Gillette commercial reopens toxic masculinity conversation

Researchers from the Men’s Project surveyed 1,000 young men between the ages of 18-30 on their attitudes toward self-sufficiency, toughness, physical attractiveness, rigid gender roles, heterosexuality and homophobia, hypersexuality, and aggression and control over women. Graphic by Emma Reith

“He turned around to me and said, ‘You need to know that women lie.’”

That’s what Addy Beals, a senior history major, heard from a male student when she expressed her disapproval of President Donald Trump due to the sexual assault allegations against him. Beals was infuriated.

“To me, it was a prime example of toxic masculinity,” Beals said. “Toxic masculinity can produce fragile masculinity, mental isolation and can maintain rape culture. It hurts women and nonbinary people, yes. But it hurts men too.”

The term “toxic masculinity” has seen an uptick with exposure in the last year, as movements like #MeToo and media campaigns like the Gillette “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” commercial have gained significant traction. A study released by the American Psychological Association in August reports that “males experience a greater degree of social and economic power than girls and women in a patriarchal society,” which can often result in “sexist ideologies designed to maintain male power.”

“The Gillette commercial depicted men in a ‘non-masculine’ way, and feedback to that has included people saying that the commercial made men look weak, it made men ‘look like women,’” said Elizabeth Kane, a Chapman psychology professor who teaches human sexuality. “We have to put aside gender expectations and shift how we view the male role of a relationship – from power over it to power within it.”

In a romantic relationship, toxic masculinity can manifest itself as emotional manipulation or even physical violence. Toxic masculinity can thrive due to exaggerated gender roles, a patriarchal viewpoint of what men are supposed to be and the unwritten rules of heteronormative relationships, Kane said.

“Toxic masculinity is a side effect of patriarchy,” Beals said. “Some men see it as a criticism of their power, strength and independence but in reality, it’s actually a critique of damaging expectations society imposes on them.”

In a study of 1,000 men between the age of 18-30, the Men’s Project found that men who conform to traditional definitions of manhood are more likely to suffer from self-harm, and do harm to others. The survey looked at men’s reactions to traditionally masculine traits like stength and avoiding housework.

Zachary Salem-Mackall, a junior communication studies major, told The Panther that he considers toxic masculinity a “misinterpretation of the male identity” that’s rooted in a toxic culture.

“In terms of dating, it has a lot to do with not fully respecting your partner, especially in cases of using degrading language,” Salem-Mackall said. “Guys have to stop reacting so negatively when discussing toxic masculinity. We can all make a conscious effort to do better and to realize what the environment is like for women and understand that we can never fully understand their experience.”

Toxic masculinity in the dating world has led to some students feeling a “lack of self-confidence,” something that C.K. Magliola, a Chapman women’s studies professor, has seen in her own classroom.

Magliola has witnessed some students utilize assigned class readings to identify toxic masculinity in their own dating lives, she said. Sometimes, she said, the realities of people in toxic relationships can be “hijacked,” and part of a “larger patriarchal culture.”

“I’ve had students say that Women’s Studies 101 has helped them stand up for themselves and get out of a relationship,” Magliola said.

Audrey Woodsum, a senior creative writing major believes toxic masculinity on campus is “very present.”

“I’ve interacted with some men who don’t believe in the wage gap, who think women can be ‘crazy’, who make crude comments about women’s appearances,” Woodsum said.