Although I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my question, I have kind of a different take on things. “It says something about a very, very small portion of American men — less than a fraction of a percent of men.” My personal poll of male friends and acquaintances, most of whom are not conservative, old, White guys, says that at least half of them are upset. Many of these guys are otherwise fairly progressive and in their 20s. I’ve had a hard time really nailing down what is so offensive to them, but it seems to poke at the hegemonic masculine notion that you should never show a crack in your facade; that you should always appear competent and in control. (This is my take-away from their responses, and not what they have directly told me.) I’ve also seen pushback from places that were not conservative bastions, such as Rebel Wisdom, which identifies itself as “creating films with the world’s most rebellious and essential thinkers.”
And while I do agree that many, many men don’t engage in the behaviors shown in the ad, and even though Gillette went out of it’s way to say, “Men need to hold other men accountable. To say the right thing, to act the right way. Some already are, but some is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be men of tomorrow” — it still felt attacking to them anyhow, even though they were often hard-pressed to truly identify why. Yes, there are troll farms and instigators trying to make the backlash bigger than it actually is, but I don’t think it’s as tiny as you believe.
One thing I do largely agree with you on is that it serves no purpose to paint all men with the same broad brush. No population that large is homogeneous, and I am always careful to say “some men” when speaking about these topics. You are probably right that there is some click bait element in the titles that you identified, but I think it’s also more complex than that. Patriarchy is a pyramid of dominance and status. At the top of the pyramid are men (White, rich men like Donald Trump, who have a certain ruthlessness about them are at the very top). But beyond guys like him, most of the structural power still rest in the hands of men, such as companies, religions, government. Media/entertainment still feeds us that men’s voices and men’s stories are the most important. Most books and movies feature male protagonists, and even in ones that are more balanced or ostensibly about women, quite often men still have significantly more lines than women. Most children’s books are about male characters.
So, when someone like Jessica Valenti says “men” she is speaking to this dynamic, and not asserting literally every man. She’s talking about the male power base at the top of the hierarchy that is our society, I think. It would be more fair and more precise to clarify this, but I think it’s largely a short hand, although I can see how it pokes at some men.
However, right now there is an a powerful movement afoot in feminism to become much more intersectional. Black feminists have been pointing out how feminism has for the past 50 years been largely a movement of middle and upper class White women, largely ignoring the injustices and issues that Black women face in particular to them. What they are saying is exactly right but even though I am not a woman who has ever knowingly or intentionally marginalized any Black women, I’m not jumping up and down saying, “Hey, that isn’t fair. I’ve never done that” when these women talk about “White feminists.” I’m listening and learning, reading and become more educated about how I can participate in making this situation better. You can’t look at societal issues through the lens of personal identity, although this is precisely what most Westerners do because we’ve been so indoctrinated into individualism. I think this is a big part of the problem with guys being upset about feeling called out. But, since they have more institutional power and voices that are given more credence, even today, they really are in the best position to make a positive impact if they would stop taking it all so personally and look at through a societal lens.
You are correct that there is no war on men, and saying there is is largely a deflection from dealing with real issues, just as the mythical “war on Christmas” is. It’s my personal belief that headlines like the one that said, “but maybe there should be” are simply reflecting frustration with how much pushback there is to things like the #MeToo movement. Ostensibly, it’s simply pointing out long-standing and often systemic injustices that any decent human ought to find unacceptable, and yet, it’s still a hugely controversial thing, with many men calling it divisive. Why is it divisive to say, “I’m tired of having to put up with this shit, particularly now that I’ve truly understood how wide spread it is and how many other people have been putting up with it too.?” But, apparently, it is. This is unbelievably discouraging, frustrating and exhausting to those who care most about it and so while I’ll reiterate that I think we get the furthest by trying to work together and not demonize anyone who isn’t overtly worthy of being demonized (like Les Moonves) it’s absolutely maddening to feel like that is such an uphill battle to try to do. The comment from Eric M. below is a case in point of what drives some women to assert that perhaps there ought to be a war.
A lot of men seem to still have little idea how pervasive and nearly universal this kind of experience is for women and keep treating it like it’s all one big overreaction. I had a 20 something friend (whom I assumed knew better) assert the other day that feminism was teaching women to be afraid. Meanwhile, little girls start getting harassed in public at about age 9 or 10. You don’t need anyone to tell you to be afraid, because it’s not a safe thing to be a woman. You have to run a kind of constant threat assessment sub-routine all the time. But when instead of listening to the women who are speaking about this; instead of learning what female experience is actually like and wanting to join forces with women to try to create solutions, so many men are still pushing back, you start to get a little pissy after a while. It doesn’t excuse condescending or rude behavior, but it does get trying to try to always be polite in the face of some of this. This ad literally brought tears of hope to my eyes that a larger voice was speaking out and encouraging a world that will be better for us all to live in. Those big voices speaking to and on behalf of men are too few around this topic.
As to the wisdom of this kind of marketing, I’ve typed enough already and will refer you to another piece that I’ve already written about how “cause marketing” is being demanded right now, by both consumers and investors. Yes, Gillette will lose some customers, but they will probably solidify the loyalty of enough other ones to make it well worth their while.