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Say Toxic Masculinity… What?

sarah mcdugal toxic masculinity gillette abuse

So Gillette’s now infamous ad called “We Believe In the Best In Men” about toxic behaviors, managed to irritate sensitive masculine skin everywhere.

Gillette unveiled the two minute short film on Twitter with this caption: “Boys will be boys”? Isn’t it time we stopped excusing bad behavior? Re-think and take action by joining us. #TheBestMenCanBe

I thought the ad was so powerful, I called my kids and they wanted to watch it three times over. Then we talked about the toxic actions they saw in the story: bullying, harassing, threatening, catcalling, fighting… And then we paused each scene and discussed what awesome things each man chose to do with his power to stop each bad thing that was happening to someone vulnerable.

They especially loved the father holding his young son’s hand and running through the crowd to rescue the tween boy being chased by bullies. They soaked up the expressions of admiration on each young boy’s face at the end, as they watched grown men’s actions ranging from simple to heroic.

In short — I absolutely loved it.

But an awful lot of people didn’t. In fact for a few days it kind of felt like the whole world loathed it.

Men took to Twitter (and YouTube, and Facebook, and blogs, and news desks) to express collective anger at the video’s message. There was a lot of chatter about how the phrase “toxic masculinity” painted all men with a demeaning brush. Somehow the idea that being manly should include being a decent human being, was just more than the internet could take.

Twitchy.com snarked that “nothing attracts men to your product more than shaming masculinity. If men don’t want to be shamed for being men, they’ll just go buy their manly stuff somewhere else.”

Men posted photos of their smashed up Gillette razors, saying they’ll never buy the brand again.

Charles Taylor, marketing professor, wrote on Forbes.com that “calling for and showing images of men holding other men accountable and emphasizing that the boys of today will be the men of tomorrow” is toxic in itself, and if Gillette doesn’t apologize or modify it, “this campaign will be remembered as  nothing short of an all-time marketing blunder.”

Of course, there were plenty of spoof memes, as well.

Of course, as a woman, I have absolutely no idea what it might feel like to have companies tell me that I’m not good enough as I am. Or that I should change something about myself. Or that the world expects me to be better, or different, or transformed in some way in order to measure up to a societal ideal. Nope, never experienced that…

Although, perhaps the difference is that the demands for change constantly assaulting women are generally focused on externals, on becoming more sexually alluring — rather than improving character and embracing a higher moral standard. Is that what makes it socially acceptable?

What, exactly, does all this bellowing rage say about how we view men? Or how even about how men view themselves? If setting a standard for male accountability against harassment and bullying requires a “modification and apology” in order to avoid marketing failure — then what kind of men exactly, do we want our boys to grow up and become?

What is left of masculinity, if using manliness to protect is not on the list? What remains if our collective skin is too sensitive to address the pandemic issues that exist for men as well as women?
When did addressing toxicity become an automatic assault on gender?

I recently got pushback when I commented on this insightful Instagram post by author and counselor Shannon Thomas:

That’s when another woman chimes in about how all toxicity is gender-neutral and anyone who talks about one gender’s evil without the other isn’t handling the subject properly… (I’ve marked out her identity, cause you know, #avoidingtoxicfemininity.)

At this point, Thomas responds with some practical common sense:

And then a guy joins the thread, who seems to believe gender is dispensable…

Except… how can “gender-specific stuff” be silly when addressing issues that happen in certain ways because of either gender’s toxic actions? To deny that gender-specific abuse exists is to either set oneself up for abuse or to put naivete on full display. The reality is that:

  • 1 in 4 women experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc.
  • 1 in 3 women have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. 
  • 1 in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner. 
  • 1 in 5 women have been raped in their lifetime. 
  • Evidence shows that women who have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence report higher rates of depression, having an abortion and acquiring HIV, compared to women who have not.
  • It is estimated that of ALL women who were the victims of homicide globally in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members, compared to less than 6% of men killed in the same year.

So I replied nicely:

The guy doubled down on his position:

You might say that as a woman, I have zero right to talk about men. Maybe you’re right… but I’d say that as a single mother who is raising a son, I have a deep and vested interest in learning how to hold up positive manhood to him the best I can.

I texted my friend Kevin Carrington to get his non-toxic perspective on this. Kevin owns a men’s luxury accessories line, and his mantra is that men carry their character with them everywhere they go.

“Gillette’s ad is a mirror. If after watching it you see your reflection, and you don’t see a problem, it makes sense that you’re offended. I feel sorry for you, you’re oblivious to how far guys have strayed away from true masculinity. You’ve replaced the standard with the norm and society is worse off for it. This ad is simply a reminder of the standard of true masculinity.

Our women and children deserve our focus on reclaiming the standard and doing our best to live up to it everyday. Anyone who believes that Gillette’s ad diminishes their masculinity, I got news for you, that’s your toxicity being offended, not your masculinity.” 

Kevin Carrington, Carrington Case, CEO

So what are we supposed to do?

How do we sort through what’s actually toxic, what’s beautifully and powerfully masculine, and how to show our boys the difference?

How do we raise our sons into men who aren’t thin-skinned, egotistical, control-hungry alpha males who feel affronted at any hint that strength and power should be used for something other than self-gratification, self-aggrandizement, and self-satisfaction?

How do we address real issues of toxic behavior among men, while preserving the God-given identity of masculinity at its best? Is that even possible?

I have an idea.

What if we went back to the basics? Back to the foundational qualities of character originally given to people of faith back in the time of Paul. What if we consciously measured our benchmark of “real manhood” against the standard of character given by God?

I’m talking about Galatians 5, what preachers often refer to as the “fruits of the Spirit”. It goes like this:

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

Wait, what? Aren’t those primarily female characteristics? I mean, when we talk about being loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, gentle, kind… that’s for girls, right?

Nope.

That’s for humans. Meaning… men too. This ^ right here is the baseline for real manhood. Authentic masculinity and femininity starts here. Patience, gentleness, and last but not least — each person taking the responsibility to regulate and control themselves.

Now if you scroll up a few verses, that passage gets really interesting. Verses 19-21 describe an eerily familiar series of toxic traits… lust, sexual impulsivity, angry outbursts, etc.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures,  idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

verses 19-21

Sounds a lot like what’s illustrated as toxic masculinity in the infamous Gillette video, doesn’t it? Here, the apostle Paul clearly states that no one indulging in these behaviors are headed for God’s kingdom, quite simply because if we’re prioritizing those behaviors, we wouldn’t be happy there.

But isn’t that just boys being boys?
Men being red-blooded males?
Nope.
Scroll up even further, and you’ll see how Paul outlines the recipe for change:

Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 1The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires.

verses 16-17

In other words, focus on the toxic and it will take you over.
Focus on the Spirit and it will grow in you with good.
We are filled with what we focus on.

A friend of mine described it as both a command and a promise, given simultaneously. The command is to let the Spirit guide. The promise? If you do this, then you won’t be owned by selfish cravings.

When I talk to my son, and my daughter as well, this is the benchmark we discuss. This is what it means to be a decent human being, a godly person — regardless of gender. This is where we must start…

Not with prowess and posturing.
Not with power and self-preservation.

But with patience.
Goodness.
Kindness.
Peacefulness.
Self-control.

These are the things that show real manhood.
That is where real strength breaks through and shines.
This is what God-given masculinity is all about, and it’s a powerful, mesmerizing, heroic thing to see.

Powerful manhood isn’t achieved by lowering the bar. It never has been. Powerful, protecting, maximum-potential manhood is attained by raising the standard high and then challenging boys to reach the mark.

And you know what?
I believe in heroes.
I believe in men.


Here’s my mama rant at the nation’s outrage over the moral outrage of how society so egregiously continues to misdefine “the best a man can be”.
Or get. Or whatever…

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