Leutz: Razor Thin Rage

Gillette’s most recent ad shows how fragile some Americans still are.

by Peter Leutz | 1/22/19 2:00am

Gillette, a men’s razors and shaving products brand, recently released an ad that questioned its own slogan this past Monday. In a campaign against toxic masculinity, the commercial asked consumers if “this was really the best a man can get,” calling for them to set a better example for the next generation of men. Adriana Cohen, writing at Real Clear Politics, called the ad a continuation of the “war on men.” As a member of the male community, I do not feel as if I am at war and would like to personally apologize to anyone who actually is at war for the laughably ridiculous comment. In contrast to Cohen and many others, I continue to be a supporter of free speech, and respect Gillette for risking economic consequences to make a statement, continuing the conversation about sexism and sexual assault. It is a conversation that clearly needs to continue given the extreme backlash to an ad that is far from insulting. 

Cohen was certainly not alone in her outrage with Gillette’s new ad campaign. In fact, the mere two-minute-long commercial left many in a rage. Against the spirit of basic decency pleaded for in the ad, social media exploded with images of Gillette razors in the garbage and pledges to never buy another. Manly. The right, whose favorite activity has been accusing liberals about how easily they are offended, now feels that a call for respectful behavior is an act of war. 

We now live in a world where a controversy has been drummed after a shaving company asks its viewers to respect women, and one another. This reality is precisely the concern reasonably asserted by Gillette this past Monday. Poetically timed exactly a week before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a holiday dedicated to a man who lived a life of peaceful protest for equality, conservative men across the nation threw down their razors in disgust and marched to the local drug store in search of a new Bic razor, one that represents masculinity that will wait for no woman. Pathetic. 

Perhaps the longest government shutdown in history has both sides of the aisle on edge, and the Gillette ad is just an opportunity to vent that frustrated energy. However, basic decency and respect shouldn’t be a political issue — it should be a given. If men are being unfairly blamed for our country’s legacy of sexism and sexual harassment, then who else is to blame? Furthermore, if this culture of sexism and sexual harassment no longer exists, then why do we have a president who quite famously bragged about grabbing women “by the p—y?” It’s time to wake up, fellas. By respecting women, masculinity is empowered not threatened.

It is important to note that those opposed to Gillette’s new commercial are a vocal minority. In fact, in a Morning Consult survey of over 2,000 American adults who were shown the ad immediately prior to being surveyed, 71 percent agreed that Gillette “shares their values,” up from 42 percent before seeing the commercial. Clearly, the opposition has been overstated. As a result, the study concluded that the economic repercussions of the Gillette ad will be negligible, and sales will only see a factional falter, if any at all. This result is not far outside the norm. Other major companies have taken a stand on social issues and reaped the rewards. This past fall, Nike released an ad campaign led by Colin Kaepernick. Swooshes were cut out, ripped off and straight-up set ablaze, while Nike’s value increased by $6 billion and the stock price soared. The modern consumer appreciates a company that is willing to take a stand on social issues. Regardless of backlash, Gillette’s new ad campaign followed profit-based precedent set by Nike. 

I support Gillette, but I’m far from ready to applaud them. The brand has been producing razor blades since 1901, and it took them 100 years to find out that women also shave. Gillette refused to market to 50 percent of the population an entire century, yet somehow it’s their customers (not them) who need to be warned about the persistence of sexism. If Gillette, as a brand, was as committed to equality as their most recent advertisement suggests, their slogan should reflect it.

Sexism is no doubt an outdated ill of society, and getting rid of it should be made a priority. However, this can’t be accomplished when activism is propped up by outdated arguments. For instance, there is no chorus of “boys will be boys” playing on repeat deep in the subconscious thinking of men across America. In fact, the only time I’ve ever heard that phrase is in conversations about sexism. It is points like these that threaten to invalidate entire arguments about the dangers of sexual harassment. Though frustrating that sexism, gender inequities and gender-based violence are not outrageous to everyone, our arguments exposing these issues must be carefully calculated to not just inspire those already on board, but to have the message reach those who need to hear it most.

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