Christine Flowers clearly missed the point of the Gillette ad (It’s a myth, The Sentinel, Jan. 23). No where in the ad were men asked to be more empathetic to women’s needs (although I am not sure why that is a bad thing).
From where I sit, the ad is asking men to be more thoughtful and authentic in their own masculinity and be less influenced by cultural stereotypes of manhood. The men I know understand these stereotypes and are thoughtful about how media, music, video games, ads, and sports culture work to reinforce these dominant cultural messages of what it means to be a man.
We also willingly take a look at these issues and what it might mean to be better men ... better coaches, better teachers and mentors, better fathers ... and reframe this message of “what it means to be a man” for the generations of boys and young men that are behind us.
When I look in the mirror, I see me, the individual with my values and beliefs and motivations. As an individual, I see both the strengths of my masculinity and the way the dominant cultural “story” of masculinity have conflicted with those very values and beliefs. I grew up on this dominant story, having it reinforced in the hallways and locker rooms of my high school and the sidelines and bars of my college.
In those years when my values and beliefs were being formed, there were a lot of conflicting messages about what manhood was all about, and some of those messages I was absorbing from our culture were indeed toxic to me and my relationships with others.
The other thing I see when I look in that mirror are the groups I belong to and one of those groups I see looking back at me is my gender. And if I am paying attention at all, I know that men, the gender group I belong to, are the perpetrators of an awful lot of violence in our culture. And, while it is certainly true that there are an awful lot of women in our culture who are the victims of male violence, other men by far outnumber women when it comes to being victims of male violence.
Believe me, I haven’t fallen prey to the narrative that all “men are bad,” I know an awful lot of good men, men who are not violent. However, knowing that fact, I am still willing to take an honest look at the violence my gender perpetrates and the roll masculinity plays in that and invite other men to do the same without feeling that I am attacking men. The trauma that both men and women experience from men’s violence concerns me greatly and I strongly believe there are things that I and other men can do to change this. One of those ways is examining how masculinity is constructed in our culture, and being willing to confront that construct in our daily lives.
I do not need you or anyone else trying to let me and my gender off the hook by using arguments like “that’s just how men are wired” or “boys will be boys” and “that’s just locker room talk,” as if men do not have choices when it comes to the things they do are say (or don’t say). I also do not think it is all that helpful to blame feminists or the “me too movement” as a way of diverting responsibility away from men examining the relationship of masculinity with sexism and violence. We do not need any one to blame. As a matter of fact, from what I have experienced men are perfectly willing to hold up the mirror ourselves and take a look at ways “we can do better.”
I for one am not buying the “natural inclinations” thing and I certainly am left wondering why you and others are so defensive about an ad that says, “men can do better.” There are messages in our culture targeted toward men and boys that are toxic and harmful and send men a message that there is no need for them to change. I for one, welcome a different kind of message ... a “counter story” to the all-to-familiar Marlboro man message and one that gets us all talking about what it really means to be a man.
Those of us, both men and women, on the front lines of this issue believe in the “best” of men and we believe that men’s strength and conviction will help us to be better men and lead the way for those young men and boys that are following in our footsteps to not feel any shame about being men but know they can strive as we are to be better men.
Not sure calling out men to be better is really all that controversial.