Home » Razors and Masculinity: Creating a False Perception of Reality

Razors and Masculinity: Creating a False Perception of Reality

This video has caused a lot of controversy over the last couple of days. So much so that it has caused me to do two things. First, I’ve pre-empte the post originally scheduled for today, and second, I’m late posting this as I’ve worked hard to make sure that what I say conveys my meaning accurately without being overly in-your-face, or provocative.

Yeah, making noise gets you noticed, but it doesn’t really get you listened to, except by those who already agree with you. If I want to establish communication with those in opposition, and in this case, I desperately want to do so, it is on me to present my ideas in a way that is accessible, and doesn’t set them off or put them on the defensive. At the same time, I cannot water down my position so far that it becomes meaningless, or easily dismissible.

It creates a very narrow tightrope.

The bottom line is this: the Gillette video is sexist, demeaning, and an attack on men. And to steal a hashtag from the opposition, #yesallmen.

Before we get started, please watch the video, if you haven’t already. I’m going to refer to specific scenes and unless you’ve watched them, my comments won’t have the same effect.

Setting the tone.

“Bullying, metoo, toxic masculinity” The video opens with men staring into the mirror with what could be described as haunted looks in their eyes as voice overs announce a litany of attacks on men, followed by the announcer asking, “Is this the best a man can get?” Right from the start, the video defines men by the lowest behaviors imaginable. Sexual harassment and assault. Victimization. Sexism. Is there anybody anywhere who would say that these characteristics define men to the exclusion of all else? And that these actions define men as the best they can be?

Of course not. At least, nobody sane. But for the purpose of this commercial, we’ve just defined the basic nature of man as brutish, violent, and toxic.

And people don’t understand why men are reacting badly to this? This is how you start a discussion? Really? You’ve just announced that, up until this razor company decided to make a stand, that violence and oppression are the definitions of manhood. This is the standard for men. The best that could be hoped for. And that’s garbage. It’s a false assumption but it is the basis for everything that follows.

Doubling down.

Next, we get reinforcing images of the awfulness of the male sex, a group of boys chasing another boy, scared and running for his life. A young boy clinging to his mother while word balloons with pejoratives fill the screen. A cartoon of a woman primping and men whistling. Scene after scene culminating with a long line of men standing behind grills, chanting “Boys will be boys will be boys,” while two boys wrestle in the grass.

The message is clear. All the images that have been used apply to all men. This is the norm. Men suck.

If you think I’m being one side or overstating the case, I invite you to watch the video again. The words and images are inescapable. This is not an indictment of certain behaviors; this is an attack on all men, defining all of them by these behaviors. It is a caricature of men, promoting the “othering” of men, reducing to objects rather than people.

Watch the video and tell me I’m wrong. You can’t, not if you’re being honest.

We are saved!

Then the hopeful strains of violins swells as the voiceover announces “Then something changed” as news reports shift to the #metoo campaign. The screen fills with story after story and we see a group of men in a studio, shifting around and looking uncomfortable as the voice intones “and there will be no going back” while a woman in the audience smiles.

First, we’re reinforcing that men, up until this point, are all bad. But now, things are going to be better, because of #metoo. Things are now going to change!

Change from what? To what? The pre-change status, as I’ve pointed out, is a phantasm, a chimerical jumble of fictions mashed up to create a false picture of men and their role in society and culture. And if the starting point is so messed up, what does that say about the supposed transition? Is what we are changing to any more real? Or is it also a fantasy?

Men 2.0

We are treated to a montage of men not behaving badly. Restraining each other. Protecting women (Isn’t that sexist?). Defending the weak against bullies. This new man is a wonder to behold. Sturdy, stalwart, and praiseworthy in action. The segment concludes with a young boy looking at his father in adoration after dad saved a kid from bullies.

Surprisingly, this is the most accurate segment of the entire commercial. The only inaccuracy is in its placement. Because here’s the dirty little secret that the writer of this commercial doesn’t want you to know.

