Gillette released a short film called “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” some days ago. The ad spread like wildfire on social media and gained increasing public prominence. The film was intended as a positive message in the age of #MeToo but it ended up receiving bitter criticism and sparked feelings of hate, outrage, and offense among a lot of men.
The ad starts with the words “bullying, sexual harassment, #MeToo movement, masculinity” playing in the news, and then goes on to say, “Is this the best a man can get?” The premise of the ad was remarkably simple—that the way many men have behaved for millennia is wrong and it needs to change. Unsurprisingly, however, a certain subsection of men decided it was yet another attack on their masculinity.
The ad is emotional, impactful and important. It carefully threads in details of how men treat other men and women.
My first confrontation with the ad wasn’t with the ad itself but with a tweet by a woman defending the pro-social message that the ad conveys. When I later saw the ad, I was pleased to see such a message being sent forth to men in all parts of the world. But when I moved over to the comments I was dismayed, to say the least, at having found them suspended in a deep-seated feeling of aversion. Going back to the tweet I read earlier, I realized that this is not one woman’s battle.
What is it about the ad that completely bewildered the male audience?
There’s a strong message emanating from the ad against bullying and sexual harassment and in support of the #MeToo movement. The ad exhorts men to change, to hold other men accountable and stop them from going down the wrong path, to be kind, to help others, to set an example for younger boys because “the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow”—to simply be the best that they can be.
But a lot of men saw the ad differently—they discerned its meaning as anti-men. They felt like this was an attack on them. When Gillette called men out for their toxic masculinity, men were offended. But their angry reactions only strengthen the need for movements like #MeToo, as too many men still don’t want to change.
Most societies around the world are organized along patriarchal lines. Women still languish in indentured oppression, and equality and fairness across gender are still far and away from being achieved. In my country, Pakistan, which is a faint existence on the world map, yet indisputably one of the worst countries for women to live in, patriarchy is embedded in all structures and women continue to suffer at the hands of men.
Newspapers are never without news of women suffering as they deal with a society that wallows in customs of chronic and undisguised misogyny. The country’s name is besmirched as innocent women continue to reel in debilitating circumstances.
In Pakistan, an endemic culture of routine rape prevails, acid is thrown at women unable to arrange extravagant dowries, women are killed, apparently to “preserve” honor when they marry men of their choice, women are harassed in all spaces—just because the men of this country refuse to change.
The legislators haven’t yet succeeded in framing laws to protect us. There’s only sheer indifference to the violation of our rights and our freedom. No one hears us screaming for justice. How, as women, can we still not tell men to change?
What Gillette tried to achieve through this ad was only change—for women, for men, for this world. It challenged socially constructed attitudes. It encouraged men to better themselves for the better of the society at large.
This ad isn’t anti-men. If anything, it’s pro-humanity. It shouldn’t be so convenient to obscure misogyny and patriarchy anymore.
We, as women, will not let Gillette’s message dissolve to nothing. We cannot, and will not, let this crusading movement against oppression wither away.