It’s possible to wonder whether those masticating over the Gillette Toxic Masculinity ad have ever met any actual human beings. Or have any idea of how the varied – and agreed – problems with them can best be managed. The ad itself is called “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” and what the hell, it’s an ad about selling consumer goods. That ad being:
Well, OK,more power to their elbow and hope they sell lots of razor blades. Except, of course, that’s not enough for some.
What strikes me most is the fragility. Gillette makes an advertisement calling on men to challenge abusive behaviour, and thousands furiously proclaim they will never use its products again. The American Psychological Association (APA) issues new clinical guidelines advising that a masculinity characterised by dominance, aggression and emotional repression can be harmful to men’s mental health, and the world’s conservative media falls into a collective faint. So much for the strong and silent types. If “real men”, according to the men’s rights movement, are tough and commanding, why are the exponents of this doctrine so easily discomposed? Why does the slightest challenge to the norms they proclaim – by a razor ad or an academic body they had probably never encountered before – trigger this frenzied testeria?
Well, yes, as we’ve long suspected George Monbiot hasn’t met many human beings. For that frenzied testeria is no more mysterious than the peacock’s tail. Peahens go for the bird with the big tail. The current generation of peahens are descendants of those peahens that found big tails breedingly attractive. And that’s it really.
It’s all there in Darwin, obviously enough, and it’s a true and reasoned account of how we got here. There are differences with humans, of course there are. It tends to be male humans that like the birds with the big tails which is what explains Izzy Aguilera and yoga pants as street accessories but there we are, we’re descended from those who did. We’re descended from those women who found risk taking and masculinity among males to be breedingly exciting and that’s how we got to be us.
But there’s more misunderstanding to this:
The advertisement shows men intervening to stop fights between boys and calling other men out when they say sexually inappropriate things to women in the streets. “We believe in the best in men: To say the right thing, to act the right way. Some already are in ways big and small. But some is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow,” the voiceover says.
The misunderstanding being that we used to have a way of doing this task vital to the creation of a civilisation. If we all go full Arnie and look for the lamentations of their women then we’re never going to get on with inventing the wheel. Thus successful societies have always found a solution to this toxic masculinity. Our own used to call it manners.
Sure, we agreed, we need that male stuff, someone’s got to stick a bayonet into the guts of the fuzzywuzzies to teach them what’s what after all. And there’s got to be space for that too. So, we’ll have those societal arrangements which allow it. Separate rooms off into which the boys can go to giggle, fart and wave sabres at each other. Clubs where they do boy stuff away from the womenfolk. Plus a rigidly enforced – through social approbration or the withdrawal of it – set of manners to be used in public. Sure, that idea that kissing a bird of a certain background meant you had to marry her might have been going a little far. But actual legover in an age of no contraception, well, it was a method of dealing with that spreading of the seed desire.
But of course all that repression, so out of date now. We should all let it all hang out, be who we really are. As in rather ignore what human beings actually are and fail that Chesterton’s Fence of why we used to constrain it.
There is an amusement to all of this. Not having sexual repression in a society which contains male humans isn’t all that good an idea. Sure, we can change the form of it but it does need to be there. Which is all that this toxic masculinity and the MeToo movement is really about. Getting that beast of male sexuality back in its box even if we’ve decided to change the colour of the wrapping paper upon it.
Hey, Granny had a point, what would the world be like if men could just get fresh with you without being slapped? And now that those who allowed the freshness in a new and exciting society are themselves grannies we’re reverting to what?