Gillette:  The Best a Man Can Do Without

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Imagine a large company that makes products exclusively for women producing an ad criticizing not just the way some women act but the way women are.

The stock price would plummet to nickels-on-the-dollar territory faster than you can say “girl-friend.”

Yet that’s what Proctor & Gamble has chosen to do to the customers of one of its products, a disposable razor made by a disposable company.

“We Believe:  The Best Men Can Be” is a 1-minute-48-second attack on men, ostensibly designed to sell razors to, you guessed it, men.

The game is given away 3 seconds in, with a narrator intoning the words “toxic masculinity.” Once you’ve uttered the term in earnest, you have lost all credibility. That’s because the implication of it isn’t that some men misuse masculinity in some circumstances, but that there’s something poisonous (“toxic”) about masculinity.

At 32 seconds, we get to the point:  two small boys around 6 years old in a yard settling a disagreement with their fists, while an endless row of dads standing behind smoking grills keep saying “Boys will be boys.”

That scene is interspersed with a gang of adolescent boys chasing a boy about 12 with a backpack they have apparently labeled a “Freak.” We get five different looks at that one (at 9 seconds, 1:05, 1:08, 1:22, and 1:26) – slightly more than the number of scenes of men behaving provocatively when encountering women who are underdressed (at 18 seconds, 21 seconds, 56 seconds, and 1:01).

There’s a lot more to the ad – I counted 13 visual storylines. But the boys in the back yard is the one that holds up the rest, because the idea of the ad is to try to catch it while they’re young and stamp it out – “And there will be no going back,” the narrator says at 47 seconds.

No going back to what?

Well, to the days when Gillette called itself “The Best a Man Can Get,” with a closeup of a newly shaved dark-haired young man being kissed on the cheek by a young woman. Yes, the current makers of Gillette razors actually do a mea culpa for a 1980s television ad produced by The Gillette Company of South Boston. (Which no longer exists; pay no attention to the big sign in Southie; it’s just a regional office of P&G.)

But mostly back to the days when boys could be encouraged to embrace their nature. In other words:  Back to the days of masculinity.

The boys-in-the-back-yard scene cannot have been storyboarded by a male who had a healthy childhood. It was either written by a woman who has totally missed what males are about; or by a man with a deeply troubled upbringing.

Ninety-five-percent-plus of grown men look at the scene and see it for what it is:  Two boys dealing with a dispute by resolving it. Such a fight between 6-year-olds – and right now I am remembering such a fight when I was 6, with my then-best friend, who is still a friend today – isn’t an example of “toxic masculinity.” It’s an example of masculinity driving toxins out of the system.

Once the fight is over, assuming each kid has gotten a few blows in, the problem is over. Within a short amount of time, the two boys are likely to go back to playing with each other — not forgetting that they fought, but having gotten rid of the bad feeling that led to the fight. It’s like throwing up – it’s a tough experience, but it’s a lot worse before it happens than after.

I do not expect the female half of the human race to understand this description fully. But if you’ve seen it in action, you know it’s true.

And it has nothing to do with ganging up on a weaker person with a bunch of other people as an adolescent. It has even less to do with ogling or propositioning a provocatively posed female as an adult.

But making the non-existent connection is crucial to the ad, because malice and lust are not uniquely masculine traits.

What’s the proper response to this ad? Outrage is plentiful, and it’s useful, but limited. Let’s look at some cold, linear facts.

Proctor & Gamble, the company that owns the Gillette brand, is trading close to its 52-week high.

The stock price of Unilever, the company that owns Dollar Shave Club, is trading near a 52-week low.

That doesn’t seem right.

The masculine thing to do here is to resolve this problem.

“Boys will be boys …”