Several of my fellow left-leaning friends on Facebook have posted (rhetorically, it seems) the question of why the Gillette commercial has upset so many men, and their consensus appears to be that these men are thin-skinned (the razor puns write themselves) and want to defend bad behavior.
I don’t think so.
The ad does not seem calculated to open a constructive dialog, but rather to sell razors, as you would expect of an ad.
The video presents a strawman construction of the American conservative ideal of masculinity, and is a direct poke in the eye to conservatives. The protests from Gillette that it merely wants to open a constructive dialog on negative social expectations of manhood may or may not be sincere, but the evidence that they are so well-intentioned does not fit a parsimonious critique.
The ad opens with the words “toxic masculinity,” a buzzword well associated with the identitarian left. Masculinity and femininity are human capacities each individual expresses in various proportion along a phenotype spectrum anchored by biological sex. “Toxic masculinity” is no more cogent a term than “toxic strength” or “toxic resolve.” A lot of people see it as a bid to pathologize masculinity. It certainly implies a naive association between men and masculinity, when many of their bad behaviors are really feminine in the abstract sense, and vice versa for women.
The ad asks, “Is this the best a man can be?” “The best” is an ideal, so the commercial implies that there is no widely accepted better ideal out there. But of course there is. Even the most literal-minded churchgoing patriarch in this country espouses a better ideal than this strawman.
The ad is in dialog with the shadow projection of a malignant “patriarchy.” I am not a conservative, but even I can see what a poke in the face it is to conservatives.
The social-media soundbite discourse indulges the strawman fallacy to a pathological extent. If you want to get smarter, don’t get sucked in by it.