Gillette and identity politics

Dear President Trump,

When we watched the new Gillette ad last night, Laura pointed out that there were about 220k likes and 530k dislikes and now this evening the numbers are 343k and 724k, respectively. The likes are gaining a bit, but that’s still proportionately and numerically an awful lot of dislikes. Seems Gillette struck a nerve or million. The little bit of commentary I’ve seen and the like/dislike numbers have been amazing to take in – none of it’s all that surprising, but it still amazes me that so many people (men) are brazen enough to espouse such entitled, enthralled-with-their-own-masculinity attitudes. Pierce Brosnan’s fuss that companies shouldn’t get political in their advertising is absolutely predictable and it’s a “where the hell has he been?” sort of comment – what does he think companies have been selling to sell their products all these centuries?

The old Gillette motto was “the best a man can get” and their ad campaigns successfully sold razors by depicting men getting “the best” wherever they were; the best job, the best car, the best stock options, the best woman, and so forth. Using Gillette razors was supposed to give Gillette men an edge over other men who were using inferior razors and sent the message that G-men were deserving of the best and were destined to be lords over all they encountered, including all women since women presumably weren’t using Gillette razors (debatable, but go with me here). Now, if that’s not political then I don’t know what is. Even though it’s a fantasy and few men would ever really get those best jobs, cars, stock options, women, this sort of advertising is clearly selling a set of rules and hierarchies that many (most?) have come to assume are the natural order of things when really, they aren’t. They are manufactured lies that keep men trapped thinking they’ve failed (and feeling angry and entitled) because they haven’t managed to score the bests even though they’ve dutifully purchased Gillette razors and Jockey underwear and whatever else successful men buy. It would take too long to go into what these manufactured lies have done to women and girls, but even you should be able to figure that out from here.

So now when Gillette shares the results of their new market analysis and runs a radically new ad campaign (perhaps informed by some prosocial intentions to assuage guilt, but quite possibly just a mercenary re-set), shifting to the motto “the best a man can be,” people go nuts, and not in good ways. It really does suck to have to face yourself in the mirror and consider all the times you let something slide or engaged in a little bit of something that in retrospect was disrespectful or hurtful. It’s not just men – virtually all of us have done things like this. It’s just that some men have not had the burden of feedback or moral pangs. So dang, when there’s a long-ish ad that shows men and boys easily enacting sexist, bullying behavior, uneasily contemplating it, and awkwardly doing something to stop it, no wonder there’s a flood of backlash.

But guess what, this is the new normal – in public, and hopefully private, spheres we all have to contend with having pointed conversations about sexism, racism, homophobia, and ableism, etc. As others have pointed out before, it’s about identity politics now because it’s always been about identity politics.

May we be safe to behave in decent, respectful ways towards one another.
May we all be happy to deal with feedback, even when it’s uncomfortable.
May we keep working to establish healthy (not just healthier) ways of being together.
May we make peace with letting go of old, familiar, suffocating ways.

Tracy Simpson

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