OP-ED: What Gillette gets right in its controversial ad

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This opinion-editorial was written by Suan Sonna, freshman in political science and philosophy. If you would like to write an op-ed with the Collegian, send us an email at opinion@kstatecollegian.com to get started.

When Gillette released their “The Best Men Can Be” advertisement, there was a flurry of controversy around the ad’s message and implications for men: “Was Gillette generalizing and demonizing all men? Why are men so upset about a message on treating women with decency? Why is our culture so hellbent on critiquing and deconstructing masculinity? Why are men so butthurt over this ad?”

These questions from both sides are not unfounded, which makes this conversation all the more complicated. However, we need to set aside the rhetoric and look deeper into what Gillette got right and wrong in their new ad. My task in this article is to show the former.

What Gillette got right is that relationships in society, from friendships to romances, have deteriorated. Consider how men disproportionately suffer more from violence overall—often at the hands of other men. This problem is addressed near the end of the commercial when a father intervenes between two wrestling boys.

However, this scene has invited two interpretations—either Gillette is saying boys shouldn’t wrestle at all, or men should show other men (and boys) how to play without being excessively aggressive. The second interpretation is more justified, especially since Gillette shows a street fight being prevented by the direction of another man.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the commercial deals with the #MeToo movement and sexual assault. Let’s begin by acknowledging that women have been sexually assaulted by men and there are many incidents where such behavior isn’t properly handled and punished. The stories are too painful to write, so I will only hyperlink some of them.

These miscarriages of justice have caused many to doubt the efficacy of the presumption of innocence, and, among other things, the trustworthiness of men. Though the generalization is unfair, it demonstrates why Gillette is advocating that men must hold one another accountable. It is not saying that all men are guilty, or men aren’t also victims, but it is saying that instances of such behavior require intervention. This image presents men as leaders with strong moral codes and a sense of honor. I can’t imagine anything more masculine than that.

Furthermore, Gillette alludes to the problem of the objectification of women in the media. By objectification, I mean the representation of women as passive interests for men and not as fully realized characters with their own personalities and stories.

This problem is presented in the scene where an audience (of men) is laughing at a man pretending to grope a woman. Although I think I have a grasp of it, I’m not truly an expert about the media’s representation of women as objects, so I will allow my feminist colleagues to explain this point better than I can.

Finally, the scene where the corporate executive places his hand on the shoulder of one of his female colleagues and tries to “explain her idea for her” strikes close to home. I know of women in STEM fields, for example, who have been treated as if they don’t belong in their positions or “need help” being seen as more competent employees—even though they don’t.

We can all recall times where our actions were misperceived as being demeaning, or we intended a different outcome than what materialized. These situations call for an increased awareness of our actions, sophisticated communication and increased emotional intelligence.

I’m not talking about becoming “snowflakes.” I’m talking about becoming competent individuals who know how to navigate the world in a successful way. As the renowned clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson explains, our mission in life is to reduce unnecessary suffering in all its forms and become powerful communicators against life’s chaos.

We need to take responsibility for our actions and hold ourselves accountable to our neighbors. The essence of masculinity is duty and self-mastery—not selfishness and insecurity.

I’m sure those who disagree with me have objections to my interpretation, or may think my analysis doesn’t consider the whole context of the commercial. However, I will address those matters in my next article on where the ad goes wrong. My hope here is that we can at least get beyond the polarization and false rhetoric being levied against Gillette and yield a fairer conversation about what it does right.

Suan Sonna is a freshman in political science and philosophy. The views and opinions expressed in this opinion-editorial are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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