Gillette, which sells shaving products, this week launched a commercial challenging “toxic masculinity.”
In the “We Believe” ad scheduled to run during the Super Bowl, boys bully each other, a man precedes to sexually harass a woman passing him on the street and a male employee appears to be belittling or speaking over his female colleague in a board room meeting.
A voice-over asks, “Is this the best a man can get?” — a reference to the company’s tagline.
The ad sparked a near-immediate backlash among conservatives.
On “Fox & Friends,” Brian Kilmeade said the commercial was designed to “make me feel horrible.”
At Fox News, Todd Starnes argued that the ad was evidence of “a war on masculinity in America,” one “being waged in classrooms where professors are trying to convince a new generation of students that there’s something wrong with men who want to protect and provide for their families.”
And on “The View,” co-host Meghan McCain spoke about her discomfort with the whole idea of toxic masculinity. “I grew up in a military family,” she said. “All the men in my family are in the military, we all shoot guns, and I think there’s this backlash against being traditionally masculine as well. I just want men to obviously not sexually harass anyone, not make any woman feel offended, not do anything illegal, all those things they’re doing in that ad is great. I also think if you want to be a UFC fighter, that’s fine, too.”
Later on, McCain praised James Shaw Jr., a Nashville man who disarmed a gunman with an AR-15-style rifle in a Waffle House in April, for personifying traditional masculinity.
These comments highlight a key talking point of the Republican Party, one that helps explain Trump’s election.
Surveys show Trump won the male vote in 2016, in part, because many of his supporters hoped he would restore men to a status in society they felt they were losing. An October 2016 poll by the Atlantic and the Public Religion Research Institute showed that supporters of Trump were more likely than supporters of Hillary Clinton to believe that society punishes men simply for behaving like men. According to the poll, nearly two-thirds of Republicans agreed that society has become too soft and feminine.
In a 2018 study, researchers Emily K. Carian and Tagart Cain Sobotka found that men who felt their masculinity was threatened flocked to Trump because of his masculine qualities. (Fears about masculinity being under threat were not associated with support for Mitt Romney or John McCain.)
A Mother Jones writer explained why. Kevin Drum theorized that many male Trump voters grew up “thinking that stereotypical manliness was a core part of who they had to be.” An inability to be a good breadwinner, the idea that men were losing out because of feminism, and a loss of control over family and sex all fed a sense that men are weak. “A candidate who explicitly appealed to this frustration and promised to fix it—which neither Romney nor McCain did—would attract their votes,” Drum wrote.
Trump and his supporters continue to appeal to these voters. During the weeks leading up to the midterm election, Trump mocked and imitated Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual assault, at a campaign rally while his supporters laughed and chanted “Lock her up,” a call that had been reserved for Trump’s 2016 presidential rival Clinton.
As liberal lawmakers become more aware of how gender differences manifest in issues such as employment, health care and education, voters are likely to hear more critiques of forms of masculinity that disadvantage women and even other men who do not embrace traditional masculinity coming from Washington. And this will probably increasingly be the case as we head into the next presidential election, in which multiple women will be taking a shot at winning the highest position in the land and, in many ways, the power to shape the country’s direction on issues related to gender.