Sexism, Gillette, and ‘The Best a Man Can Get’

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What does sexism in our day look like? The answer depends on who you ask. Ask the folks over at Gillette, and you will hear that sexism looks like men marginalizing and harassing women.

However, sexism can also look like Gillette’s new ad campaign, ‘The Best a Man Can Be,’ upbraiding most men with broad, male-bashing brushes, then affirming only the some who agree with the bandwagon of criticizing so-called “toxic masculinity.”

After all, when was the last time any company ran ad campaigns shaming most women for toxic femininity? Maybe one somewhere has, once upon a time, but I would guess not since at least the 1950’s.

Back in the 1950’s, what we would typically recognize today as male chauvinistic ads against women were du jour.

One for Hotpoint Dishwasher reads “Please… let your wife come into the living room!” Pictured are the husband and children watching TV while the wife and mother slaves away in the kitchen, a wall of dirty dishes separating her from them.

Another for Van Heusen Ties shows a bedside woman in pajamas, on her knees and holding up a tray with breakfast for her husband. He is presumably wearing a Van Heusen tie. The caption reads “Show her it’s a man’s world.”

As someone who drinks coffee by the pot, my favorite is probably Chase & Sanborn Coffee. The caption reads “If your husband ever finds out you’re not “store-testing” for fresher coffee…” Below and beside the caption is a black and white photograph of a man with a woman over his knee, his hand raised to spank her bottom as she appears struggling to get up and away.

The Subtlety of Prevailing Attitudes

If you were to ask me whether these ads offend me, I would shrug. For that matter, I am not terribly worked up about Gillette either. What I will point out, however, is that caution is warranted concerning the prevailing attitudes present in both the 1950’s advertisements and those today like Gillette’s.

Show someone today those ads from the 1950’s presuming that women should wash the dishes, bring their husbands breakfast in bed, and still get spanked if they were careless in their coffee purchase. Their reaction will be to question how anyone ever thought this was okay.

Yet I wager most people thought there was nothing wrong with these ads back when they were first run. Those advertisements reflected the prevailing attitudes about respective gender roles for women and men which were common in that day.

Today, however, far from assuming women should stay home to be wives and mothers, we see relentless insistence that women be in charge – at least of themselves, but probably the men too. And perhaps the men should stay home!

I wonder what our descendants will say 60-years from now when they look back on the adverts of today. What will they make of Gillette’s latest ad campaign calling men to, as one Wall Street Journal article I read puts it, “shave their ‘toxic masculinity’”?

I hope they see more clearly this forest for the trees. I hope they recognize that men were being unfairly criticized, lampooned, and demonized in our day for being masculine, and that this was due to the ascension of pernicious and vengeful feminism.

The Fairer Sexism

Look back 60 years into the past, and consider that American culture is no less sexist in our day than it was in the 1950’s. Sexism today has merely taken on an ugly new form.

Where before, advertisements reflected the presumption that a woman’s role was in the home, working full-time as wife and mother, today sexism often takes the form of putting women above men in all things outside the home.

‘Progress’ is measured in how many men can be replaced with women, and we are told to pick up the pace when the replacement rate falls below expectations in any career path or field of study, or when some woman or another does not get the promotion she wanted.

Where women were formerly helpers, they are now cultivated to be leaders – to compete with and dominate men. Where men were formerly told to be leaders, they are now told their manly qualities are inherently toxic and shameful – something to hide and apologize for.

“Like a girl” has been re-branded as something akin to the highest form of being. “Boys will be boys,” on the other hand, is scoffed at as everything wrong with the world.

“Shame on you boys!”

“Way to go girls!”

Those who affirm this new form of sexism will doubtless cite their good intentions. Yet I will cite the old saying that ‘The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.’

What comes of constantly telling men their strength is neither needed nor welcome? What comes of shaming American males at every turn for what some men do?

Conversely, what comes of telling women that they can do no wrong? Are they really always the betters of all their male peers in everything and anything they set their minds to?


Sexism is a real problem in our day, but not as advertised. So what is the solution?

It is not telling women they can do no wrong, and it is not shaming men at every available opportunity.

No, the solution is to stop tearing down either women or men, femininity or masculinity. The lot of women will never be improved by browbeating men until women are ‘equal.’

Just so, we will not reverse the male-bashing trend in our day by next tearing down women until men are respected again.

We must embrace the fact that men and women are different because God designed them that way. And not only are men and women different, but their differences are purposeful and glorious!

God has a special plan for masculinity and femininity. Wisdom brings the fear of the Lord to bear on how we flesh that out as individuals.

The truth about men and women is found in God’s Word, not rants – be they shrill or soft-spoken – about an entire gender based on individual bad actors. By God’s grace, each individual man and woman should be regarded an individual, and be individually responsible for his or her actions, not all others of their sex.

God’s plan is not sexism as a bludgeon for women to beat on men, nor for men to keep women underfoot. Rather, both femininity and masculinity are inherently good things God made. We would do well to honor them equally, though no less distinctly in their respective spheres.

In principle, then, there is nothing wrong with Gillette encouraging men to be their best. Yet the best way for Gillette to call men to be their best is by not running sexist advertisements which malign masculinity in general as toxic.

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Follow Garrett Mullet:

Christian, husband to a darling wife, and father to seven children - I enjoy pipe-smoking, playing strategy games on my computer, listening to audio books, and writing. When I'm not asking you questions out loud, I'm endlessly asking myself silent questions in my head. I believe in God's grace, hard work, love, patience, contemplation, and courage.