Gillette started a media firestorm with an ad it recently aired called “The Best a Man Can Be.” In it, the razor company challenges men to stand up against sexual harassment, bullying and other forms of so-called “toxic masculinity” and to reject the notion that such behavior is just “boys being boys.”
Predictably, the ad has driven a wedge between those who feel men need to stand up and take responsibility and those who deem it male bashing. The latter group has even called for a boycott of Gillette, tossing their shaving cream and razors into the trash.
Personally, I don’t think that masculinity is a bad attribute to have. Nor do I think it is inherently toxic. There is a level of duplicity in the ad, too. As my friend Sheri noted, where’s the ad showing a bunch of women robotically repeating, “girls will be girls” intercut with images of “mean girls” making other girls’ lives hell because of their hair, clothes, or other attributes. Isn’t that a form of “toxic femininity”?
Where I think the ad hits the mark is when it reminds us that the boys of today are the men of tomorrow, and they will emulate the behavior and attitudes of the men in their lives. So how do two gay men teach their straight sons about masculinity and being men?
Before I could figure that out, I had to remember how a straight man taught his gay son about what it means to be a man.
Not long ago, Gus and I were sharing memories of my dad. With a smile so full of love, he mentioned that his grandfather was a “really manly guy.” And it’s true, my dad was what is commonly known as a “man’s man.” I didn’t inherit his near-obsession with watching sports on television nor his savant-like gift to fix absolutely anything. But for me, those attributes had nothing to do with his masculinity.
He taught me to put my family first. He taught me to lead my life with integrity. He taught me to work hard and to respect other people. He taught me to defend those who cannot defend themselves.
Nevertheless, in my opinion, the most admirable aspect of what I perceive to be my dad’s masculinity was his acceptance. He was secure enough in himself to raise me to be myself and to accept myself.
That wasn’t always easy. I can be, well, a lot to deal with.
But it’s through this acceptance that Kelly and I can best teach the boys to be men and to embrace their own version of masculinity. Even if it’s not always easy. After all, we’re the gay dads of a teenager who plays hockey and wants to join the Marines. He’s a man’s man like his papou.
Does that mean that we shouldn’t correct and redirect? Absolutely not. Gillette is right: it’s the duty of every man to take responsibility and demand the best out of each other. Those offensive actions the ad highlights have nothing to do with masculinity, and everything to do with jerks being jerks.
Several weeks ago, coming back from hockey, I asked Gus what he’d do if he asked a girl out and she said no. Without hesitation, he said, “I’d say OK, thanks and move on. Well, probably not ‘thanks’ but I’d move on. What am I supposed to do, be a dick about it?”
In that moment, I knew that we gay dads did our job of guiding him to be the best a man can be.
If you haven’t seen it, you can watch the Gillette ad here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koPmuEyP3a0