Our nation’s conversation about masculinity has been a long time coming. As a whole, we are exhausted of reacting to the consequences of misguided men -- men who have co opted masculinity to mean just one thing. We should now be ready to act. Young men are in desperate need of a new vision of masculinity. Most importantly, they need grown men to guide them. Gillette knows it. And now a small group of parents in Kentucky know it.
Let’s begin with the men who could have made this past week much more meaningful.
Gillette, your commitment to improvement means more than your advertisement ever could. You took a bold step, and for that I thank you. However, you have also been part of the problem. For the past six years, I’ve used one of your older advertisements as an example of how media has the power to twist the value systems of boys. I use it in my Young Men’s Nation after school program to teach boys how you not only sell them self-care products, but a narrow minded view of masculinity. In past years you have released countless other ads that rely on the very stereotypical, sexist, misguided messages you are speaking out against now. One advertisement doesn't make up for the damage you’ve done. You still have a lot of work to do. With your new “The Best Men Can Be” campaign, you claim:
Gillette is committing to donate $1 million per year for the next three years to non-profit organizations executing programs in the United States designed to inspire, educate and help men of all ages achieve their personal “best” and become role models for the next generation.
Keep this promise. Create a benchmark for other companies and publish your progress. We are watching and waiting.
Now, to the boys in the MAGA hats, I have a lot to say. I have even more to say to your parents, teachers, and absentee chaperones. But let’s start with you.
Do you want to know why the media smear campaign against you grew like wildfire before anyone even asked for your perspective? It’s simple really. You are easy to hate. Honestly. You remind people of violence in Charlottesville. You remind people of the Alt-right, the war on intelligence, and global warming denial. You remind people of racist policies, hate-speech, and the resurgence of white nationalism. You remind people of pussy grabbing old men and overt sexism. You remind people of dead children at the border. I’m not saying you personally are responsible for any of these things, but you are wearing the uniform of the men who are. Either reevaluate your beliefs and how you express them or be prepared to accept the consequences of what you represent. While some may be willing to walk back their initial harsh reactions to your video, they do not sympathize with you. Do not mistake their moral integrity for acceptance of what you stand for.
For your parents, teachers, and chaperones I have very different questions. Where were you and what were you thinking? Your sons may not fully appreciate the gravity of the symbols they flaunt, but you should. It doesn’t matter if they were provoked. It doesn’t matter if they were targeted for how they look. The rambunctious yet apathetic white guy in a MAGA hat uniform your sons are so proud to wear is a symbol of intolerance, unacknowledged privilege, and unfiltered hate towards minorities and women. Neither you nor your son have the power to redefine this symbol. That is what it is. The disgust and fear you have experienced at the world’s eagerness to damn your sons is but a taste of the disgust and fear that uniform inspires in others. You failed to appreciate the power of what your son was doing until that power was thrown back in your face. You should have intervened. You should have used this interaction to teach your sons and students a valuable lesson in masculinity, in humanity. Your inaction was a betrayal to their development as men.
This week, Gillette shined a light on some very real issues that are commonly forgiven by the mentality that “boys will be boys.” What we saw on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was boys being boys. In the same advertisement, Gillette reimagined the landscape of raising boys to be men of character with some actionable examples. The confrontation between the MAGA hat wearing teenagers and Nathan Phillips is the type of characterless moment that Gillette wants the world to see and change. Rather than defending your behavior, choose to see yourself for who you were in that moment. If that is not the “you” you wish for others to see, acknowledge that, consider that in the future, and choose to be better.