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A new Gillette ad encourages men to eschew the violence and aggression considered stereotypically ‘masculine’, and guess what, so many men got very, very angry…
Consider for a moment the everyday experience of a person of a non-cis-het male identity. The world doesn’t feel safe. Every step in a public place makes them vulnerable to leering, catcalling, unsolicited advances, jibes, and harassment: with the individual natures of these behaviours varying according to the gender identity of the target.
Homes, schools, and workplaces aren’t always safe, with everything from patriarchal restrictions to outright violence being meted out in different measures.
Now consider the everyday experience of a cis-het male. Admittedly with some exceptions where they are and can be vulnerable to violence, the world is their oyster for the most part. They don’t have to think about their routes so they get to avoid harassment. They don’t have to think about ways to get home before dark to avoid potential harassment. I could go on with this list, but you probably get my drift. For all we know, a majority from this group is busy making life difficult for non-cis-het people.
Now, when I tell you that all it takes is for you to hold up a mirror to group 2, to send them in a tizzy, I’m sure the irony is enough of a comedy show in itself.
That’s exactly what happened when Gillette decided to question if “this” is the best that men can get. “This” translates to everything that’s problematic about toxic masculinity.
The short video makes a powerful presentation and a moving appeal. Each frame shows you the many faces of patriarchy, and presents an equally powerful route to how men can turn patriarchy on its head and pull the plug on structural violence. In less than two minutes, the video shows you that there is one cookie-cutter view of masculinity and non-conformity with by men and boys also leads to violence. In less than two minutes, the video presents you with a powerful reminder that patriarchy dehumanises men, and makes victims out of them, too.
The ad appears to have evoked a defensive reaction that presents the very toxic masculinity that the ad serves to keep in check. From Piers Morgan to the average cis-het male twitter user, many have thrown up disdain, defensiveness, anger, and even hate for women in response to the advertisement.
In all the responses that hold onto some part of the thread that connects defensiveness and outright hate, the common denominator is toxic masculinity. And that’s when it hits you: this hegemonic toxicity is so fragile, that a mere video that shows the truth can seem threatening to it.
What they don’t realize, though, is that this power, this patriarchy – dehumanises them. It is as much the force that foists the burden of being a breadwinner on them as it is the author of an “acceptable” idea of “masculinity” – which, if one did not conform to, rendered them “emasculated.” It is the very force that keeps men and boys bereft of their right to being in tune with their emotional needs and seeking help for their mental health. Imagine leading a life like that: it takes away the freedom of a life. It makes them take to violence, and polices their bodies, too – for if their bodies don’t fall in line with cookie cutter views of the ideal masculine, they are body shamed, too. This patriarchy causes for tremendous silence around the abuse and rape of men and boys, and prevents them from taking help when they need it. This patriarchy chases heteronormative agendas that it keeps alive – thus knocking every other sexual orientation into the “abnormal” category.
Power like that, is quite like a double edged sword that cuts both ways, and leaves everyone bleeding.
This socialisation of men and boys that offers them an illusory power while dehumanising them is what needs to be addressed. Think about weeding a garden. Do you cut down the weeds? Or do you uproot it entirely?
Oftentimes, men and boys tend to feel a sense of dis-empowerment when the thought of feminizing the world comes to fore. By asking for equality for every other gender identity, most men and boys feel a sense of having to give up on their power to make room for those that they used this power over – and this sense of dis-empowerment makes them resist attempts at equality.
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