Why we must include men in the gender discourse
It’s a really interesting turning point in the evolution of society’s understanding of gender roles. As the #MeToo movement rages on, highlighting the massive gendered power inequality in workplaces, and emboldens women to speak out against such systemic and systematic discrimination, the call for a change in the gender status quo has made many uncomfortable. Several men (#NotAllMen , we know) appear to have taken it as a personal affront that they are being asked to rethink their so-called “traditional” roles and embrace a version of masculinity that is not toxic. Evidence of this is the severe backlash to an advertisement by a popular brand of safety razors and other personal care products that wants men to be “the best a man can be”.
The advertisement, essentially an attempt to position the company as socially conscious in order to encourage more people to buy their products, shows men in various situations behaving in a manner that is, let’s just say, less than ideal. It then asks men to not fall back on that old adage of “boys will be boys” and to set a better example. It asks them to step in when their peers indulge in things such as bullying or catcalling. The social media backlash to this ad has caused it to be “disliked” 1.2 million times on YouTube (at the time of writing). This aggressive response of men who seem to feel personally vilified by the ad, seen alongside the now infamous Hardik Pandya interview, cuts to the heart of the problem of toxic masculinity. The attitude of young men is shaped by society’s regressive ideals of masculinity that are detrimental to men and boys. The idea that a “real man” must see women as “conquests”, must not feel vulnerable, be physically strong, dominating, and aggressive is now long past its expiry date. However, it is understandable that this generation of men, socialised to believe in a certain kind of masculinity, feel uncomfortable as the spotlight is turned on their behaviour instead of on conditioning or deconditioning women, as it has been for a long time. It is precisely this that the advertisement in question (albeit from a profit motive) intends to do.
It is time to pivot position in the fight for equality — be it of gender, caste, class, or race. While conversations around empowering those at the wrong end of the power equation must continue, it is imperative to also turn our scrutiny on the privileged. And even if Pandya’s comeuppance has been far too harsh, at least we’re talking about it. In a post #MeToo world, conversations around gender must include conversations with and about men.