Sometimes I feel like I live in a parallel universe. Much like the debate surrounding ‘is it Yanny or Laurel?’ or that dress which seemed to change colour, I’ve once again been on the Interweb and wondered what on earth people are going on about. This week’s web-based controversy? A Gillette advert.
Shaving company Gillette has been bombarded with both praise and abuse after launching an advertising campaign calling out toxic masculinity. Referencing the #MeToo movement, the campaign replaces its well-known tagline “The best a man can get” with “The best men can be”. Cue divided opinion, ranty newspaper columns, boycotting and a lot of swearing in the comments section.
So, what do we even mean by ‘toxic masculinity’? It’s not that all men and traditional masculine traits are ‘evil’ or damaging, rather this is a way to describe how the patriarchy is harmful to men. It refers to the socially-constructed attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive and so forth.
Macho images are harming men. The biggest killer of men aged under 30 is suicide. Teenage boys now make up one in ten eating disorder sufferers. This can result in depression, drug dependency and dangerous, unhealthy lifestyles. But things are changing, with an increase in men talking openly about mental health and reporting sexual crimes perpetrated against them.
But there are still those who insist on pushing the ‘man up’ mentality. One of these people being Good Morning Britain host, Piers Morgan, who, not content with taking offence over a sausage roll and claiming celebrities are trying to make mental illness fashionable, has ranted about Gillette’s latest offering.
Peppering his argument with his usual ‘snowflake’, ‘virtue-signalling’, ‘this is PC guff’ bollocks, Morgan accuses Gillette of suggesting that it’s harmful to be masculine, to be a man.
“Women aren’t perfect,” rages Morgan on GMB and I can’t help thinking “well, no, of course we’re not” because perfection doesn’t exist. The way we’ve been urged to chase unattainable ideals is half the problem.
“Masculine men are being driven out of society,” he continues. “If we showed the worst of women, all hell would break loose.”
Uh, Morgan. The world has been pissing women off for years and hell has yet to break loose. But we’ve got to remember this is a person who makes a living arguing about everything. I’m more concerned about public opinion.
Under a YouTube video of his rant on GMB, users have left comments such as: “Never buying a Gillette product again. Feminism is cancer” and “Toxic feminism is destroying men. Millennial men are now like women”.
Morgan’s GMB co-star Susanna Reid bears the brunt of the aggressive comments and is referred to as a “disgusting rancid Feminist” who should “fuck off and die” as well being called a “c**t”. And they say toxic masculinity doesn’t exist.
Why are people so angry? I’d love to dismiss Morgan as an odious dinosaur but that’s too simplistic. Morgan, and men (and women) who wrote those hate-filled comments on social media, feel like they’re under attack. While the way they articulate their fear is deplorable, that fear is a tangible thing. There’s a huge part of me that wants to say “well, welcome to our world” but I don’t. After all, what will that resolve? I identify as a feminist not because I’m anti-man but because I’m pro-equality. Both sexes have been hemmed in by harmful and stringent gender roles.
I like the advert. But is it perfect? No.
Advertisers exploit what’s going on in the world (after all, any publicity is good publicity) and Gillette, like other big companies, has been accused of engaging in dubious corporate activities. It’s astonishing that this advert of all things is the catalyst for a backlash against the beauty giant.
But can I support the message that men should take accountability for clearing up toxic masculinity by changing their attitudes and calling out bad behaviour? Yes, I can.
Meanwhile, someone needs to buy Morgan a dictionary. Or maybe a vegan sausage roll?