In Reply To Robby Soave: Why The Gillette Advertisement Is Offensive

Reason magazine writer, and critic of political correctness Robby Soave, asks in his article ( why Gillette’s recent advertisements calling upon men to “do better” have caused a strong sense of offense among men and, in particular, some commenters on the political right.

I write this article to answer Mr. Soave’s question.

I believe my voice is valuable here, since as a man whom is not conservative, who frequently and flagrantly defies traditional gender norms, and who has been a victim of extensive social persecution that has been enabled and rationalized by certain aspects of these traditional gender norms, I think I have more first-hand experience of “toxic masculinity” than Soave does.

The concept of “toxic masculinity” actually didn’t originate with feminists or leftists. Rather, the term originated in the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement of the early 90s; this movement was apolitical and focused on the use of mythological texts and Jungian analyses thereof to connect to a more authentic sense of masculine identity than one provided by mainstream society (the latter being described as “toxic masculinity” with the former being described as “deep masculinity”). The concept was eventually picked up by a subset of feminists, some of whom pointed out that certain aspects of the social norms which dictate the bounds of “acceptable” masculine behaviors can actually cause damage to the lives of men or encourage men to harm others.

The obvious example is that men are socially discouraged from seeking help and therefore those men who refuse to seek help may end up not seeking medical or psychological treatment for certain physical and mental health problems. Another example is that if traditional masculinity requires men prove their toughness and endurance, this may encourage risky-to-abusive levels of the consumption of alcohol and drugs. Further examples include the fact that men are sometimes encouraged to restrict their emotional expression in an unreasonably narrow and unreasonably attenuated fashion, and that some aspects of masculinity (such as the desire to prove oneself the “most masculine man” within a group) can subvert male solidarity and encourage men to spend time and effort on dominating, degrading, humiliating and undermining each other. It may be argued that these aspects of traditional masculinity made sense when living in the cruel and harsh world of premodern society, but the utility of these aspects of traditional masculinity seems to have massively diminished or perhaps even become negative in the modern, technologically advanced dignity culture of the post-Enlightenment West.

I regard toxic masculinity as a real thing (by the same token, I regard toxic femininity as a real thing too, and I think its important to have a discussion about that as well). But the advertisement Gillette made is not a nuanced discussion about how traditional gender roles can be destructive to the lives of men or counterproductive to their flourishing and happiness.

Let me explain the levels upon which this advertisement is offensive.

1. Not All Men, Not All Masculinity, and The Blame Game
The concept of toxic masculinity, when correctly understood, only refers to certain components of traditional masculinity when expressed in certain contexts and/or to certain extreme degrees. Yet this advertisement treats toxic masculinity as a norm rather than an extreme or aberrant phenomenon.

As Soave points out, the advertisement “challenges men to behave better toward women and each other.” But Gillette isn’t some sort of niche product; it is a product that is intended to be purchased by all men. It is a mass market brand. Ergo, the advertisement is targeted at, basically, all men.

Does Soave truly not see why directing this message towards all men is offensive? Through conveying this message at “men” in general, the inescapable presumption is that all men are prone to toxic masculinity. Are all men prone to bullying? Are all men prone to mistreating women or other men? As Soave points out, the ad depicts “men deciding not to bully each other, harass women, or commit violence,” but yet again Gillette is a broad-market product that aims to speak to “men” in general. Do “men in general” need to be reminded not to bully, not to harass women, and not to commit violence?

Is toxic masculinity representative of the typical/average man? Why isn’t it offensive to seemingly presume that such toxic masculinity is the norm? Because this is what the Gillette advertisement does. It even brings #MeToo into the equation, thus associating the normal everyday behavior of men with the atrocious behaviors of exceedingly rich and monumentally powerful entertainment moguls like Harvey Weinstein. The message of the ad, therefore, is that Weinstein represents what men “really are like.”

A final point that needs to be stressed is that, as Soave points out, the ad depicts toxic masculinity as a simple and essentially arbitrary choice on the part of men. But men make these choices in the context of a society that has extensively socialized men from the moment of birth and that polices men’s behaviors through constructing and enforcing an elaborate system of costs and benefits. Why are men being held as entirely responsible for toxic masculinity, when (as even the proponents of toxic masculinity accepted) men are no less socialized into gender norms than women are? Feminists never blame women for the norms that society inflicts upon women, so why is it acceptable to blame men for social norms which men are socially incentivized to comply with?

