In case you have been in a coma, or on holiday somewhere without internet or television or print media or anything of that sort, I will begin with a short recap.
Gillette released a commercial, this week, challenging the idea that men are, already, “the best [they] can get.” The commercial is a work of art. I would ask you to spend some time reading the comments on that, but I’ll recommend you don’t bother. They’re not worth the bandwidth.
See, what happened, the moment the ad ran, was that a swath of insecure, childish men lost their poor, ego-driven minds. The ad basically says, Hey, men! We believe that we can all be better than we have been. Better than the sexually harassing, bullying, rapey assholes we’ve so long been able to get away with being.
And a huge host of men responded with a resounding, NO WE CANNOT AND HOW VERY DARE YOU! I’ve spent a great deal of time, the last couple of days, laughing at them for their transparent and quite unflattering pearl-clutching. Their anger, their fragile masculinity, their absurdly hilarious attempt to “boycott” Gillette, their silly youtube videos, in which they are throwing away their razors, have all had me laughing. Rueful, sad laughter, but laughter nonetheless.
There’s something here, though, that really isn’t funny. Gillette basically said they believed in men, in their ability to overcome years of toxic conditioning, to become better human beings. And instead of being flattered that someone believed in them so much, men got angry. Furious. Enraged.
Which points to the reasons why the message was so essential in the first place.
I’m not as optimistic as Gillette seems to be. I don’t believe that men, if taken as a whole, can be all that much better. Not when so many of them react to a simple and uplifting commercial this way. I don’t believe.
But I want to. I want to so very much.
Now, I don’t hate men. On the contrary, my three favorite people in the entire world are men, or (in the case of one) will be, in a few years. I love men. I love several men who have been in my life, throughout my life. I care about a more than a few others. And most of those men, the men I know and choose to have in my life, are kind, compassionate, intelligent, and secure enough in their masculinity to recognize that someone pointing out the parts of masculinity which are toxic is not attacking them, personally. They’re nurturing and giving and eager to learn how to be their best selves. I know they are not the only ones, either. I know there are plenty of other men who are much like them, men I haven’t yet had the pleasure to know.
Unfortunately, I’ve also had a great deal of experience with the other side of masculinity. I’ve known a virtual mob of men who are likely among those currently throwing their razors in the garbage, without a hint of self awareness, nor the desire to acquire any such thing. I’ve been on the receiving end of what they consider masculinity. I’ve been interrupted, talked over, condescended to, mansplained to, shushed and brushed aside, because I’m a woman. Online, I’ve been threatened with stalking, rape, and even death, as well as told to kill myself. I’ve been catcalled, wolf-whistled, harassed in school, work, and many other public places. I’ve been handled, groped. patted, pinched, tickled, picked up, had my ass slapped and my hair pulled, all without my consent. I’ve been molested, and I’ve been raped. I’ve been emotionally, financially, psychologically, and physically abused, all by men I loved, who claimed to love me.
These experiences, in sheer number, far outweigh the good experiences I’ve had with men, in my forty years on this spinning rock. Still, I want to believe.
I want to believe that men can learn as children not to be bullies, not to use fear and anger as tools to intimidate those who are weaker than they are, and not to harm the ones who won’t give them their way. I want to believe that men can learn affirmative, enthusiastic consent, can move beyond “No means no,” and into the land of “Only yes means yes.” That men can learn how to be vulnerable without being either drunk or ashamed, especially with other men. That men can learn to hold one another accountable for their unwanted sexual advances and other sexist behavior. That they can teach their sons to use words instead of fists to solve problems, and that respecting women is the truly masculine thing to do. That they can learn the value of emotional labor, and begin to both appreciate it, and carry more of that load.
I want to believe this. At the moment, though, all evidence seems to prove otherwise.
I still believe it’s possible, but I think it’s likely to happen very slowly, given the resistance of those whose participation in this initiative is so necessary.
In the meantime, I will continue to view new men in my life with the studied and logical wariness with which I have learned, all my life, to view all men who enter my world. I will ask them the questions that the Gillette ad asked of men around the globe, and so many more, to determine if they are the type of men I want to know, want to be around, want to have in my life. In the meantime, I will keep hoping, keep talking with my sons about what a real man truly looks like, and keep debating the social and political realities of the world we live in with the adult men in my life.
And I will continue to hope that one day, I can believe in men.