the neighborhood bullies. So, she attempted some neighborhood diplomacy by paying the bully’s mother a visit. She asked her to talk to her son about just leaving me alone. The bully’s mother responded that “boys will be boys.” It’s an exchange that I’ll never forget, most especially because a woman defended what I refer to as toxic masculinity. The short film does suggest, and would have viewers believe that men are solely responsible for encouraging bad behavior.
When a boy bullies another boy, it is toxic masculinity because that action is debilitating, harsh, harmful, and malicious. Long after the physical and psychological attacks have ended, bullied boys grow up with so many issues. Can I send a bill to the myriad of my attackers for the psychological counseling that I have paid for over all of these years? I spent decades living under the shadow of my full potential, afraid of more attacks on my fragile masculinity. Will the bullies pay up on all of my lost compensation because I was unable to thrive sooner than later?
In all seriousness, today I do not look to collect on those losses. I turned my life around and transformed those losses into gifts. But, it is crucial to point out that those losses are real. And those losses happen to millions of boys – and girls – every single day. I think about the toxic masculinity that has boys and men killing fellow human beings with guns. Schools, movie theatres, shopping malls, and other public gathering places are the places that gun-toting men target. Toxic masculinity is real, dangerous, threatening, and sometimes it kills.
It’s not all at the fault of men that boys develop toxic masculinity. As I mentioned about the neighbor, mothers of boys still make excuses for their sons. Fortunately, I am lucky to have survived all of that trauma. And I consider myself the beneficiary of some incredible empathy from my parents, who passed along that gift to me.
So, here we are in 2019, and we still have huge problems with men. Men my age, plus men older and younger, grew up under the watch of complicit parents, teachers and caregivers. The time to put an end to this is now. Whether or not you buy Gillette blades is immaterial to the conversation the company dared to start. It certainly may not be the ideal short film from a business perspective because it may cost them business. Also, it depicts boys and men in a certain skewed, limited, incomplete, and in a not altogether accurate light.
As the film harkened me back to the bully’s mother’s refrain that boys will be boys, I had another thought. Who says that all boys and men have to exhibit the kind of behaviors most stereotypically associated with masculinity? It has to be okay that some boys are softer, as others are tougher. What if the boys who appear softer on the outside are actually tougher on the inside? That is definitely the way I have always seen myself. That is my gift and it does not make me one iota less of a man than any other man.
We do not have to redefine what it is to be masculine. What we must do is to think more expansively and inclusively about the qualities usually associated with being a man. When we do, I believe that we help men become the best that men can be.
I’m taking a sharp blade to toxic masculinity. Are you willing to do the same?
Included in my company’s offering of style seminars and workshops is one particularly dear to my heart and is the theme of a forthcoming book. Beat Bullying and Feel Better About Who You Are is a workshop that takes on the subject of bullying and shows how to “Challenge Yourself to Become the Very Best Version of Yourself.” To read more about my STYLE SEMINARS, click here.