2. Because You’re Worth It: Male Edition
A second point that needs to be emphasized is that Gillette’s new messaging is a savage betrayal, and a complete reversal, of Gillette’s old messaging.

“The Best A Man Can Get” is a message that can be fairly described as reinforcing a man’s sense of self-worth. The idea behind it is that not only is it the best you can get, but that a man deserves the best. A man should buy a premium product to take care of himself. A man should do this, not for others but for himself. In essence, “The Best A Man Can Get” was the gender-flip of the L’Oreal slogan “Because You’re Worth It” (a slogan which has entered the popular lexicon and is experienced as a kind of female empowerment; see

The new campaign “The Best Men Can Be,” on the other hand, implies that normal men are exceptionally deficient relative to the “best.” It equates normal, everyday men with bullies and sexual abusers; in other words it says normal everyday men are not worthy of The Best A Man Can Get. Because You Aren’t Worth It is hardly an inspiring slogan and many men do experience that as an attack on their dignity and sense of masculinity. For a brand that previously portrayed itself as a symbol of a man’s inherent worth to suddenly begin undermining that will cause backlash.

3. “Man Up And Protect The Women In The Name Of Feminism!”
Some may defend this advertisement, not as debasing men but as issuing a challenge for men to rise, to improve themselves and to become heroic and benevolent protectors. But the irony of this defense is that it literally works out to reinforcing the same traditional gender norms it attempts to criticize.

“Be the best man you can be” and other slogans of this nature are often directly used by military recruiters. These slogans appeal quite directly to the traditionalist ideal that “real manhood” is something you must attain and prove and defend. What this advertisement does is postulate an ideal of “real manhood” and command men, whom are presumed to fall short, to start living up to it. Those who do live up to it are portrayed in the advertisement as better men (i.e. more manly) than those who do not, thus reinforcing the ironically-traditionalist message that buying Gillette is a pathway to the desirable status of Real Manhood.

Even the content of this role – the heroic protector of the weak and of women – is part of what traditional gender norms frequently expect men to be. In our society, men are expected to be chivalrous and to defend women’s interests. This is being pushed with feminist rhetoric. This campaign essentially works out to feminists demanding that men “man up” and become better at chivalry. Liberation from the gender roles is, apparently, only for the fairer sex.

Not to mention, whilst there is an example of men defending other men in this advertisement, the overall thrust of this advertisement is that men should act for the sake of women. But, to borrow a feminist phrase, what about teh menz? Where’s the concern for men’s welfare for the sake of men? Quite clearly such concern is a second-tier one in the world of this advertisement.

4. Men Kampf
The final way in which this ad is offensive is that it singles out men for the kind of treatment which no other demographic would or can be subjected to.

“Men Kampf” is a satirical community on Reddit where pieces of feminist rhetoric are taken, and any words discussing males are replaced with the appropriate term discussing Jews. The objective of this community is to highlight the double standard at play; broad statements about men, masculinity or “male culture” are considered acceptable but similarly-situated statements about women or religious/ethnic/sexual minority groups aren’t. A similar technique was used by Boghossian, Lindsay and Pluckrose in one of the “Sokal Squared” papers (where a portion of Mein Kampf was taken and references to Jews were replaced with references to men; the resultant paper actually got published in a feminist academic journal). This advertisement doesn’t adapt Nazi propaganda, but the point being made is that it targets men for treatment which no other group could be given.

Let’s say that a sportswear brand which targeted the African-American community decided to put out an advertisement that negatively depicted anti-intellectualism among African-American youth, misogyny and the glorification of violence among famous African-American rappers, and homophobia and anti-Semitism coming from famous African-American preachers. The advertisement then depicted, as positive rolemodels of “non-toxic blackness,” an African-American child in school that studied hard to get into college to take a degree in a science field, an African-American entertainer with a ‘clean’ act that is viewable by a wide variety of age brackets and avoids going into contentious social issues, and an African-American preacher that speaks out against homophobia and any kind of ethnic prejudice irrespective of the ethnicities of either the prejudiced or the prejudged.

Would such an advertisement be accepted by the African-American community (or at least its intellectual leadership), or would the advertisement be taken as the perpetuation of offensive stereotypes and an act of cultural imperialism? Were the advertiser to defend themselves as merely “opposing toxic blackness, not all African-American culture or all African-Americans” would this be considered an acceptable reply? We all know the answer already.

