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[OPINION] Gillette: The best a woman can get

Remember when Steers had that ad a couple of years ago with a woman biting into a cheese-burger the way no man ever would? Clad in almost nothing and extremely sexual – you know, the way a real woman eats a burger – or at least, the kind of woman you would get it if you were a man and bought a burger from Steers.

The trend in the commercial industry of women being dictated to and being used as throwaway accessories of sexual objectification of men is one that is generations old. We’re so used to being told how to be women by dishwashing liquid ads and deodorant ads and burger ads no less, that the rule of thumb has become commonplace. Sexist expectations created by corporations is the norm.

It’s so normal, in fact, that when are faced with the same dictatorship in commercial advertising, they just don’t know what to do with it. It’s okay for women to face an unpleasant history of the poison that is the patriarchy, but for men to be challenged by a single commercial - Gillette razors of all things - is just about as good as chopping their balls off in public. Is masculinity that fragile? Short answer, yes. It is.

WATCH: We believe: The best men can be by Gillette

Let’s be clear, the folks at Gillette know what they’re doing. They’re jumping on a money-making band wagon of #MeToo marketing. They’re not stupid. But at it’s heart they are, as a male-focused brand, taking toxic masculinity seriously by asking fairly sober questions about what it means to be man and how big brands play a role in influencing societies and culture. A social responsibility in the sexism universe, so to speak. And so, with this top of mind the commercial sought to highlight how traditional masculinity has a negative impact not only on women, but on men as well.

But naturally, the feedback Gillette received was ultimately one of failure. Men were touched on their beards and on their masculinity. It didn’t take long for pictures to start surfacing on Twitter of several right-wingers chucking their razors in the toilet. Good luck flushing that by the way.

The company tried to take advantage of its tagline: the best a man can get, and it released a statement on the campaign saying, “We have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.

The advertisement comes at a time when the wars of the sexes and culture wars, in fact, seemed to have reached their peak. Is the Gillette ad the straw that broke the man’s back? Statistically speaking, probably. In less than four days, it got over 13 million views, but more than that, it garnered an unprecedented negative reaction on YouTube with over 750,000 dislikes and highly negative comments. At least now we know who is most likely to leave comments on the internet and what gender category the 'troll' falls into.

Not too long ago the American Psychological Association released fresh guidelines on how to clinically treat boys and men. All treatments were based on the notion that all men and boys suffer from traditional notions of masculinity and are therefore susceptible to harmful behaviour, violence, mental health and even suicide. Just like the Gillette ad, initially produced to create awareness, education and enlightenment, the new guidelines were met with the same degree of outrage.

Conservative writer Andrew Sullivan wrote that the organisation was “pathologiz[ing] half of humanity”. Perhaps so, but this takes nothing away from the fact that toxic masculinity has been proven to be a violent social structure, and conservatives, or anyone really, who argues for the “boys will be boys” tradeoff is committing an unacceptable trade-off in a society that needs to seriously dismantle the status quo instead of perpetuate it.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.

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