Because we live in a unique kind of hell where our brands are more accountable to our culture than our democratic institutions, we now have a predictable news cycle that includes all the predictable people getting predictably mad about a predictably manipulative commercial from one of America’s brand giants.
Credit where it’s due: this is a great commercial by Gillette.
This is why I’m including Gillette in my predictably cynical leftist take.
Gillette released a commercial that is legitimately important (that phrase is also a depressing indictment of America's political and moral institutions), and they publicly aligned themselves with popular will—all while their parent company funnels dollars to one of the saints of the toxic masculinity they aim to indict. American capitalism is really just one big shell game.
That said, we cannot let our cynicism get in the way of a real and honest conversation at the center of this debate that Gillette sparked. Toxic masculinity is a pox on this world, and men who want to be allies to women must take every opportunity they can to try to redefine masculinity in terms that emphasize respecting women, and embracing our inherent weaknesses.
We're not perfect, guys. Far from it.
At its core, that's all that this debate among men is: “I'm fine” versus “no you're not.” The predictable mix of hucksters and true believers on the right brought out all the familiar tropes during their meltdown that is still ongoing as I write this.
There is a kind of man in this world who cannot separate masculinity from the unchecked use of power—whether it’s physical power by restricting another person’s movement, intellectual power by “exposing” the “Hollywood conspiracy” to paint that kind of physical power as “toxic,” or cultural power by threatening to lead a boycott of one of the most ubiquitous brands in America. Regardless of why these men and women are angry at Gillette, it all comes down to power, and their grievance over men having less of it than they used to.
Less power to “mess” with their smaller and weaker compatriots. Less power to “be a man” by continuously making unwanted advances towards random women. Less power over women in the workplace. Less power to dismiss these abuses of power with self-perpetuating mottos like “boys will be boys.”
We find ourselves in the middle of a legitimate cultural revolution being led by the women of America. The sexual revolution upended the 1960s, and it bled into a corporate revolution in the following decades, evolving to the point where it was expected for women to be out of the house and working by the turn of the century, despite that being a laughable assertion a half-century before it. Like everything in the 1990s, we treated this as the end of history, and assumed that all the progress that needed to be made had been made, and ignored all the structural issues in our culture, economy and politics that still existed and caused untold pain and grief for half of the population.
#MeToo has had an impact on every single man in this country. We have all been forced to address the inherent misogyny so rampant in our culture that it is literally programmed into each and every one of us. We are complicit simply by being the beneficiaries of a culture that devalues women, and that realization is beginning to take root. One of two things has mainly occurred in response to this cognizance:
1. We have admitted mistakes and worked to correct them.
2. We’ve regressed into whiny little children screaming about how we’re not getting our way.
All the while, the powers that be have tried to play both sides to max out their profits. Gillette releases a legitimate “wow” commercial, all while their parent company pays handsomely to advertise on a Fox News show hosted by a man that stands for everything that the “wow” commercial stood against. Conflict is a profitable business model in America, and toxic masculinity is a key ingredient to economic growth. #MeToo has won and will win significant cultural victories that are ushering in a new and improved status quo for women. The question is whether economic titans like Procter and Gamble want this great leap forward for women to happen, or if they just want to pay lip service to it while standing in its way—all in the name of profits.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.