Mr Soave is correct to point out that encouraging less bullying, less harassment and less violence are not inherently or even predominantly leftist social priorities. But as one of Soave’s fellow libertarians, I think it is important to point out that the message of the advertisement cannot simply be reduced to “less bullying, less harassment and less violence are good things.”

This advertisement associates bullying, harassment and violence not with a small number of dangerous and predatory men, but with men in general, and proceeds on the basis that the majority of men somehow don’t already know that bullying and harassment and violence are bad things. The advertisement comes from a company that used to tell men that they deserved the best, but now it tells men they aren’t good enough yet and only deserve the best when they comply with their traditional role as women’s protectors, and hypocritically does so under the aegis of “opposing” traditional masculinity. The advertisement delivers the kind of criticism of men and “male culture” which would not be tolerated were it to be directed against any other group of people.

Whilst, yes, some right-wing commentators are desperate to “own the libs,” the reality is that one need not be conservative or even in favor of traditional gender norms in order to see what is offensive about this advertisement. As a libertarian and someone who has previously given financial support to the Reason Foundation and the Cato Institute, I understand Soave is trying to give the kind of interpretive charity to this advertisement which some on the left systematically deny to libertarians; I know how important it is, for many libertarians, to take the epistemic high road and steadfastly remain the principled and intellectually honest ones. But sometimes, a large degree of interpretive charity is unfairly given, and in this case Soave is simply presuming far too much good faith on the part of the advertisement. The message of this ad is far more extensive, and far more degrading, than Soave’s modest characterization of it as “taking the position that maybe hurting people is bad.”

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  • Pandora

    “traditional gender roles can be destructive to the lives of men or counterproductive to their flourishing and happiness.”

    You seem to have accepted this as “fact” and I have to disagree with such a statement, because it can be summed up FAR more easily: it isnt “gender roles” or “masculinity” or “femininity” or “alcohol” or “playing computer games” or “capitalism” or “socialism” that is a problem … the problem can be described in one word:


    As Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (a.k.a. Paracelsus) said 500 years ago “the dosis makes the poison”. He was talking only about substances, but this short piece of wisdom is true for behaviour as well … too much sports, too much drinking, too much religion, too much atheism, too much … of ANYTHING is bad!

    The reason why people talk about masculinity or gender roles or whatever you want is because they want to attack “the thing” … and that is wrong, because nobody should have the right to change society for someone else. So … you are allowed to “not adhere to traditional gender roles”, but “making a big campaign to talk badly about it” is off the menu. That’s why Gillette is wrong in their ad … because they preach (just like the feminists and socialists and SJWs do who actively want to change society) … but you seem to do exactly the same thing by preaching acceptance for the sentence I quoted.

    Yes, liberals are pretty DESTRUCTIVE in their “arrogance” of not defending things that have worked for thousands of years. Oh and there is a trivial explanation why “traditional gender roles” are a good thing:
    – make a 2*2 matrix
    – both the columns and the lines get the headlines “male” and “female”
    Now … if you take a man looking for a wife … and the women are split 50/50 (just for argument’s sake) among “male/female gender-behaviour” but the man is looking for a feminine wife … his pool of choices is HALVED. Thus he will/might be disappointed with his mate … which then leads to a divorce. Will that be good for the children? Usually not.

    The thing is … if people are looking for a partner for life they should OFFER WHAT THE “CUSTOMER” WANTS … but feminism/liberalism has told women that they can be “men type 2” … while ignoring the fact that the desires of men dont really change, because the two genders NEED something COMPLEMENTARY, not “the same” (to then be in competition with). Life/relationships/the family should be about a SYMBIOSIS of two different genders instead of a competition between partners.

    The point is: LIMITATIONS are a “handrail” to help families/marriages to make it through tough times for the sake of stability … which is what society needs. Once you cut this handrail down the system falls apart … oh and the PROMISE of a better life if you are allowed to choose your role freely is an illusion that has never been proven to be true. Liberalism/anti-traditionalism has DESTROYED but not replaced with something better … and most certainly not proven that what it allowed to happen is better. Limitations are NOT a straightjacket but rather a release from “not knowing” or “the never-ending torture of choice”, SOME people manage that but MOST dont … and that is why society has so much problems right now.

    Toxic masculinity is NOT “a thing” … PEOPLE can be assholes and the MUCH bigger problem is that “other people” HAVENT LEARNED TO DEAL WITH THAT so they can get on with their lives without making a fuss about it.