Man 2.0? That’s us right now. Men do stand up and defend the weak right now. Men also protect women from predators. In fact, every behavior shown in the latter half of the video represents the ideals of manhood going back thousands of years. Think Camelot. Think chivalry. Hell, think of the Boy Scouts.

This is nothing new. It’s what men have done forever. Only within the false premise of this commercial does this seem like new behavior.

Reality check.

Like any group, men are varied. We encompass heroes and villains. We are no different from women in this regard. There are good ones and bad ones. But to deliberately define us all based on the behaviors of the worst, while ignoring the behaviors of our best is not a reflection of reality, nor is it a tactic of a group wanting an honest discussion. It’s propaganda, meant to manipulate the public into a desired behavior by creating a pattern of beliefs. If we engage in discussion with this commercial as a starting premise, we all lose because the premise is false.

The programmers principle of garbage-in, garbage-out applies. If we start with a false premise, our conclusions, no matter how much we want to think otherwise, will also be false.

That’s the danger of this thing. It seeks to create a false perception of reality, one that is biased towards a specific outcome.

The reality is complex; it’s messy and defies easy pigeon holing. Complicating matters further, some of the behaviors shown as negative have positive aspects as well. For example, the scene where the man stops another man from following and approaching a woman illustrates a place where physical dominance could quickly become a factor. De-escalation is much easier with a credible show of strength. Weakness at this point would very likely trigger a physical attack. The aggressive behaviors of young boys are normal, and should be channeled, not repressed. Competitiveness can be used to hone skills and improve discipline. Like it or not, we are physical beings with animal instincts and behaviors. Understanding and harnessing them works a lot better than repressing them.

Can you have a real conversation over a commercial?

That’s the key point here. Do we really want to have a dialog over a TV commercial? Is that the right place? Is Gillette the right moderator to control a conversation about gender roles and relations? Is it any of their business?

Do they really care?

Of course they don’t. Their job is to sell razors. Some bright boy (or girl) decided that cashing in on #metoo would be an excellent way to perk up flagging sales for razors, given the twin threats of bears and discount mail order razors that are threatening their current business model. Make themselves the trendy hero and sales will blossom. It’s cynical, but effective. But what it isn’t is a legitimate basis for an important discussion.

5 Responses to “Razors and Masculinity: Creating a False Perception of Reality”

  1. Kathleen Sanderson says:

    Excellent, excellent blog post! Thanks for taking the time to think this through and then write about it.

  2. Rachel Williams says:

    Great analysis and spot on as far as I’m concerned. Most of us reacting to this ad jump right over the bottom line – the primary motivation is increasing sales. That must be kept in mind, as well as the saying that even negative publicity is good advertising. We will have to wait and see, as we are with Nike. Then it gets more complicated. I’ve come to realize that when the Left starts a “conversation”, they are not at all interested in a serious discussion. They are laying out the narrative, and if one strays from that, one will be demonized. The serious discussion in this matter is how men are much less involved in raising children than in the past because of the long term results of Pres. Johnson’s Great Society and many other government policies, and men are very much needed in this endeavor. So let’s talk about how to strengthen the family unit; lets talk about counting a reduction in the welfare roles as success instead of applauding increases in the welfare roles. Let’s talk about the War on Men.

  3. Kathy says:

    Well done post! Thought out response to what could be taken personally. A harder situation to write clearly and well.

    There is a flip side to the ad’s message that angers me. They say that men pick on victims, thus also saying that all women and some men are victims. This mental mindset that being a victim is somehow good really gets to me. I see that victim thinking is often a way of avoiding personal responsibility.

  4. Wyldkat says:

    Thank you. This is everything I was thinking and then some. Very well said, Sir.

    I notice that, as of this comment, all the people responding are women. 😉 Could it be that many women also saw this commercial as offensive?

    I saw the video (or at least one of them), most of the comments were negative. People, men and women, were saying they were offended.

    Maybe P&G will get the message: sell your product, not a message

  5. Mrs Halmos says:

    thank you

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