No one who saw the new Gillette ad “The Best Men Can Be” thought it would be universally embraced. It establishes the state of masculinity today with various scenes of men acting sexist, boys physically and mentally terrorizing each other, and dads accepting a “Boys will be boys” mentality, before dramatically pivoting.
The wide range of reactions was, of course, the point: to create a conversation starter. To rile people and get them talking about Gillette. To increase brand recognition amid Gillette’s declining market share and, ultimately, make Procter & Gamble more money. Much of the criticism of the ad has revolved around the company’s motives.
Yet P&G can have financial incentives and still make an ad worth lauding. These two things are not mutually exclusive. And this ad is a step in the right direction, because the more we collectively hear the message that sexual harassment is unacceptable, that bullying is wrong, and that helping victims is noble, the more this message will shape our—and our children’s—everyday choices. We need to get messages like this from our leaders, teachers, parents—and from television shows, movies, books, songs, and advertisements. Cultural shifts happen when every aspect of culture embraces and normalizes a change.
This argument, of course, rests on the assumption that we need this message at all. Many of the ad’s critics think we don’t. But let me tell you: We do. The centerpiece of this ad isn’t grown men; it’s kids. The ad climaxes with footage of sweet-faced lads and the lesson “The boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.” Gillette’s argument is that we need to be careful with the choices we make as adults because children learn decency and morality from us. As Slate’s science-based parenting columnist for the past six years—a job that has given me the opportunity to interview dozens of psychologists, social scientists, and pediatricians about the factors that shape child behavior and character—I agree passionately with this idea. Kids learn by watching what we do, not by listening to what we say, and boys in particular absorb a lot from their fathers as well as from male public figures. They watch prominent men in their lives stick up, or not, for victims of bullying or sexual harassment. They watch how men treat their girlfriends and wives and interact with women in public. Many boys watched one man, the president of the United States, publicly mock a woman who testified to Congress that she was a victim of sexual assault. Many also heard him brag about grabbing women “by the pussy.”
And right now, kids are learning bad things from what they see and hear. [Continue reading…]
The Covington Catholic “Colonel Crazies” compilation video below was originally included on the school’s official YouTube channel but has since been removed, presumably because it is cause of embarrassment and reveals too much about the all-boys school’s toxic culture: