Opinion: The Gillette ad vs Pandya's sexism

Opinion: The Gillette ad vs Pandya's sexism

What is the connection between the two incidents, you ask? It is the basic understanding of toxic masculinity, or the lack thereof

When cricketers Hardik Pandya and Rahul K L stirred up a hornet's nest last week with a typically sexist quip on Karan Johar’s talk show, people were left divided. While some felt it was crass and demeaned women, others felt it was not a big deal and passed it off as a ‘boys will be boys’ statement. Subsequently, they were fined and dropped from crucial matches during India’s tour of Australia, the law came down heavily on them, social media reacted swiftly and mercilessly, and Rahul Dravid was, as usual, the sane, calm voice of reason. But it begs the question: is cricket really a gentleman’s game as it is touted to be if women (who incidentally also play the game) are objectified as a gender by our country’s cricket superstars?

Parallelly, a wide conversation also grew around the latest Gillette ad. The campaign, "The Best Men Can Be," has gone viral and has also polarised its audience across the globe.

What is the connection between the two incidents, you ask? It is the basic understanding of toxic masculinity, or the lack thereof. 

The aforementioned ad starts with snippets of the 'MeToo' movement and then takes on issues like toxic masculinity (read 'boys will be boys' narrative), bullying and sexual harassment that women routinely face in this world. The narrative takes a turn when men stop other men from such negative behaviour. The ad ends with a punch: "because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow."

Sounds positive and refreshing? Not for many around the globe who were miffed with Gillette and threatened to boycott it. The ad, they say, paints men with broad brushstrokes into a collective of being harassers, bullies, and misogynists, and portrays men in a poor light.  Several others felt it was a 'woke' (social media speak – sigh) ad that simply asked people, in general, to be respectful and good towards women from early on in life.

To me, this sounds eerily similar to the argument of the two sets of people who were either against or apologetic about the cricketers over their 'Koffee with Karan' statements.

In India, the 'Beta' (son) love/worship is a known phenomenon. The concept of 'Mard ko dard nahi hota' (Men don't feel pain) and a preference for a male child over a female pervades our society (and has also heavily skewed the sex ratio in certain states.)

It is not a coincidence that we see instances of toxic masculinity to be most rampant where there is also an extreme case of (lopsided or biased) sex ratio, in states like Haryana, Rajasthan, etc. Yet, several men were uncomfortable with a 'preachy' ad that just explained how things could be made different if only we would open our eyes to inherent misogyny in patriarchal societies. It is not a feminist-male-bashing piece but a mirror to a society that has a problem that needs to be addressed. And as expected, the standard response of 'Not all men' started floating around on social media platforms, reducing necessary conversations to mere hashtags. The tragedy is that so many of us are looking at the message as if it were entirely a political statement and not as an issue that haunts half the world’s population around the globe that needs discussing.

The truth is -- and it is a sorry state of affairs that this needs to be said as a disclaimer nowadays – the simple truth is, no one hates all men. That's why the ad shows some men perpetrating actions that have for far too long been dismissed as “boys will be boys”, and that we will need to start noticing these patterns. The earlier we catch this kind of toxic behaviour in boys and help them understand how it either objectifies, demeans or treats women as secondary, the better our society’s chances are at rearing sensitive, empathetic, compassionate men who treat women as human beings first. 

In that, the Gillette ad succeeds. By spades.  Yet, we become defensive about a movement that is trying to bring about a change in our “othering” of women, as always, the secondary gender consideration in all walks of life. You know what they say about little drops of water making a mighty ocean. These little drops of creative messaging and activism should be encouraged, not reviled, in order to move forward to becoming an equal society for men and women. If only we got equally agitated when deodorant ads show women with a heightened olfactory sense and zero common sense.

Perhaps when such toxic deodorant ads cease to exist, we can have this “Not all men” conversation.

Watch the full Gillette ad here: