Melinda Henneberger

‘A war against masculinity’? The new #MeToo Gillette ad is not remotely man-hating

Gillette commercial encourages men to be better in #MeToo era

The company known for safety razors and other personal care products released an ad challenging men to hold each other accountable for their actions.
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The company known for safety razors and other personal care products released an ad challenging men to hold each other accountable for their actions.

What kind of radical man-haters would try to pass off a normal guy’s native boyness as in constant need of correction? And what kind of humorless virtue-signaler, clearly consumed by misandry, would routinely paint the untamed male as the sort of dirty little cave boy who’d delight in frightening small animals and chucking rocks at birds?

Let me guess: Does this monster also taunt turtles and crush insects for fun? What a cartoon.

I refer, of course, to that old Highlights magazine highlight, the “Goofus and Gallant” comic, where Goofus has been behaving badly since 1946. (“There’s some Goofus and Gallant in us all,” the feature currently notes, in case we can’t figure that out. “When the Gallant shines through we show our best self.”)

That’s the same basic — really basic — and non-threatening message conveyed by the new Gillette ad that has so offended the likes of the actor James Woods and TV personality Piers Morgan. Morgan described the anti-bullying, anti-harassment call for men to be their best rather than worst selves “pathetic,” “virtue-signalling” and “a direct consequence of radical feminists” engaged in “a war against masculinity.”

Woods was no less hysterical, tweeting that Gillette was “jumping on the ‘men are horrible’ campaign permeating mainstream media and Hollywood entertainment. I for one will never use your product again.” Never is a long time, Mr. Woods.

Unafraid to show a tender side, and quite a fragile sense of self, they are among the many who seem to have been triggered by the commercial from Procter & Gamble-owned Gillette, which makes razors and body wash that are, it claims “the best a man can get.

The company’s new #TheBestMenCanBe campaign asserts that “making the same old excuses” that “boys will be boys” doesn’t work any more. Is that really so controversial? Is anybody in favor of bullying and harassment?

You really have to wonder if the critics watched all the way to the end of the commercial, which runs a whole minute and 48 seconds.

If they did, I can’t see how they’d be aggrieved instead of inspired — and maybe even a little bit proud of the suggestion that these days, more and more men are letting their inner Gallant come out to play. It shows men standing up for what’s right — and for women and children, by the way — instead of just walking on by.

It shows one father encouraging his toddler daughter, and another breaking up a fight; that’s not radical feminism, but masculinity properly understood.

“There will be no going back,” to when bullying and harassment were excused or ignored, the ad says, “because we, we believe in the best in men.”

In responding with out-of-all-perspective outrage to the message that “You’ve got this,” are critics really saying that men are incorrigible? Or that it’s wrong to believe poor Goofus could ever learn from his mistakes?

The intent of the video, beyond marketing, is really no different from not only that old-fashioned comic strip, but also from first lady Melania Trump’s “Be Best” anti-bullying campaign.

“Mrs. Trump believes that children should be both seen and heard,” her website says, and that “it is our responsibility as adults to educate and reinforce to them that when they are using their voices — whether verbally or online — they must choose their words wisely and speak with respect and compassion.”

If you think that her message is so unlike Gillette’s suggestion that little boys are taking their cues from the grown ones, watch it again, all the way to the end this time.

Melinda Henneberger is a columnist and member of The Star’s editorial board. She has covered crime, local and state government, hospitals, social services, prisons and national politics and worked in Texas, New York and Washington, D.C. For 10 years, she was a reporter for The New York Times based in New York, Washington and Rome. In 2018, she received the Scripps Howard’s Walker Stone Award for opinion writing.