Another Example of Commercial Woke-Washing
With the shutdown of US government at the hands of the most puerile and incompetent leader the free world has ever seen, and a different famous face being accused or charged with sexual assault against women on a weekly basis, it seems the well of principled male role models has dried up. But fear not, corporate giants ‘Gillette’ are here to set the world’s men back on track.
But how can the big businesses, so malevolent and money-grabbing, suddenly become the moral compass of our society? Take last week’s contentious advert titled “The Best Men Can Be” for example. Causing much furore in the days after its release, the advert dissects the male identity and exposes the damaging expectations placed on young boys today. It tackles issues such as sexism in the media, workplace misogyny and the #MeToo movement. Overall it all seems pretty on the nose.
“73% of millennials are likely to pay more for socially-conscious products, corporations have wised up to profits to be had simply by playing the hero. Clearly, it’s lucrative to be liberal.”
However, I can’t help but notice how Gillette’s sudden and bodacious display of moral integrity has coincided with its control of the razor market dropping from 70% to under 50% in the last decade. Don’t get me wrong, I think the advert is sending out the right message; the problem of rigid gender expectations is suffocating young men and urgently needs to be addressed. But to me, this mawkish marketing ploy is a perfect example of “woke-washing”: when companies co-opt social justice movements for nothing more than a capitalist gambit. In a society where 73% of millennials are likely to pay more for socially-conscious products, corporations have wised up to profits to be had simply by playing the hero. Clearly, it’s lucrative to be liberal.
Except, behind these false pretences of virtue is usually a vacuum where a company’s moral heart should be. Cosmetics brand CoverGirl was lauded for its #GirlsCan campaign featuring stars like Ellen DeGeneres encouraging young women to “just be yourself and you can”. Yet, this is a brand that has spent 50 years telling women that “your personality needs layers, your face doesn’t”. To be clear, a love for makeup and a passion for feminism are by no means mutually exclusive traits, but this dramatic switch from dictators of the female appearance to purveyors of shallow “girl power” is evidence of a business bandwagoning onto the feminism trend for nothing more than capital gain.
What’s more, this behaviour isn’t just confined to screens and billboards. Once a defiant and nonconformist social and political protest for gay rights, LGBTQ pride events have become tainted by the domineering presence of rainbow-drenched logos and advertising. In the 2015 Chicago Pride Parade, more than half of the 253 participants were big businesses and banks, according to Project Queer. In comparison, LGBTQ groups represented a mere less than 10% of the participants. Pink capitalism has stolen the rainbow stripped away its meaning and consequently, the identity of the community itself is being diluted.
All this aside, there are companies that do appear to have genuine, authentic consciences. Lush, the British cosmetic retailer has built an empire founded on an ethos of cruelty-free products, the sole use of eco-friendly ingredients and constant fundraising for charitable causes. With a staggering $10,000,000 has been donated to over 850 grassroots charities in 42 countries, Lush really does put its money where its mouth is.
Evidently, being commercially successful and ethically driven are not diametrically opposed. So, I will be waiting with bated breath for Gillette to beard the lion and donate a portion of its profits to, for example, a men’s mental health charity after such a spectacular show of support for the dismantling of the patriarchy. Until then, I wonder if disingenuous exhibitions of solidarity with the latest social justice trends are really the best that brands can be.
Shaving Us from Toxic Masculinity?
After watching the Gillette advert, I was instantly impressed by how they managed to create such a positive image of men holding each other accountable for acts of damaging masculinity. I was struck by an optimistic feeling that men need to start working together to dispel the products of toxic masculinity; namely, sexual harassment, talking down to women (or “mansplaining”) and excusing bullying and aggression with the saying ‘boys will be boys’. On the other hand, the advert also showed the best parts of masculinity, with men supporting each other and leading by example.
The video effectively tackles toxic masculinity in a #MeToo context, showing clips of news reporters talking about the movement, including a short section of Terry Crews testifying to Congress. In a society increasingly trying to fight outdated and damaging conventions, Gillette has decided to join in, attempting to do their part in promoting a culture that questions traditional destructive gender roles. This advert could not be more currently relevant, with more and more high-profile cases coming to light of sexual harassment, such as the allegations against R. Kelly and Chris Brown.
However, the advert was not just focused on behaviour related to women, but all the ramifications of toxic masculinity, interrogating the worst parts of masculinity by simultaneously promoting the best parts. They changed their famous slogan from “the best a man can get” to “the best men can be”, focusing on a global community of men, working together. It also comes soon after the American Psychological Association published new guidelines arguing that ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ is based on qualities like ‘adventure, risk, and violence’. They suggest this masculinity is based on displays of power, money, being a risk-taker or aggression, whilst any association with traditionally feminine attributes, like sensitivity is un-masculine and wrong.
“The advert was not just focused on behaviour relating to women, but all instances of toxic masculinity, interrogating the worst parts of masculinity by simultaneously promoting the best parts.”
Very soon after finishing the advert I scrolled down to some of the comments on Youtube arguing Gillette had gone a step too far in the name of political correctness or that the advert was feminist propaganda aiming to completely demolish all masculinity. There was an instant backlash of men vowing to boycott Gillette for the rest of their lives. And of course, Piers Morgan had to quickly weigh in, denouncing the company as he took their message to be: ‘men, ALL men, are bad, shameful people who need to be directed in how to be better people’. These people missed the point completely.
Unfortunately, the advert is an essential contribution to the current conversation. Men must hold one another accountable for their actions. By dispelling some of the myths of masculinity, Gillette is attempting to change the way it is traditionally seen. A lot of men saw it as a personal assault on their very identity and values, so it’s not a surprise the advert angered them. However, the fact that so many men instantly became so defensive about masculinity ironically emphasises how deeply ingrained gender roles are for some.
I understand some people’s reservations, that Gillette is simply trying to profit off of the back of a current popular movement. However, if a side-effect of this has the potential to better society in some way, I don’t have a problem with it. Particularly when this company could direct that message towards such a large male consumer base.
The advert is by no means an attack on all men. It is a call for men to have a look in the mirror (shown literally in the footage), to ensure they are doing all they can to contribute positively towards a constructive society. Now it is the rest of our turn, to follow through withholding one another accountable and ignoring old cliché excuses to create a productive society, purged of traditional gender expectations.