- For participants to use the Gillette ad as a jumping off point to reflect on how traditional ideas and stereotypes of masculinity affect them and people they know today.
- For participants to use critical thinking skills about the GiIlette ads.
Show participants the new Gillette advertisement
In this advertisement for Gillette razors released in January 2019, the company replaces its old tagline, “the best a man can get” with “the best a man can be.”
- What was surprising, interesting, or troubling to you about the ad?
- What is the message that you think the ad is sending? What do you think Gillette’s intentions were for making the ad?
- In your opinion, what is compelling or not compelling about the way the commercial communicates that message?
- How does the ad make you feel?
- Have you talked about this with people of your gender? Of other genders? What have those conversations been like? If you haven’t, what similarities and differences do you think there would be in conversations with people of your gender and other genders about the Gillette commercial?
Old Gillette Ad from the 1980s
The Best a Man Can Get: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAkVDCqVY6w
This is an example of an old Gillette advertisement released in the 1980s and structured around the tagline “the best a man can get.”
- What are the messages communicated in this ad? According to this ad why is Gillette the best a man can get? (If men use razors, they will look good on their wedding day and when they win their next athletic event. A man should shave so that it feels good when he rubs his face up against his wife/girlfriend/baby’s face. (Point out there are only heterosexual relationships.) A man with a good shave looks sharp and can attract any woman—even the previously disinterested ones. Point out the scene when the man on the motorcycle stands in the woman’s way.)
- How do these messages compare to the messages in the new commercial? (The new commercial focuses on actions more than looks, pursuing a woman is not portrayed as a goal, the men and boys in the new video are holding each other accountable for behavior. In this video, almost every man was white, with the exception of two black men who were on screen very briefly. In the new video, there is more racial diversity among the men.)
- Why do you think would be the response if this ad was on TV today? What has changed in the world in terms of how we think about roles of men and boys in the time between this video and the new Gillette video?
The response to the new Gillette Advertisement
This video received 669K thumbs up votes and 1.1 M downvotes on Youtube.* The vast majority of the comments on Youtube are negative. Some of them are as follows:
*These votes are as of 1/21/19. Check Youtube for more up to date numbers before leading this with your group.
I never heard the saying “boys will be boys” come out of my dad’s mouth when i was a kid. That was something all the moms used to say.
Hey Gillette, welcome to the “get woke, go broke ” community
Gillette? Why are your female razor blades more expensive than your mens razor blades??
What makes you think you have the right to, or that anyone would want a lecture from a razor company? Concentrate on making and selling razors. Not that I’d personally ever buy any of your over priced junk again.
Will never buy Gillette again. Tired of companies attacking their consumer base to appease to the progressive movement. Hope more men do the same.
Please stop trying to associate every imaginable bad behavior with men! This is sexist beyond believe… What is trash like this doing in a product ad btw?
- What are your reactions to these YouTube comments?
- If you had a chance to talk to one of the people who wrote one of these comments, what would you want to say to them? How do you think they would respond?
- Why do you think the vast majority of comments on the YouTube video are negative?
Jewish Wisdom about Disagreement
There is an ancient, 1800 year old Jewish text that says, “Make yourself a heart of many rooms, and let enter into it the words of the School of Shammai and the words of the School of Hillel, the words of those who declare a matter unholy, and those who declare it holy.” (Tosefta Sotah 7:12)
The School of Hillel and Shammai are famous for their many disagreements about issues of Jewish practice and law. In some traditions, followers of these schools argued to such extent that they actually killed one another. Why is this text suggesting that one has to make room for both their words in one’s heart?
- What does a “heart of many rooms mean” in this text?
- Why do you think it says heart and not brain?
- Do you find this text inspiring? Why or why not?
- How does this text affect your approach to the new Gillette advertisement and to the feedback it has received?
Fathers and Sons Reacting to the Gillette Commercial
In this video, fathers and their sons watch the new Gillette commercial and talk about their reactions. The full video is 15 minutes long. We recommend showing at least the first 3 minutes.
- What particular comments stood out to you? What comments did you agree with? Which didn’t you agree with?
- What, if anything would you add to this conversation?
- What are the similarities and differences between the comments in this video and the comments we read from YouTube?
- How, if at all, would talking about this ad with a parent be different from talking about it with a friend? Why?
