In his flustered, vitriolic, testerical response to Gillette’s new advertising campaign, Piers Morgan has shown himself to be a far bigger snowflake than the millennials he loathes. The advert was released on 13 January, and the controversy that has so far arisen only goes to prove the point that the ad is making. In times like these, the internet and the swirling vortex of bitterness it incubates can give the false impression of opinion divided straight down the middle: a dialectical struggle between two uncompromising halves – a kingdom divided in two. That is not the case. In this debate, as in many others, the vast majority of humanity is caught, uncomfortably, somewhere in the middle.
Most of us are caught in the awkward position of choosing sides in an apparently imminent culture war – with the bastions of old-style masculinity on one side, and the virtue-signalling, Instagram-socialists now allied with giant toiletry conglomerates on the other. This hyperbolic show-down rhetoric is overblown. In the furore surrounding this advert, we seem to have forgotten how little it contains which should genuinely offend.
Firstly, this advert is not an attack on men as individuals, or as a whole. It is a rallying cry for improvement, and more specifically, for self-improvement. The ad encourages men to regulate and support each other in an effort to eradicate the more harmful side-effects of toxic masculinity. These effects – it can be said without reasonable doubt – are conspicuous, universal, and damaging to all genders. For the first time in our history, we are beginning to engage in a global conversation about the root causes of these side-effects, and how they can be avoided and curtailed, if not actually banished to the dustbin of history. That is overwhelmingly a good thing – and a slightly patronising advert, with inevitably commercial motivations, does not change that. This advert is a symptom of a wider cultural shift. Marketing has always been about manipulation of values. The fact that Proctor and Gamble have aimed at manipulating modern values of sexual and gender equality can only be a sign of times changing for the better.
Toxic masculinity can be a label too often thrown around, with too little thought. No-one is helped by a thick-headed effort to confuse masculinity as a whole with acts of hate, violence, and abuse. Let us state plainly that there are some masculine traits which are not only useful but beneficial – and are anyway likely embedded on a level too deep for Gillette’s advertising executives to eradicate. The advert is slightly troubling in its assertion that bullying (and especially cyber-bullying) is a predominantly male concern. It has been known for some time now that cyber-bullying is much more likely to affect the lives of teenage girls than teenage boys. But outrage towards arguments like the one this ad is making stem from a place of male victimhood, and therefore from male weakness. If your masculinity can be threatened by a strong woman speaking her mind, or even from a razor company’s slightly PC advertising campaign, then you are not strong.
Image: Lorie Shaull via Flickr