    – women havent learned to deal with strangers talking to them,

    – women havent learned to “not signal I am hot” when they dont want advances on them,

    – … and

    – men havent learned to scoff at women pretending to be victims to abuse natural instincts for their own profit.

    • YetAnotherCommenter

      Erm… I think you went into some sort of knee-jerk there.

      The use of the word “can” in my statement implies that traditional gender roles, or at least aspects/components of them, don’t always damage men’s lives and flourishing. Like you pointed out, the dose is what makes the poison, and that ultimately its a matter of Aristotelian Golden Means.

      I have the same position regarding femininity, by the way. Some aspects of femininity/some very high degrees of it can be negative in certain situations. But positive in others. Like you said, the problem is excess.

      You then fly off the planet and go into a rant about ‘liberals’ being arrogant in ignoring something that has worked for thousands of years. But you seem to forget something important:

      Whilst many, perhaps most individuals are happy following traditional gender roles (although that could be contested, however let’s grant this premise for the sake of the argument), there is at least a substantial minority of individuals who do not fit into these roles. In addition, these outliers were historically not permitted to go their own way and make their own choices. Rather they were socially persecuted, degraded, bullied, demeaned and ostracized for not making conventional choices.

      If, as you say, traditional gender roles worked well for thousands of years, why were outliers socially persecuted in the first place? That is what your theory simply doesn’t explain; a useful and effective tradition doesn’t need to be enforced by society or by the government. Yet historically, these particular traditions typically have been.

      If, as you say, most people find “too much choice” to be torture, this doesn’t justify persecution of outliers or denial of choice to those who actually want to exercise it. Yet this is, historically, what happened. Not to mention, I think if most people cannot cope with “too much choice” then that reflects poorly upon them and, again, is no reason to restrict the choices of their betters (i.e. those who are able to be rational human beings when confronted with a variety of alternatives). Call that elitist if you will; I don’t believe in restricting society down to the Lowest Common Denominator.

      You simply assert that toxic masculinity is not a thing. But it is as much of a thing as toxic femininity is. Like you said, the dose makes the poison and there ARE obvious examples where too much masculinity/too much femininity (or contextually inappropriate expressions of either masculinity or femininity) exist. I fully agree feminists abuse the term “toxic masculinity” and never talk about toxic femininity. But that isn’t an excuse to reject the entire concept.

    • Banake

      There is so much wrong with this comment. The fifties weren’t exactly good times, you know?

    • Banake

      This nuclear family thing was very recent, and in many ways it is the decline of the extended family. People had to get married soon because they need kids to work on the farm, this doesn’t means they were happily married (divorce wasn’t a thing). And during most of history ‘arranged marriage’ was a thing (and still is in some places), so many times the men (and women) had no real say in the matter.

      • Banake

        Also, children used to die in tons before past century, so they had to have lots of children if they wanted some to survive, it weren’t really a choice, those weren’t merry times.

    • Banake

      And it is really hard to tell if men want ‘feminine women’, as during most of history people were more occupied with things such as ‘not
      dying’ than silly time wasters like ‘personal happiness’. To the point I know, they just get married and get used to the other person, without really thinking about notions such as love. And I don’t think I ever saw a man outside the traditionalists corners of the internet saying they want feminity (that is never rigorously defined) women. Most just seems to want ‘someone they get along with’ or some other platitude.

    • Banake

      And biological pre-dispositions are not the same as cultural gender roles, you appear to confuse both. I can think about a ‘masculine man’ who ‘stays in the home taking care of the children’ were his ‘feminine wife’ goes to work in an office.

  • Resinous Bronco

    Well written article. I’ll just add something that I somehow failed to notice until I heard it pointed out by Un Tío Blanco Hetero on YouTube: there is some odd time-travelling going on in Gillette’s video. One assumes that the portrayals of sexual harassment supposedly celebrated in the media would have been more powerful if familiar contemporary examples had been used: yet it appears that the makers could not find any, instead showing a cartoon and a short extract from a TV show both of which look as if they were made back in the 60s. There is a curious dreamlike air of unreality about the whole thing: the only moments when we see something that looks like contemporary real life are the woman walking along the street and the two girls chatting by the swimming pool; then, as soon as we see the staged “bad behaviour” from the boys, we are back in the land of straining credibility beyond breaking point again. That’s what makes Dr Fiamengo’s summation of this as “feminist porn” seem apt. If you are going to preach to people, you need to at least convince them you live in the same world they do.