Believing in “the best men can be” doesn’t stop with men standing up to other men, men holding other men accountable, or behaving in a respectful and appropriate way towards women. Yes, that’s all part of “men being the best men can be,” but if the armor of hypermasculinity is truly going to be shed, men also need to be encouraged to reveal the more vulnerable parts of themselves normally hidden by the steely outer layer of toxic masculinity. I am not one of the 1.3 million Youtubers who disliked Gillette’s Short Film advertising the phrase “The Best Men Can Be.” I am not one of the many people who left comments claiming to “never buy this brand again,” or calling the advertisement a “cynical move by the company to create publicity” instead of inciting real change.
Many of the images within the film explore some of the more noticeable aspects of toxic masculinity and ways to combat them: the violent fighting little boys participate in, as well as the bullying that “mama’s boys” endure and how to hug them instead of hit them in response. Today, a commercial like this is topical, hot, and current, but it’s not pushing the boundaries far enough. It’s not enough to tell men to "not" do something, because toxic masculinity runs far deeper than "not." We need to encourage men to be emotional, and to be outspoken about not just their thoughts but their feelings.
At Penn and other universities, fraternities have a bad reputation for fostering environments that support these rigidly violent and aggressive stereotypes rather than discouraging them. There have been many calls to action for fraternities to teach their members about the proper and respectful ways to treat women, but I think there also needs to be a focus on the proper and respectful way to treat each other. Bad behavior doesn’t discriminate against its target. I’ve attended frat parties and know firsthand the disrespect that can be born and bred from fraternity brothers because of other fraternity brothers. There is no “innocent” grope or cat-call. Do I want this to stop? Yes. Do I think toxic masculinity should be eliminated simply for the sake of women? No. Toxic masculinity has a way of burrowing into all relationships that men possess, and this includes their friendships with people like their fraternity brothers. Men need to be encouraged to have the emotions that toxic masculinity dictates their suppress, instead of simply being discouraged against the bad behavior that is toxic masculinity’s outcome.
In the Gillette short film, there are many scenes where men stand up to other men when women and children are their targets. But where are the men standing up to other men when they’re talking to each other? The backlash that accompanied this ad speaks for itself. Men don’t like to be called out on their actions because they don’t think they’re guilty of the things highlighted in the advertisement, and they don’t like admitting that they don’t have to have done all of these predatory actions to still be a part of the problem. The problem is far deeper and more sinister than laughing at a commercial where a man grabs a girl’s butt in the workplace, or places his hand on his female colleague’s shoulder in a meeting. The problem is the right that men think they have that afford them these small victories over women’s wishes. In order to combat this entitlement, men need to be open to conversations surrounding their presumed implicit license to the world, and that involves a difficult discussion using their feelings, which men have not been socialized to feel comfortable doing.
Women are strong, powerful, intelligent, and increasingly unafraid to show it. Men are emotional, sensitive, sometimes confused, and also in need of shoulders to cry on. Gillette’s short film did some good and necessary work when it comes to showing the best men can be, but there is so much more work to be done.
SOPHIA DUROSE is a College sophomore from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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