Inspired by the #MeToo movement, Gillette recently made a commercial urging men to hold other men accountable about behaving better towards women.
A lot of folks freaked out about it. Some suggested that Gillette is portraying all men as evil. Other argued that men are persecuted culturally and that Gillette is trying to turn men into girls or to emasculate men (You can watch the commercial here and some of the responses here and here.)
I watched the ad and read the backlash about it today. The first thought that came to my mind was this: “I love men, AND I really need this Gillette commercial.” And that is what this post is about.
First, I want to say why I love men.
Men are Awesome
I love men because my whole life I have been surrounded by men who encourage me, support me, mentor me, believe in me, and help me to grow in my confidence and capabilities. This has made a profound difference in my life. (You can read more about this here and here.)
I love men because I have been married to my husband for 22 years, and he is amazing. He consistently encourages, loves, and cares for me. He makes me laugh pretty much every day. I would not be who I am today without him, and I cannot imagine my world without him.
I love men because I know so many mature, healthy, good men who care for the world, just like I do, but who also often look at it from a unique perspective. I learn a great deal from listening to them, and I am so grateful for the way they listen to and learn from me.
Given that I love men, it may seem odd that I would say that I need the Gillette commercial. But I do. To explain why, let me tell you about this summer.
Walking Adventures and Misadventures
If you have been following my blog, you may know that this summer, I took up long-distance walking. I walk in a lot of different places, but one of the places is an arboretum near my house with a two-mile track.
I started walking there regularly this summer and fell in love with it. In fact, I loved it so much that I started walking for hours there daily. If you had seen me walking this summer, you probably would have seen a big, euphoric grin on my face.
I loved being outside, looking at the trees, and just feeling good about myself.
Because I was walking there so often, I started to see other people who were walking regularly, too. Some of them started saying “hi” to me, and I started saying “hi” back.
That’s how I started saying “hi” to this one guy–I’ll call him Lou. (Primarily because I don’t know any men named Lou, so it’s a useful pseudonym for this post). Anyhow Lou and I saw each other regularly and started saying “hi”. I thought we were just being friendly. And then one day, we exchanged names. I still thought we were just being friendly.
And then one day Lou stopped me and started a conversation, and in the middle of the conversation, I suddenly realized that Lou was suggesting indirectly (but pretty clearly) that we should go somewhere and hook up.
Of course, I declined and walked away from him.
I was so shocked that this had happened that the occurrence just seemed comical and bizarre–just some weird thing that happened with some weird guy. I brushed off the event and assumed that was it.
But it wasn’t.
I kept seeing Lou, and he kept getting more aggressive until I ditched walking at the park for a few weeks and then changed my walking schedule to avoid seeing him altogether. And unfortunately, this didn’t happen with just Lou. A similar thing happened with another guy in the park, and it almost happened with a third. (Until I changed my MO—read on).
Why is this happening to me? I asked myself. Like pretty much all women, I have received unwanted attention from males sometimes in the past. But this was on a whole new level. Why is this happening now?
The only thing I could figure out was that it was because I was walking by myself in the park regularly for long periods of time, and I was happy and smiling. After I figured this out, I changed my MO. I wore sunglasses, I stopped looking people in the eyes, and I stopped smiling.
I shared my experience with a girlfriend later, and she said, “Yeah, look down. Just don’t make eye contact.”
I thought, Wait a minute? Isn’t this the U.S.? I thought it was just other countries where women have to avoid making eye contact with men for their own safety.
Oh, and by the way, this unwanted attention happened less frequently after I changed my MO, but it still happened.
I will smite thee, Inappropriate Park Dudes.
I Get Pretty Angry
The more I thought about my experience, the angrier I felt. Walking in the park was incredibly beneficial for me this summer. It gave me more confidence; it helped me feel stronger; it made me be healthier; and it inspired more good habits.
And yet, at one point I was afraid to walk in the park and had to change my walking schedule drastically because some guys decided that because I was by myself walking in the park smiling and saying “hi”, the logical conclusion was probably that I wanted to sleep with them.
I am generally a pacifist, but I am considering taking up some sort of martial art so that I can feel safer when I walk long distances.
After this event happened, I struggled feeling safe as a woman in a public space–especially a woman feeling free and joyful by herself in a public space. And this reminded me of other instances when I have not felt safe being a woman in public spaces.
I remembered becoming a teenager and wearing really baggy clothes because I didn’t like the unwanted attention my developing body drew from some strangers.
I remember one day in college, I got a plaid skirt and a turtleneck. It was by no means tight but was tighter than my usual baggy styles. I felt so cute and stylish in my new outfit. I walked into my college cafeteria and went to sit with some of my friends. A guy I didn’t know was with them. He looked at my chest and said, “You have really nice…um…shoulders.”
I remember feeling violated and like it wasn’t safe for me to feel joyful and free in my body.
And there was that one time I was flying on an airplane. I briefly smiled and spoke to the guy sitting next to me when he handed me a glass of water I had requested from the stewardess. “Thank you” was the extent of my comments. He then struck up a seemingly innocent conversation, and I thought, What a nice guy. That was until his comments and questions suddenly became increasingly personal and intimate. When I got off the plane, I remember putting on a black jacket, putting up my hair and donning sunglasses, taking off my earrings, and blending into the crowd as quickly as I could.
And this is why I need the Gillette commercial I mentioned at the beginning of the post.
I need the Gillette commercial not because all men are jerks but because historically there has been a power imbalance between men and women, and it has led to toxic thought and behavior patterns called patriarchy, which some people still exhibit today.
Patriarchy has conditioned many people to think that masculinity is superior to femininity and that femaleness is weak, less intelligent, and less capable. This narrative also teaches that male ideas and contributions are more important than female ones.
Patriarchy has also conditioned many people to think that women exist primarily to please men, to serve them, and to be sexually available to them.
In addition, patriarchy has conditioned some people to believe that real men relate to the world in two primary ways: through sex and aggression. Because of this, many men still struggle today to see women as people rather than sexual objects which they can obtain through conquest.
I need the Gillette commercial because it’s little things like that commercial that undermine patriarchy and change societal values. It’s things like this that make it safer for me and for girls and women everywhere to be confident, joyful females in public spaces doing cool things–like walking in the park.
Patriarchy Still Exists
We are slowly moving past patriarchy and correcting the imbalance of power. But patriarchy still exists today, and it still hurts men and women.
Men and boys are still too often mocked today for being too sensitive and are still too often encouraged to shut down their feelings. They are still too often taught that sex and aggression are the only appropriate masculine emotional expressions.
Girls and women are still too often threatened physically or sexually just for being women in public spaces. They are still too often taught that they only have worth in reference to men and that their main goal is to be pleasing to men.
We still too often excuse powerful leaders who cheat on their pregnant wives with porn stars and boast about grabbing women by the genitals. We still seem to think this behavior is okay as long as these leaders ensure our financial prosperity.
These patterns are slowly changing, but they only change through people speaking out against them like people are doing in the #MeToo movement and through different forms of media influence like the Gillette commercial.
I watched the Gillette commercial today, and to be honest, it made me feel a little safer being a woman in the world. The message in that commercial communicates the values of the men in my life who have encouraged, supported, and inspired me. Every girl and every woman should have that gift, and all men have the capability of being that awesome.
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 Some people are criticizing the commercial for using the #MeToo movement to profit financially. This accusation may be accurate, but I am not going to address that issue in this post.