Of Razors, Corporate Responsibility, Virtue Signaling, And “Toxic Masculinity”

Gillette, a subsidiary of the multi-national corporation, Procter and Gamble (P&G), has released a controversial new ad ostensibly exercising the new ethos of corporate responsibility to instruct men as to what genuine masculinity is and how they ought to behave. If the intent of the ad was to stir debate, it has been successful. There are varieties of advertisements but we may fairly lump them into two categories: sales and branding. This ad clearly belongs to the latter category. It is intended to position Gillette as a socially aware, sexually enlightened, up-to-date company.

Before I criticize the ad—and there is much to criticize—let me assure you gentle reader that this no brief for bullies or brutes. I have mostly avoided engaging with the “biblical masculinity” movement. At least some of the more public advocates of (e.g., Mark Driscoll) have demonstrated that they have not a clue as to what Scripture requires of men. I have no sympathy whatever for the “biblical patriarchy” movement nor for a theologically and historically sloppy “Eternal Subordination” arguments of some complementarians. The “Biblical patriarchy”  movement is typically attached to the theonomic ethic, i.e., the unbiblical and un-Reformed view that the civil laws and punishments instituted under Moses are still in force and ought to be executed by the civil magistrate. That is a flat contradiction of Westminster Confession of Faith 19.4:

To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

“Patriarchalism” is a loaded term that signifies different things to different people but by it I mean the mistake of not accounting for the progress of redemptive history. There was a divinely instituted patriarchy under the period of types and shadows (the Old Testament), which expired with the rest of the types and shadows. Jesus is the federal head of all believers. There is a “headship” principle to be observed in the church and family but there is no longer a divinely sanctioned state-church or a theocratic state. In 1 Timothy 2:11–15, Paul grounds his principle in creation and in Ephesians 5:22–33 in grace. We will return to the latter passage next time.

A video commercial, even a long one (1:49), is a series of evocative images intended to connect with the viewer at an emotional, visceral level. This is what video does. Oral and written communication tends to reach the hearer and reader first via the intellect and then, perhaps, in the affections. This is why interpreting films is so different from interpreting written texts. There is a degree of ambiguity inherent in visual communication that does not quite exist in oral or written communication. Because the images are inherently emotive, the viewer interprets them in light of his (or her) experience. Women who have been the target of sexual harassment identify with the ad’s repudiation of it. My entirely unscientific survey of responses suggests that female viewers tend to interpret the commercial sympathetically while male viewers tend to be more negative toward the ad. This is interesting because ostensibly the commercial is a message, a mini-sermon, to men exhorting them not to be brutes and bullies. It is quite likely, however, that this slick, expensive commercial was certainly tested in “focus groups” (small groups of consumers selected according to age, sex, ethnicity, gender identity etc) to determine how people would respond. P&G knew what sort of response this ad would bring before they released it and its real target was mostly likely not males but females. Hence it begins with the “me too’ phenomenon and proceeds to portray males in a mostly negative light.

To be sure, men are capable of being brutes and bullies. However culturally incorrect it may be say it, as a sex we do need to be civilized. I write this of a man of some experience. My vocation as a teacher allows me to observe the transformation of young bachelors into young married men. There is a civilizing process that takes place. My wife civilized me. It is the way things are. So, all civilized males affirm with the commercial that sexual harassment is wrong. Christians further affirm their duty in Christ to love their female neighbors as themselves and to love their sisters in Christ as Christ loved the church.

Still, the ad is offensive for a variety of reasons. We need to view advertisement critically (in the sense of evaluating its message and methods). Like nearly all ads, this ad is manipulative. It ties images of ugly behavior, patronizing behavior (the corporate male places his hand on the shoulder of a corporate female thereby symbolically subordinating her and proceeds to “mansplain” her point for her) which grab the emotions, to a message intended to brand a product as allied with a socially progressive movement aimed at eradicating the ugly behavior. In short, the company wants to create the impression, rooted in the emotions and even the psyche, that buying Gillette razors is a way of turning back brutish behavior in men.