- Many people who criticized the ad had strong feelings about the term/idea, “toxic masculinity.” What are your reactions to “toxic masculinity”? What do you know about the term/idea? What questions do you have about it?*
*Facilitator’s Tip: Invite participants to define the concept. Here is the definition from urbandictionary.com (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Toxic%20Masculinity) : A social science term that describes narrow repressive type of ideas about the male gender role, that defines masculinity as exaggerated masculine traits like being violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth. Also suggests that men who act too emotional or maybe aren’t violent enough or don’t do all of the things that “real men” do, can get their “man card” taken away.
- The Gillette brand launched the advisement as part of a larger campaign called “I believe” which aimed to revisit the company’s old tag line “The Best a Man Can Get” and encourage men to become the best versions of themselves.
- The company is donating one million dollars per year to non-profits that work with men and boys.
- “We’re not saying all guys are bad. We’re not trying to misrepresent any one individual. What we’re saying is, as a collective group let’s have a little less bad behavior and more good. That’s the big message behind it,” says Damon Jones, Vice President, Global Communications and Advocacy at Procter and Gamble.
- In an interview, Damon Jones said that as one of the largest male brands in the world, Gillette recognizes that the company had a “responsibility and obligation to step up and improve the language and the expectation that [they] were setting for [themselves] and for guys.”
- The company decided it was important to shine a light on both good and call out bad behaviors of men so as to hold us all to a higher standard for guys, women, and society.
- Jones said he thinks people have found the ad challenging because “[i]n many ways, men are finding themselves at a crossroads – caught between old definitions of what masculinity means and this new era of masculinity. It’s about allowing men space to define masculinity for themselves. We don’t set the standard for what masculinity is.”
- Jones hopes the ad will “challenge people just to take a minute and have that ‘moment in the mirror’. For guys, this might even be when you’re shaving in the morning, ask yourself, ‘Are my actions what I want them to be? When people are watching me, what am I saying? Am I doing the things that really reflect me at my best?’ If guys reflect on that, we think that will have a more positive impact on society.”
- What is your reaction to Damon Jones statements about the advertisement? What do you agree with/disagree with?
- How, if at all, does this interview change how you originally felt about the advertisement?
- Jones said men are finding themselves at a crossroad between old and new definitions of masculinity. Do you agree? How do you define masculinity for yourself? How do you see others defining masculinity?
Jewish Self- Reflection Rituals:
Morning Prayers & Mussar
Jewish practice offers a morning ritual that is likely as old as shaving and not tied to a commercial product: prayer. The Hebrew word for prayer translates to “to judge oneself.” While prayer is the traditional form of Jewish daily reflection, a person might alternatively choose to self-reflect through a morning mediation or by taking a quiet moment while shaving or brushing their teeth in the morning, as Damon Jones recommends.
- What are some ways, if any, that you currently self-reflect? (Possible responses: writing in a journal, talking to a friend, participating in a pre-sports game ritual, meditate, say a prayer, go for a run, etc)
The practice of Mussar is yet another method of self-reflection connected to Jewish practice. Mussar is based on the idea that by cultivating inner virtues, we become able to live a more meaningful and ethical life. People who practice Mussar usually spend time exploring and meditating on different middot (character traits) such as compassion, generosity, patience, among others, as a way of becoming the best people and mensches (a Yiddish word for a good man or person) they can be. The following are two Hasidic quotes related to Mussar:
“If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what is the purpose of living another day?” – Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
“I do not want followers who are righteous, rather I want followers who are too busy doing good that they won’t have time to do bad.” – Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk
- What is the message of these two texts?
- Do these texts inspire you? Why or why not?
- What, in your opinion, is the best way to motivate someone to be their best?
Responding to Gillette’s Ad
You might choose to engage your participants in one or both of the following activities:
Invite participants to create a short video or a photo in response to the new Gillette ad that in some way speaks to the prompt, “The best mensches can be…” After participants have created the video/image, post it to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the hashtag #TheBestMenchesCanBe.”
Letters to Gillette
Invite participants to write a letter to Gillette articulating their responses to the commercial. In writing their letters, they might consider:
- What about the ad was compelling? What was not as compelling? Why?
- What could have made the ad stronger?
- How the ad made them feel.
- Any reactions they had to Jones’ statements about the ad and its intentions.