A critical analysis of the Gillette Ad that sparked international controversy at the beginning of this year


It is usually a move made by brands targeting women in which they align themselves with current movements. Surprisingly, Gillette made use of the current discourse around the harm of toxic masculinity to promote its brand and also be a pioneer in the male cosmetics industry to do so. This campaign received backlash from its male consumers as well as other men who felt attacked by the advertisement titled “We believe: the best a man can get”. Prior to this campaign, social media has been filled with the radical feminist discourse calling out men and society for continuing and the normalization of gender inequality, gender-based violence and sexual assault with #MeToo and #MenAreTrash trending globally.

In the past few years with the rise of social media, women have become brave enough to speak up about the misogynoir that exists in society as well as online spaces. For example, Anita Sarkeesian was threatened with rape and death, cyber harassment on all her social media platforms as well as she met by a lot of anger from online male gamers when she called out how derogatory women were represented in digital games and wanted to garner funds to create a short film about this (Humphreys & Vered, 2014). Furthermore, Humphreys and Vered (2014) argue that interactive media in the form of social media, blogs, games, and cellphones extend our practices of gendered relations into a new representational and performative form. As a result, this also allows for a more explicit threatening of the status quo and subsequently, this can be met by visible backlash such as in the case of Anita, the #MeToo movement, #MenAreTrash, and the Gillette campaign. This is similar to Shefer’s (2016) argument that gender construction does not restrict agency and each individual can be active and resist dominant constructions of gender which will be discussed below. The mentioned campaigns are the same yet different and this leads to the next paragraph.

Gender has played a vital role in characterizing males and females into traits that either advantage or disadvantage them.  Through the notion that individuals either have masculine or feminine traits based on their biological sex which then determines their characteristics, roles, abilities, and temperaments (Shefer, 2016). This notion was conceptualized by Connel (1987) as a ‘unitary sexual character’. As a result of this static and unchanging idea of gender identity, this has legitimized the idea of gender difference and consequently gender inequality because it places the men as dominant whilst women are submissive. This is the result of a patriarchal construction from the past. This paper argues that this pacifying of women has resulted in the internalization of the idea of being less than and has consequently normalized the abuse and oppression of women.

            The gender roles given to women did not allow for women to perform the radicalness that we witness in modern society that arises from the different feminisms who see gender as the result of socialization rather than being inherent (Shefer, 2016). Women are moving further away from the ‘doing of gender’ when they are radical because they are no longer repeating what is expected of them such as fearing men who often hold powerful positions. Consequently, this has led to the rise of the discourse of a ‘mad’ woman (Shefer, 2016). The internet has facilitated a space for women to call out rape culture especially those in power by creating a community wherein women who followed the hashtag sent words of affirmation and “belief” which is something that usually deters women from speaking out because society generally does not believe victims of sexual assault. Even in the health sector, young female and male practitioners were able to speak out about their experiences of sexual abuse after the #MeToo movement (Freischlag & Faria, 2018). Examples of someone who got legal action against him are Bill Cosby who was acquitted after the rise of the #MeToo movement.

            Rape Culture is defined by Buchwald, Fletcher, and Roth (2005) as “a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women”. This is the kind of society that women have been living in. Especially since rape has been something that has been a taboo until #MeToo. Thereafter, #MenAreTrash is another social media movement that allowed women to speak out about how they experienced all forms of abuse from their partners, friends, classmates and family and this was in the wake of Karabo Mokoena who was murdered and buried by her boyfriend and then reported her missing (Samanga, 2017). These two movements were from the perspective of women. Subsequently, men felt like they were being attacked because it was a “selective few men” that were committing all these violations against women. However,  South Africa’s femicide rates increased dramatically between the years 2017 and 2018 (SAnews, 2018). On the other hand, the Gillette campaign reveals various scenarios wherein toxic masculinity are in play and it is enabled by other men with the discourse of  “boys will be boys”. Three examples, there’s a portrayal of a man and his male friend catcalling a woman which is a form of sexual harassment, silencing a woman in the boardroom whilst touching her and two little boys fighting.

            The difference between these campaigns is that the Gillette campaign is by a male brand and the other two are from women. Regardless of the perspectives, both campaigns showed how the majority of men in society have been socialised to abuse and oppress women. One would assume that these campaigns would bring awareness and educate men. However, men were immensely offended by these campaigns and felt emasculated.  According to Tolentino (2018) men argued that there were more important things to be front-page news rather than sexual assault and that the calling out culture would complicate male and female relations. Furthermore, Baron Cruz repeated and then argued that women also repeated what was portrayed in the video.

Another scholar argued that the backlash was because the #Menaretrash and the talk of rape culture was bad for development and would cause a “gender war” because it ‘elevates the feminine at the expense of the masculine’ (Petrus, 2017). Furthermore, Petrus (2017) argued that the use of the concept ‘rape culture’ was incorrect because alongside #menaretrash – radical feminists were generalising rape culture to all men. Another point made was that the #menaretrash movement’s use of rape culture was an attack that precedes a gender war because confrontation is not needed but rather co-operation. This is a valid argument but not a sound argument because this author is problematic because his biggest concern in the paper is how development is centered around women and then overrides this to rape culture. This author’s tone in the beginning of the paper blatantly ignores new definitions of gender that reject the binary of masculinity and femininity because he argues that “they add no new dimension” (Petrus, 2017). Consequently, this author demonstrates that the people criticizing these campaigns are uncomfortable because through feminism and social media women are rejecting the idea of submission and are standing up for themselves.

To conclude, these campaigns are effective in the long run as they portray how men in society are complacent and happy with the idea of ‘doing gender’ and do not want to challenge the status quo as Humphreys and Vered (2014) suggested. Also, they are willing to go to the extremes of violence to protect their positions in society. Even though they are aware of gender inequality, they do not want to change the dynamics because it would disadvantage them and remove them from their place of power and domination. Consequently, campaigns that resist and challenge the oppression of women through various forms will be effective in the long run as shown above that they are able to prevent femicide and abuse from occurring because now women will always have a platform that will believe them and encourage them to report incidents and this all thanks to the #Metoo and #MenAreTrash campaign.


Buchwald, E. F. (2005). Transforming a Rape Culture (revised edition). Minneapolis: Milkweed Edition.

Freischlag, J., & Faria, P. (2018, May 1). It Is Time for Women (and Men) to Be Brave A Consequence of the #MeToo Movement. Retrieved from Jama network.

Humphreys, S., & Vered, K. O. (2014). Reflecting on Gender and Digital Networked Media. Television & New Media, 5(1), 3– 13.

Petrus, T. (2017, July 1). The Myth Of “rape Culture”: A Critique Of Feminist Distortions Of The Culture Concept In The Gender War In South Afr ica, And Their Implications For Development. Journal of Social Development in Africa, 79-103.

Samanga, R. (2017, May 15). Real Story Behind #menaretrash, South Africa’s Response to Domestic Violence. Retrieved from okayafrica.com.

SAnews. (2018, June 19). Gender based violence on the rise. Retrieved from SAnews.gov.za.

Shefer, T. (2016). Psychology and the regulation of gender. In D. Hook (Ed.), Critical Psychology (pp. 187-208). Cape Town: Juta & Company.

Tolentino, J. (2018, Jan 28). The Rising Pressure of the #MeToo Backlash. Retrieved from the new yorker.

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