A Media Literacy Series
‘Unplugged’ is a blog series by the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault that critically observes, analyzes, and deconstructs various forms of media through the lens of our media literacy prevention strategy. It is important to note that everyone interprets and consumes media differently and our analyses are just one examination of many.

The recently-released Gillette commercial has sparked conversations and controversy among the masses. To sum up the overall message, the ad is a call to men to be active bystanders and step in to help interrupt harmful norms that allow violence, bullying, sexual harassment, and more to occur. In the sexual violence prevention world, we see this piece of media as a win! Especially since we know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list toxic masculinity as a risk factor for perpetrating sexual violence. Any media that challenges harmful norms represents an exciting time in the prevention movement.

However, it appears that this consensus is not shared with everyone. While many support the message, there has also been significant backlash against the commercial, where folks have called for boycotts of Gillette and criticized the company for attacking masculinity.

To be clear, masculinity in and of itself is not harmful. Rather, there are harmful forms of masculinity, and these forms are referred to as toxic masculinity.

Toxic masculinity is a version of masculinity that values violence, dominance, aggression, and a general lack of emotion (other than anger) over other stereotypically masculine traits.

Toxic masculinity harms men in a variety of ways:

  • Men are more than 3 times more like to die from suicide than women. Toxic masculinity tells men to suppress their emotions, especially if those emotions are anything considered “soft” or vulnerable. This can lead to untreated depression, which, in extreme circumstances, can lead to suicidal ideation.
  • It suggests the men shouldn’t be part of their children’s lives. Paternity leave is still not a guarantee in the U.S. (It is in NJ!) Toxic masculinity holds the idea that child rearing is a “woman’s job,” thus not even offering or supporting a father’s a chance to be involved in their children’s live. This social norm also affects custody discussions, with the outcome often favoring the mother.
  • It supports the false assumption that men don’t experience sexual violence. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 men experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. These numbers may not reflect the whole picture. If society and toxic masculinity tell men that they’re not allowed to be vulnerable and that sexual violence is something that only happens to women, it would make sense that these numbers are not fully accurate.
  • Men are more likely to die earlier in life than women. Men who subscribe to more traditional gender roles are less likely to receive preventive healthcare or seek medical attention.

This is just the tip of the iceberg! We haven’t even talked about the ways toxic masculinity can disproportionately impact LGBTQ+ men and Men of Color.

We’re excited to see these conversations happening on a larger scale and more folks recognizing that violent and toxic forms of masculinity don’t have to be the only kinds of masculinity. We can support the men and boys in our lives by allowing them to have emotions other than anger and challenging harmful norms that uphold a limited view of men and masculinity, like the idea that “boys will be boys.” Let’s model these healthy behaviors for the next generation because, as the commercial says, “The boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”

To learn more about the efforts to promote healthy masculinity, we suggest visiting:

A Call To Men
Men of Strength
Mentors in Violence Prevention
Huddle Up
UMAtter at Princeton
Masculinities 101

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