Can we talk about our masculinity?
Photo By: youtube.com
Julia Guerrein, Editor-in-Chief
About a week ago the men’s razor and shaving products company, Gillette, released an ad titled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be.” This ad, at less than two minutes, has received lots of different reactions.
The ad starts off with a man watching the news talking about the #MeToo movement, and proceeds to cover bullying and sexual harassment. The end of the ad flips through several videos of men stepping in to stop fights and sexual harassment. A scene with a father stopping a fight in front of his young son is accompanied by a narrator saying, “The boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”
I see this ad as a compliment to the already growing focus on hegemonic masculinity, which is generally defined as a practice that justifies the dominance of powerful men over women and relatively less powerful men. It manifests as masculinity having to be proven through showing worth and asserting dominance, most notably physically and sexually.
One particularly compelling scene is a video of a father holding his young daughter and her repeating after him “I am strong.” I am the third of four kids in my family, with two older brothers and a younger sister. My family has fairly progressive views of gender roles, and I was always expected to help with housework and farm chores. I have helped my father with many different traditionally masculine things, such as building things, putting in a pasture, and clearing trails. My parents are equal partners in maintaining the household and the family business.
In highschool I was in a romantic relationship for a little over a year with an extremely masculine and dominant boy. He was upset by me trying to be an equal to him. His idea of our future was us getting married at 18, me following him for his military career, and eventually having children and me taking care of them. He was also a foot taller than me and much stronger, which he used as a way to physically dominate me, such as picking me up against my will. He was not capable of expressing his feelings to me in a healthy way. If we got in a fight, he was incapable of compromising and expected me to cave. He also would react in extreme ways, such as blowing up completely or ignoring me while I sat in the same room. He expected me to change for him, which he said to me explicitly in a text: “Why won’t you change for me?”
When boys cry and we tell them to “man up,” we are hurting them. We are making a healthy and natural way of releasing emotions wrong and stigmatized. We are also hurting their future relationships by encouraging the suppression of emotions. As a grown person, I expect people that I have relationships with, whether that be platonic or not, to be able to express themselves with words. I vividly remember the only time I have seen my father cry, which was after my grandfather passed away.
What people’s negative responses to an ad that promotes standing up against bullying and sexual harassment tells me is that they feel threatened by the thought of being held accountable for the harmful ways in which they act and think. It is important to be a critical thinker, but it is not okay to shut down productive conversations about real problems. In 2017, The Atlantic detailed that over half of murders of American women are related to intimate partner violence. The Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) reported in the same year that men died by suicide 3.54 times more often than women. These are real problems that our supposedly “superior” species needs to address, rather than blaming it all on biology and instinct.
Talking about the dangers of hypermasculinity is necessary for the wellbeing of boys, men, and the people they interact with. Scoffing at Gillette and claiming, as Piers Morgan did on Twitter, that “...Gillette now wants every man to take one of their razors & cut off his testicles” is reinforcing the idea that silence is better than speaking up. Just today I was talking to my sister about how she did not report her coworker for cat-calling her and speaking about her in a sexual way because she would have been shamed. Silence is easier and sometimes safer.
Instead of defending egos, we all need to take a look in the mirror and recognize that our words and actions can be harmful to other people. We need to work together as a society to make so it so that it is okay to express emotion and that hypermasculinity is not acceptable.