Proctor and Gamble’s Gillette wants men to be their best selves. I say they want men to be emasculated. Corporations have become the third party in a two-party system that is working overtime to influence culture, and men have been within their sights for at least the past decade. Accelerating the battle against men was the #MeToo movement, which sparked an unprecedented wave of feminists making decades-old accusations of sexual harassment.
What is driving corporations such as Starbucks, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Nike, and even the NFL to take up the self-imposed mantel of social responsibility and spark cultural change? Not so long ago, ad agencies for major corporations just wanted to sell you an image and hoped you’d buy their product. Today, corporations are more willing to risk losing customers by issuing social fatwas against particular identity groups or ideas—gun owners, immigration, feminism and race—and sales be damned.
To be sure the ad industry has always painted us make-believe pictures of both men, women and families, which was so powerfully depicted in the wildly popular AMC series “Mad Men.” The mad men of 1960s Madison Street advertising agencies were selling an American dream that looks much different than the one advertisers are delivering today. And I, for one, am glad for that, but P&G doesn’t just want us to desire to aspire to a particular ideal, they are attacking their own customer base.
Gillette is not the first company to enter the gender wars. Consider when H&M created a parody in 2016 of lady-like behavior. The ad featured women with hairy armpits, a woman picking her teeth over dinner with a fork, a woman body builder and man-splaying, all playing to a remake of Tom Jones’ hit, “She’s a Lady.” And all designed to attack the ideal of what it means to be a woman in the world today.
The advertising industry prides itself on knowing who its customers are and getting ahead of the winds of social change. Consider the creator of one of the most successful ads ever aimed at women, Pat Martin, who died this past summer. Martin created the wildly successful feminist slogan, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” for Virginia Slims’ cigarette ads. The Chicago Sun said of Martin’s ads, “The ads contrasted sepia-toned images of women trapped in the domestic drudgery of past eras alongside supermodels like Beverly Johnson, Cristina Ferrare and Cheryl Tiegs who held up their Virginia Slims as if they were ‘torches of freedom’—the cigarettes puffed by debutantes in the 1929 New York City Easter Parade.” Obviously, the message was that women were to consider domestic life a life of drudgery.
The question isn’t whether men and families are under attack, but who is influencing these boards and why. Branding CEOs and marketers have all weighed in on the controversial Gillette ad, but I believe it is Dean Crutchfield, CEO of branding firm Crutchfield + Partners, who got it right when he told The Wall Street Journal, “The ad could appeal to millennials who care about what companies stand for. There’s a demand for this, for purpose, for brands to be tackling tough issues in the moment.”
In a post-modern society where young adults are struggling to find identity and purpose, social causes have substituted for what family and religion once provided. Today, the oldest millennials are entering the peak of their careers and are employed in both the corporate and marketing worlds. This generation was raised on social equity and identity politics, so Crutchfield’s remarks seem spot on. Today’s corporate cog in the wheel doesn’t just want to go to work for a paycheck, he (or she) wants to do something that has meaning.
But denigrating one group of people to raise up another is never the way to go if the aim is to create a just society. By making masculinity somehow “toxic,” we are dissolving the glue of a society that has always recognized the need for strong, independent men. In my article, The Extermination of the American Male, I discuss at length the forces behind the war on males and the dangerous consequences of neutering the role men play in building a strong nation. And despite what the social justice warriors would have us believe, women still desire powerful alpha males over ones they can manipulate. Do cut your man bun, but keep the beard. #Reignwell