A Close Shave

As a man with a beard for the past 45 years, I don’t have much cause to shop strategically for the best razor or the best razor blades. I use it a couple times a week – that’s it. But I can tell you now, with absolute conviction, that I will only buy Gillette products from now on. Why? Because their new ad campaign, “Gillette: The best men can be,” acknowledges that Western cultural norms for men need to be changed – by men. As they say on their website, “It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man. … we have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate. We’re inviting all men along this journey with us – to strive to be better, to make us better, and to help each other be better.”

Not your average message.

The central vehicle for this message is a video now playing on network tv. https://gillette.com/en-us/the-best-men-can-be It portrays, in various tableaus, some of the worst of classic male behavior, at least half of it involving boys. It starkly depicts acts of malevolence, brutality, violence, sexism, and objectification of women. All of these behaviors are excused: “it’s just a joke,” or “don’t be oversensitive,” or “I didn’t really mean anything by it,” or the especially destructive, “boys will be boys.”

As I watched it, I thought about things I had experienced as a boy. I remembered what it felt like to be a target of bullying – not that I’ve ever forgotten. I remember watching how cruel boys can be to each other while adults watched on, shaking their heads, laughing.

I also thought about my sons, my boys. I wondered about their sense of the world, whether they had experienced similar moments of fear or shame or anguish when they were kids. We’ve never discussed it, but we will… I also think about my grandson. I hope the world has shifted enough so that he may never experience some of the things I went through already at his tender age of five.

Inevitably, there has been a backlash. Some men, threatened by the implication that the world has changed, afraid that their power and masculinity are under attack, convinced that the status quo for the past few thousand years is under attack, are on the cutting edge – of the last century. As one social conservative wrote on Twitter, “Just sell some damn razors and keep your social justice stupidity out of it.” Yeah, that’s great. What’s missing from this statement is a caveman grunt and a beer belch.

We are in a time of critical transformation. I spoke of this extensively on the High Holy Days, but I want to reiterate how significant this period is for the Jewish people. Our shift towards a more openhearted, egalitarian Judaism happens in the shadow of an ancient system that classified the world through the dual lenses of patriarchy and a male image of God. What it means to be a good Jewish man, a mensch, has changed. And we must teach our children – particularly our boys – that what our tradition wants is inclusivity and compassion. We must explain that to be created in God’s image is not about gender, but instead about attitude and intent.

We need to rededicate ourselves as a temple to the Jewish values that raise up social justice and lovingkindness – both of which seem to be in critically short supply just now. We need to support institutions and companies that further the struggle to separate us from a disturbing, toxic past and thus lead us toward a better future, a better world.

So if you need some razor blades, remember Gillette. And note that they’re giving $1 million per year for the next three years to non-profit organizations executing programs in the United States designed to inspire, educate and help men of all ages achieve their personal “best” and become role models for the next generation. Let’s celebrate the possibilities of making mensches.

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