As men, there is no question that we need to be talking about toxic masculinity, confronting its harmful influence within ourselves, and striving to be better to those around us. These conversations both with others and within ourselves are necessary, but difficult, as we are compelled to reflect on past actions that have hurt others. Men who refuse to have these dialogues may get defensive and angry when the topic is brought up. This refusal may explain why so many men have lashed out at Gillette’s recent commercial condemning toxic masculinity and urging men to hold each other accountable for their actions. In response, many have pointed out that the commercial brings up valid critiques of behavior that oftentimes is socially acceptable.
However, the debate around the Gillette commercial has sidelined discussion around a concerning topic: the Gillette commercial was, ultimately, an advertisement. Even though the advertisement’s impact on sales cannot be gauged yet, the controversy surrounding it has made the word “Gillette” more commonplace in everyday discussion. Search interest in Gillette reached an all-time high after the video’s release. Some may say that the intent of the message was not primarily to generate sales, but if this were true, then why not release it on behalf of Gillette’s parent company, Proctor and Gamble, instead? That name has much less brand recognition than that of Gillette. Use of a recognizable brand name and a modified version of Gillette’s slogan: “Is this ‘the best a man can get’” exposes Gillette’s financial motives in creating the commercial.
I can already hear the counter-argument as I write: “So what if Gillette had a financial incentive? They are being socially responsible by supporting the #MeToo movement!” Although I could respond by saying that it’s unethical to profit off of social movements, there are still serious issues of power and influence that bubble beneath the surface. We need to ask who is and who should be controlling the conversation surrounding not just toxic masculinity, but social movements in general. It should be people who are fighting against sexual violence, people who are fighting for a $15 an hour wage, people who are fighting against racism in the workplace. It shouldn’t be corporate elites deliberating in a Boston boardroom. If we allow corporations and elites to control the discussion around social movements, we allow them to steal the movements’ soul, to co-opt the movements themselves. If this should occur, movements will be unable to attain their goals because corporations are directly linked to capitalism and the power structures of patriarchy and white supremacy.
If social movements will only be harmed by commercialization, how do we confront and defeat toxic masculinity? Unlike what the Gillette commercial would have you believe, the solution is not individualism. Although this fact does not give us men a carte blanche to ignore our behavior, we must realize that the true solution is to confront the tangible institutions and the elites that perpetuate this economic system and its oppressive power structures. That means we must stand up to Bates for its homogenous admissions practices, to the police when they refuse to investigate sexual violence, and to Gillette for profiting off a movement that was started by and for women of color, 12 years ago.