The best Gillette can be?

Gillette’s latest ad has drawn the ire of all who like their masculinity toxic. The sinister underbelly of the internet, an army of men’s rights activists, has come out in force. The viral video has attracted double the number of dislikes as likes, with hundreds of men posting pictures of their Gillette razors in rubbish bins and toilet bowls under the hashtag #BoycottGillette.

The high budget two-minute clip calls on men to own up to sexist violence and call out the behaviour of others under the slogan “We Believe: The Best a Man Can Be”. The direct reference to the #MeToo movement in the clip has situated the ad in a broader culture war. 

Unsurprisingly, the far right and its many hangers on have interpreted the ad as an attack on all men. An endless string of internet comments bemoans the global anti-man conspiracy. In the words of one Youtube viewer: “Yep, this has gone too far … Those man hating neo-feminists have been given a finger and now they’re taking the whole arm”. 

The backlash goes beyond neck-beards looking for any excuse not to shave. A number of public figures have chipped in – the most prominent of whom is Piers Morgan. His tirades on British morning television and beyond promote the slogans of the anti-woman right wing to an audience of millions. This sort of coming together of fringe elements of society with people in positions of power and influence is all too common in the era of Trump. 

The hysterical response of the right coupled with the adulation of the mainstream media has led some to believe that Gillette is a staunch defender of women’s equality. Even Gillette’s recent statements on its website renounce its historic role in selling the world the very image of the toxic masculinity it now decries. But a healthy dose of scepticism is in order. 

The economic decisions of these mega-corporations put profit above all moral or social considerations. Take for instance Gillette’s controversial pink tax on products targeting women – charging significantly more for razors and shaving cream identical in design, bar the colour or aroma of the product. Gillette’s parent company, Procter and Gamble, was caught out two years ago profiting from forced child labour, all the while claiming it was participating in projects aimed at eradicating the practice. The company advertises skin whitening products to millions worldwide – hardly the image of a socially responsible company. 

Adapting to the changing sensibilities of a 21st century market is a public relations strategy commonly employed by the advertising industry, whether Dove’s casting of “body-positive” and racially diverse women, Pepsi capitalising on anti-Trump sentiment by featuring Kendall Jenner at a protest in an ad or Nike making controversial anti-racist NFL player Colin Kaepernick its mascot. 

The fact that advertisers feel it necessary to emulate progressive attitudes speaks to how widespread these views are, and it’s undeniably preferable that they promote liberal values instead of reactionary ones in their advertising. But too often the liberal image is just another tool to maximise profit or market share, while other very illiberal practices continue. Companies like Gillette, which benefits from unregulated labour practices, poverty wages, environmental destruction and the sale of sexist and racist products, is just one example. Such hypocrisy only fuels cynicism. The ad should be defended, but companies offer no hope for advancing the cause of social justice.