So it has come to the point in our collective failure of understanding, our self-inflicted mass ignorance and willful forgetting, that Gillette has made of itself a 21st-century People’s Front of Judea. What, demanded the PFJ leadership in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, have the Romans ever done for us?
A viral Gillette ad with approximately 40 gazillion views suggests males should feel guilt, shame, and sorrow for all of the bad things we’ve done. So what have the men ever done for us?
Well, the aqueduct, for a start. It was a guy thing, pretty much. Also, how about science? Mathematics? Virtually every great geographic discovery. Virtually every great architect has been a man, virtually every explorer, virtually every great composer. A man invented the printing press. Another, the steam engine. Another, the Internet. One man discovered the Beatles. Another, lesser man discovered electricity. Men designed most of the tools and vaccines and inventions. Men gave us rocket science, Rhapsody in Blue, and Anchorman.
So, men: not completely useless. You and I can’t claim credit for most of this stuff. But neither are you and I typically the jerks, louts, and bullies portrayed in Gillette’s ad about the worst a man can regret. Some of this malfeasance isn’t even typically male: For an ad to depict boys as responsible for online bullying is a bit like blaming guys for the popularity of Grey’s Anatomy. And Gillette’s case against maleness is ridiculously exaggerated. The ad depicts a crowd of angry schoolboys chasing down another kid with intent to pummel, which I think last happened in the Bronx in 1962. Does anyone seriously think kids walloping each other on the playground is a major social problem these days, or that if one kid jumped another one, the universal reaction would be “Boys will be boys”? Gillette’s parent Procter & Gamble is trying to sell us on American male carnage. To remind you how much groups dislike being tarred with one brush, imagine how badly Gillette would be getting roasted if it included a statistically correct sample of black males in its imagery. (All of the bullyings and beatings and catcalls it depicts are carried out by white guys.)
Misandry is a word that seldom appears in the mainstream media, except to deny its existence, even as the typical news site heaves with the latest field reports from armies of professional misogyny detectors. Yet you’d be hard pressed to find any mainstream outlet that regularly publishes “I hate women” pieces of the type that regularly run in major outlets, following the logic that “Males X, Y, and Z did bad things, therefore hating men in general is fine.” Recent Washington Post and New York Times headlines include “Why can’t we hate men?,” “Thanks for Not Raping Us, All You ‘Good Men,’ But It’s Not Enough,” and “How Do I Deal with My Anger Toward Men?”
I don’t typically moan about misandry (or misogyny) because I don’t feel particularly sorry for males (or females) as a class. I think of people as individuals who usually get roughly what they deserve and usually enjoy adequate access to redress when they don’t. Nor do I see the Us versus Them conflict of the sexes so vividly catalogued in the Guardian or HuffPost. In general, men and women get along pretty well because we need one another. We forgive one another’s failings. If a dude mansplains something around a conference table, or if a woman shuts down a man with “You just don’t get it” when he dares to supply a thought, I don’t see much cause for anger. Whether I see a guy manspreading on a subway, or a woman taking up two seats with her enormous collection of tote bags and handbags, I think of these as individual acts of rudeness, not systematic assertions of gender privilege.
So why do I mention misandry here? Because the Gillette ad is driven by the same impulse as are those columns about horrible men. Cultural leaders — the artists, writers, and advertisers who make the national conversation — are wandering into crazy territory. I don’t need to tell you, reasonable reader, that men (and women) have a lot to be proud of. It’s obvious. I don’t need to tell you that men (and women) do lousy things. That’s obvious too. The cultural hierarchy, though, is so enamored with — or intent on being perceived to be enamored with — feminism, #MeToo, denouncing the patriarchy, etc. that it is losing touch with the most obvious, basic truths.
Males commit most of the violent crime, do most of the sexual harassing, perpetrate most of the financial fraud for that matter. If someone does get beaten up, it’s probably a male who did it. Males are more dominance-seeking and aggressive and less risk-averse because of testosterone and exhibit a broader range of traits because having a single X chromosome instead of an X balanced out by a second X leads to wider genetic variance. The bell curve for men’s abilities has fatter tails. More serial killers, more chess grandmasters. More maladjusted loners, more geniuses. The bell curve for women’s behavior is bunched up in the middle — women huddle near the average and the normal. All of this is also obvious, at least to anyone who’s ever been to high school and noticed that to be a weirdo is usually to be male. “Men are both dumber and smarter than women,” the headline of a Quartz piece by Allison Schrager, is an elegant way to put it.
Does toxic masculinity exist? Of course. Is masculinity intrinsically toxic? Of course not. Yet in a thousand different ways, that’s what advertisers and other conversation starters and cultural leaders are telling us.