Last January, Gillette launched a new ad titled “We Believe: The Best a Man Can Give.” A new take on Gillette’s 30-year-old slogan “The Best a Man Can Get,” the two-minute video reflects on a few current issues affecting today’s culture such as bullying and the over-sexualization of women in media. These issues are depicted in scenes that portray young men being bullied and women being harassed by other men.
The ad takes a turn when a voiceover interjects with this question: “Is this the best a man can get?”
The commercial then depicts scenes of men actively taking a stand against toxic behavior. Men are helping protect their children from bullies and intervening in moments of sexual harassment.
The ad blew up with millions of views in a matter of hours, and the hashtag #GilletteAd trended on twitter. The ad adequately acknowledged apparent issues in traditional male behaviors and its effect on our culture today, and many were deeply moved by the ad’s overall message.
Likewise, the ad also sparked intense backlash and divided an audience. It stirred debates and made many wonder if the commercial perpetuates anti-male rhetoric and criticizes traditional masculine qualities.
Research earlier that year does seem to support some of the conversations regarding toxic masculinity’s negative impact on culture today, though. In a report by the American Psychological Society (APA), researchers found that toxic masculinity (or traditional masculinity, as they say in the report) has been linked to higher rates of completed suicide, violence, substance abuse, cardiovascular problems, and early mortality.
“Men can be tough and protective, and they can be empathetic and vulnerable. Men can be strong and decisive, and they can be intuitive and patient.”
According to APA’s report, research shows there is a set of unspoken (and sometimes spoken) expectations that surround men which perpetuates toxic behavior, such as suppressing emotions, and violence as an indicator of power. In other words, toxic masculinity is what can come of teaching boys that they are weak if they openly express their emotions and are not tough all the time.
The report states:
“Socialization for conforming to traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict (Pleck, 1981, 1995; O’Neil, 2008; O’Neil & Renzulli, 2013), and negatively influence mental health (e.g., O’Neil, 2008, 2013, 2015) and physical health (Courtenay, 2011; Gough & Robertson, 2017). Indeed, boys and men are overrepresented in a variety of psychological and social problems.”
So, has our definition of a good man changed? Should we abandon what has been the traditional ways of learning to be a gentleman?
It seems that the issues that surround these toxic ideologies aren’t necessarily in masculinity, or men, itself. There are many ways that men — and women — can exhibit unhealthy behavior that leave a negative impact on society. As Gillette’s ad encourages, it’s our responsibility to highlight areas that leave a positive impact, and identity and fix areas that are leaving a negative one.
So maybe it’s our responsibility to not put limitations around the definition of a man. Men can be tough and protective, and they can be empathetic and vulnerable. Men can be strong and decisive, and they can be intuitive and patient. Men have a number of strengths that play very important roles in our society. Let’s take some time to celebrate those and model the best a man can be.