Gillette recently released an ad about toxic masculinity, an interesting phrase that until recently only referred to hyper-masculine boorishness. But now the national dialogue seems to have shifted to a point where toxic masculinity refers not to excess, but to all things masculine. This is a tragic loss of nuance in an otherwise important conversation.
Admittedly, I had already heard some radio commentary about the ad that preconditioned me to hate it before actually seeing it. How could a for-profit company run a marketing campaign that insulted their customer base? My mind was already at home throwing out their razors and switching to Dollar Shave Club.
The truth is, Gillette is just the latest in a series of negative narratives featuring men. Let’s review some recent headlines.
The #metoo movement has roiled our nation for over a year. For all the good that it did in exposing evil, there also were extremes that put every man under suspicion and caused every male gesture to be scrutinized for sexism or outright sexual harassment.
Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing forced the country to choose sides between two seemingly likable people, and a shadow was cast over anyone siding with the accused or even voicing a plea for due process.
At Christmas we even learned that a classic song like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” contains dangerous sexist undertones.
It’s a weird time for manhood, so you’ll forgive me if I heard about the Gillette ad and thought, Can’t I even get past shaving in the morning without being reminded what a jerk I am?
And then I actually watched it.
Here’s what I learned and where I find myself.
1. I actually like the ad.
Do I agree with every word of it? No.
Do I think it attempts to call men up to a higher standard? Absolutely.
As a father with a son, I want us both to be part of the solution, not the problem. I believe that’s essential to authentic manhood. Philippians 4:8 tells us,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
In other words, any dude can argue, but a real man finds agreement where others see only disagreement. So watch the Gillette ad again and find things you can agree with.
2. I am toxic.
I don’t need the culture to tell me this, the Bible already has:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me … making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (Romans 7:21-24 NIV)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
I see myself clearly in these Scriptures, and it’s no surprise that my toxic condition trends in a male direction. I’m a male, after all. As such, I should be the last one surprised and the first one to apologize for my male-driven mistakes: Have I interrupted you again? I’m sorry, please finish what you were saying. Has my anger made you feel threatened? Please forgive me for not having more self-control. Did I just “mansplain” something to you? How condescending of me. Thank you for being patient with my embarrassing insecurities.
This is not that complicated, guys. We should neither deny nor defend our male deficiencies when they surface and hurt others. In fact, we should be contrite and grateful that those around us don’t know the real depths of our sinfulness.
If by chance someone points out flaws we just don’t see, we need to thank them for alerting us to the blind spot. And if our hearts chafe at this whole line of thinking, our issue is with the gospel, not the cultural narrative.
3. Growing in sensitivity toward women doesn’t make me a feminized beta-male. It makes me a man.
In the Bible, 1 Peter 3:7 explicitly commands men to live in an understanding way “for she is a woman.”
I know she is a woman, Peter. Why remind me of the obvious? Because I forget. I forget the kind of considerateness women deserve. I find it easy to treat them with the same bluntness and crass behavior my male buddies tolerate and even appreciate.
A woman is not a male buddy. She is to be regarded as a “fellow heir of the grace of life.” In other words, she is my equal, but we are not the same. Which brings me to one final thought.
4. I’m not ashamed of being a man. In fact, I’m happy about it.
I don’t say that in defense of “male privilege,” but simply because I believe God made me masculine for a reason. Genesis 1:27, 31 tells us, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them … God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (NIV).
I want to step up and become every bit the man God created me to be. I want that for my son, too. As the Gillette ad says, “the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”
Let’s help them lose the toxic but not the masculinity.
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