I just learned about and watched this new commercial made by Gillette, one that people are referring to as the “Gillette #MeToo video”. I have also seen commentary videos from Fox and others that are critical of it. you can see Gillette’s video here:
As I watched the opening scenes of Gillette’s commercial, I could see men who hear and see the criticism and their faces show confusion and despair. The video goes on to show examples of “boys will be boys” behavior. Gillette closes by showing examples of how we can do better, and asking that we do better. Who is “we”? Men.
I think it’s worth noting that the commercial doesn’t castigate anyone, or talk about “all men”. For some of the men in the video intervened to do the right thing. To stop the fight. To stop the frivolous pursuit of women. To slow down and ask ourselves, is this what we really want?
I’m a middle aged man, and I am not “threatened” by any of the statements made in Gillette’s commercial. I’ve already been working on myself for 20+ years and I’m already there. In fact, in many ways, I think I’ve been “there” longer than I can remember.
I’ve seen first hand, the damage done by bullying, sexual harassment, aggression and other behaviors included within the term, “toxic masculinity”. As I watched that video, and every example that passed, I could see that our culture has long been trained to believe that happiness comes from the outside. That others must change for us to be happy. That others must do as we want for us to be happy. And that happiness at the expense of others is unsustainable.
I know because I was there. I was one of those boys in the video, but I was the one who got teased, and I was taught how to fight instead of how to make friends. As a young man, I wanted a faster car, more women, more money, a big house, vacations, and I spent some time with cannabis and alcohol. I wanted my outsides to make me happy. All day, every day. I wanted to float down a river of constant joy. As an older man, I can tell you that all of that stuff is overrated.
Gillette’s video is pioneering in many respects. They’re betting the price of their stock to air a commercial urging us to do the right thing. They’re betting the company that men will respond in kind and do the right thing when presented with a choice. I’ve seen all the machismo in their commercials of the past, and this new commercial reflects a radical shift in their thinking, and I think we’re better for it.
I noted how Gillette is asking for greater sensitivity to others, in the form of empathy, caring and communication. The one thing that seemed to be missing from all of this discussion is skills. Every change in attitude suggested by Gillette’s commercial requires acquisition and adoption of a new skill.
To learn not to bully is to learn empathy, and they are both skills. To learn not to pursue women just for sexual conquest is a skill. To learn not to tease is also a skill. Every behavioral improvement suggested by Gillette’s commercial requires learning skills and adopting them.
I noted the tone of the criticism of Gillette’s video, too. The tone was not that men should be punished. In our culture, there is real fear that men will be punished for their behavior, too. But I didn’t get that from the video. What I saw was a call for restraint. A man ready to chase after an attractive woman after she passes by is restrained by his friend. A man intervenes in a fight between two boys with restraint. A man pulls his song along to intervene for another boy being chased and abused by a gang of boys. This commercial is about restraint, not punishment.
The conversation has been in the works for a long time. Taylor Swift, Natalie Portman, Harvey Weinstein, and even Kevin Spacey are all prominent figures in the discussion about aggression, in all of its forms. The conversation gained steam with the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh who, despite the controversy, was still confirmed to take a seat on the bench of the Supreme Court.
All that Gillette’s commercial is asking, is that we do better. It is not calling for punishment. Certainly it is not trying to alienate anybody, for it is in business to make money and cannot afford to alienate their customers. Gillette is making a bold step to call for restraint.
I’m writing this article to say, in order to have restraint, we must teach the skills of restraint. We must learn to love with our hearts, not our eyes. We must delay gratification long enough to ask ourselves, “Is this what we really want?”, before we do damage to someone else. Before we do damage to someone we love, or could love, or someone we may never see again, had we acted without restraint.
Delaying gratification is a skill. It is a skill we learned from our parents, our mentors, and the people we grow up to admire. Being respectful, empathetic, cordial, civil and trustworthy are all skills that we learn. They do not fall from the sky, and they do not come from prayer (though prayer might help). If we truly want the skills required to change the world, we must learn them and teach them.
How do we teach them? By modeling them. By demonstration. By setting the example. Someone really famous once said, “Follow me.” He did not say, “Do as I say or else.” He did not say, “Assume positions of great power and compel others to follow me.” He just said, “Follow me.”
That very famous person understood that humans learn by imitation. Kids are the greatest imitators in the world. I know this because I have kids. I know this because I can say to them, “OK, whatever you do, don’t do as I do”, stick out my tongue, and watch my kids stick out their tongues. Even adults learn by imitation, and unless they have great self-awareness, they will blindly follow and imitate others, regardless of their behavior or morality.
That change for a better world starts with me. I will be the change that I want to see.