Beneath Gillette’s “What Is A Man?” Controversy
By Gary Yagel

Several months ago, Gillette aired a new ad that takes the company’s 30-year-old slogan, “The Best a Man Can Get,” and turns it into an introspective reflection on toxic masculinity, changing their slogan to “The Best Men Can Be.” The ad depicts men and boys engaging in bullying, fighting, discrimination, and sexual harassment. A voiceover asks, “Is this the best a man can get?”

The ad goes on to say it is time for men to stop making excuses and to renounce the idea that “boys will be boys.” Gillette concludes by showing images of men holding other men accountable, breaking up fights, championing their daughters, and intervening when men sexually harass women. Gillette named the add, “What is a Man?”  

Reaction to this ad was swift, widespread, and sharply divided. At the writing of this article, it has received over 29 million views on YouTube with over 774,000 likes, but 1.4 million dislikes. What explains the disparity?

There is a longing in the human heart for strong, incorruptible manhood, something better than we usually see in this fallen world.

Millennials, to whom the ad was targeted, see the ad positively. A study conducted by Mediapost revealed that people under 30 were 50 percent more positive toward the ad than 30-to-49-year-olds and over 10 times more likely than those over 50 to see it positively. Women were also 50 percent more likely to see the add positively than men.

These findings correspond with my unscientific poll, as well. The Millennials with whom I spoke, though biblically conservative, saw the ad as a courageous effort to take on bullying and sexual harassment. The commercial tries to point to a better image of a man, one who uses his power to help and protect others, never to degrade and destroy them. And it rightly suggests that boys are always watching men for their cues on masculinity. Who could argue with that?

The majority of men, however, viewed the ad negatively. In their eyes, the video was an example of the worst kind of stereotyping. The message was, “Men are sex-crazed, harassing, groping bullies. But,” says the video narrative, “a few good men have overcome this norm of evil masculine behavior.” Gillette then scolds the evil masculine majority to be like this minority.

Ilan Srulovicz, the CEO of Egard Watch Co., was so incensed with Gillette’s ad that he had his company produce a video entitled, “What is a Man: A Response to Gillette.” The video begins with the question, “Is a man brave?” showing a firefighter with a girl in his arms and the caption “Men account for 93% of workplace fatalities.” The narrator next asks, “Is a man a hero?” showing a returning soldier holding his daughter who holds an American flag and the statistic that over 97% of war fatalities are men. The narrator continues with “Is a man a protector, vulnerable, disposable, broken, and ends with, “Is a man…trying?”

A Longing for Incorruptible Manhood

What both sides of this contentious debate hold in common is a vision of masculinity at its best. Gillette reminds us that masculinity was designed to be something more than becoming sex-crazed, abusive, and selfish. Egard Watch’s picture of a firefighter rescuing a little girl is a (common grace) glimpse of manhood as it was designed to be — sacrificial, protective, self-denying. Beneath both videos is an attraction to the best masculinity has to offer. There is a longing in the human heart for strong, incorruptible manhood, something better than we usually see in this fallen world. It is the longing for broken masculinity to be fully restored to its glory. 

Many in our culture tell us that the solution to broken masculinity is to eliminate the biblical teaching of complementarianism. The biblical view that men and women equally bear the image of God but have different roles in the home and in the church is labeled patriarchy, a repressive social construct used primarily by white male Christians to reinforce male privilege. The new American Psychological Association “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” (released in August of 2018), states, “Privilege refers to unearned sources of social status, power, and institutionalized advantage experienced by individuals by virtue of their culturally valued and dominant social identities (e.g., white, Christian, male).” In other words, broken masculinity is the fault of Christianity, which teaches that men are to be the heads of their homes.

In such a world, it would be easy to take the path of least resistance and minimize the biblical teaching of God’s design for male and female. After all, why create a stumbling block for the gospel? Such a response, though, misunderstands today’s millennials. Radical feminists who seek to eliminate male/female distinctions are a small minority of the millennial population. The vast majority recognize that male/female differences are real and want help knowing how to make masculinity and femininity work in their own lives. How tragic for us to miss the cry in the #MeToo movement for a form of manhood that can only be found through the redemptive power of Jesus! 

The solution to broken masculinity is Jesus. That is the message we and our sons need to take to our culture. Christ wants to redeem every Christian man’s fallen, self-centered masculinity and restore him to the original design God displayed in creating unfallen Adam as a male. Christ came to fix everything that is broken in this world, including masculinity. In Christ, the Second Adam, men are empowered to become the Christ-like man Adam was designed to be.

This is not a time to obscure the differences in biblical manhood and womanhood but a time to challenge our rising sons and daughters to show their glory to the world!

Consider just one aspect of Adam’s calling. In Genesis 2:15, we are told that Adam is placed in the garden to work it (ESV). The Hebrew word for “work it” is avad, which means “to make fruitful,” to “cause to flourish.” Adam is to provide what the garden, which includes its human inhabitants, needs to be fruitful. This core concept of masculinity is that we invest our greatest assets, time, effort, and energy so that all parts of the garden (or civilization) flourish. 

When the broad calling of manhood is applied in the narrower sphere of the home, we see that husbands and fathers are called to provide what their wives and children need to flourish physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is Adam’s original call to manhood — sacrificing himself so that others reach their full potential — that is to be lived out, by Christ-following men in their homes. The masculinity that Christianity restores Christian men to display is not the selfish abuse of power but self-giving manhood. Our authority and headship are assigned to us so that we can cause those under our care to thrive. That was the original calling of unfallen Adam. This is the restored masculinity for which our culture yearns, and which it desperately needs.

Gillette’s razor ad and Egard Watch’s ad ask the same question, “What is a Man?” Christ-followers are blessed with the answer to this contentious cultural question. “He is a glorious ruin who, with Eve’s daughters, bears the image of God.” Though masculinity is fallen, the glorious good news of the gospel is that God has begun to restore fallen manhood. Remarkably we who are being remade by Jesus get to show a picture of that restoration project (though it be very imperfect) to the world! This is not a time to obscure the differences in biblical manhood and womanhood but a time to challenge our rising sons and daughters to show their glory to the world!

Dr. Gary Yagel is the PCA CDM Men’s Ministry Advisor and Executive Director of Forging Bonds of Brotherhood ( Parts of this article were excerpted from Yagel’s new book, Anchoring Your Child to God’s Truth in a Gender-Confused Culture: Helping Our Children Embrace Their Calling to Godly Manhood and Womanhood, published by CDM of the PCA and available at the PCA bookstore.

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