Today Gillette released a new ad asking men to engage with cultural changes highlighted by MeToo.
The response from men’s rights activists has been strong, with reddit issuing (unintentionally amusing) lists of Procter & Gamble (Gillette’s parent company) products to boycott, including tampons. Some make it easy to mock them that we’re obliged to do so.
But while there’s something immensely satisfying about point scoring over marginal groups who model their design for life on Margaret Atwood novels, perhaps women and allies have a moral obligation to take the higher ground.
Stay with me. Nike’s use of Colin Kaepernick was global news and the backlash from right wingers included a similar boycott and short videos of people burning their shoes. Net result: rise in profits for Nike.
Greggs issued a vegan sausage roll and Piers Morgan pretended to die after eating it. Net result: Greggs sell a lot of vegan sausage rolls.
The question women and allies should be asking ourselves about the Gillette campaign is not ‘how many tampons can I justify buying to support Gillette’s stance?, but ’should we be boycotting them too?’ It feels counter intuitive to turn our backs on something ostensibly agitating for the kind of change we’d like to see, but does it further that cause?
At best this is a marketing campaign designed to inflame people so the brand temporarily moves front and centre of the gender discourse. That’s good, as a lack of awareness is frequently cited by people, in this case men, who’s lives aren’t traditionally subject to the same boundaries as women, such as walking through underpasses and jogging at night. Privilege is notable for a wilful ability evade detection by those bearing it. That isn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just a fact of life.
What’s significantly less helpful is the way such a campaign is disseminated by social media. We could argue for days over whether it’s the courage one gathers from firing off inflamed missives from an empty room or simply a minority of fundamentalists from each side, but it’s for certain that no progress is made when two sets of people just shout at each other. For the company involved, it’s the kind of publicity Don Draper could only aspire to, but we’re basically being drip fed sugary water that agitates us into indulging in increasingly irrational behaviours. Nothing will be resolved and people will become more entrenched in their views vs. engaging with the other side.
Who benefits from this? The company, obviously, but also the media. Think pieces (yes, I’m fully aware) emerge, further promoting the product and stoking the embers of the argument. Other companies love it because it’s an accessible form of self-promotion. Politicians are almost certainly behind it as their incompetence is becoming increasingly difficult to conceal.
But what of the cause itself? In this case, asking men to consider their own role in a society driven by toxic masculinity. Is it moved forward any? Perhaps, by virtue of being in the frame, but it seems reasonable to state that once this furore has died down, we’ll be no further toward a harmonious society than we were before. Most people who were racist in 2017 probably haven’t stopped being racist because of Nike’s support of Colin Kaepernick. No animals were saved as a result of Piers Morgan eating a vegan sausage roll. We’re enabling a more divisive society to emerge, where shouting obscenities and making sweeping statements is seen as legitimate debate.
Noam Chomsky said “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….”
Believe me, the idea of even notionally occupying the same space as random dudes on the internet who hide in holes bitching that attractive women should be forced to sleep with them is incredibly uncomfortable for me. I’ll feel terrible if I read a headline in six months time saying claiming that Gillette’s attempt to get involved in political activism resulted in a drop in profits because it’ll be spun as something depressingly misogynistic.
But we need to remember that this game is not being played fairly. Instead of trying to win at a crooked table, let’s try and kick it over, change the game.
And if you find a Men’s Rights Activist down there, take his phone off him. He’s probably upskirting.