Perhaps the most offensive portion of the commercial features two little boys who are momentarily shown tussling. The commercial jumps to men saying, “boys will be boys,” at which point the narrator solemnly intones, “but something finally changed.” The visual cuts to a newscaster talking about “sexual harassment.” Here, the ad turns on an equivocation. “Boys will be boys” becomes code for “men are brutes and sometimes sexually harass women but they excuse it by saying ‘boys will be boys.’” Visually, verbally, visererally it equates two boys doing what boys do—rough housing—with sexual harrassment.

This montage (starting at about :31) essentially shames boys for being different from girls and as potential, even likely, sexual predators. Well, boys are different from girls. Our bodies are different. Our minds are different. We experience things differently. We relate to the world differently. The notion that all such differences are due entirely to nurture and not to nature is contrary to the entirety to human history, human experience, and sound, unbiased investigation. “Boys will be boys” is no excuse for sin, for crimes, or for offensive behavior but boys will be boys. Raised properly they grow up to be gentlemen, strong, and brave. They don’t wolf-whistle at or molest women but they are not Caspar Milquetoasts either. The commercial shamed boys for being boys. This is the ethos of cotton-wooling children, of the State of Nebraska (my home state) now requiring children up to age 8 to be in a car seat and further that “children ages eight to eighteen must ride secured in a safety belt or child safety seat (booster seat).” The way the law is written it suggests that teens might be in a booster seat. This is as stupid as the old Nebraska law forbidding the teaching of German in schools. One can only hope that there are still family farms where children are taught to operate safely motor vehicles by age 10 (let them try to drive the pickup in a booster seat) and tractors by age 12.

We must stop telling boys that they are wrong for being boys, for rough housing, for challenging themselves and others. That is how boys are made and that is a good thing. Sin is real and natural male aggression is corrupted in this fallen world but by nature male aggression is not wrong. Because of the fall it does need to be channeled. It is the role of fathers to teach their sons how to control themselves and to channel that energy productively. It used to be the role of organizations like the Boys Scouts of America to help boys become men. Fighting is not a good way to solve a problem but a boy (and his sister) needs to learn to defend himself (and herself) and others. That is part of his role in this world, to defend the innocent and the helpless.

Here I think of the 1952 film, High Noon starring Gary Cooper as Will Kane, a lonely sheriff who stands up for a town that refuses to stand up for itself or for him. Kane is no Superman. He was just a man determined to do his duty when others would not. His masculinity was not about brawn but about the determination to do the right thing, even at his own expense.

Before we turn to what Scripture says about what a man is and does we should note the changing role of corporations in the shaping of later-modern American culture. Some are intentionally seeking to take the place of the existing mediating institutions in society. They are deliberately catechising consumers via ads. We do not need multi-national corporations to teach us how to raise our children or what the nature of the family is or should be. We did not elect them to be the conscience of the nation. The only thing we expect from businesses large and small is to make a good product and sell it at a fair market price. P&G is no one’s parent. They are no one’s church. They are no one’s voluntary social organization.

We do have biblical pictures of masculinity. 1 Samuel 17 tells the story of David and Goliath. The point of the story is not David’s masculinity. His confidence to confront Goliath was not in his skill nor in his strength but in Yahweh, the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God of Israel.

Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you” (1 Sam 17:36–37; NASB)

The battle-hardened Goliath, the pagan, taunted David because of his youth and inexperience. David went to war without armor and inadequately armed. He took the 11th-century BC equivalent of a knife to a gun fight. He did so because the Lord was with him and because Yahweh was with him, he conquered the giant. That is the point of the narrative: God has his anointed King, who will act contrary to expectations to conquer the great Evil One. Christians realize that David was a type of Christ, who conquered Satan in a most unexpected way indeed.

Still, the narrator of 1 Samuel (and 2 Samuel and Kings) simply and rightly assumes that it is the job of men to train for war, to put on armor, and to do battle with evil. That is what (relatively) good men do. They lay down their lives for others. They protect those who cannot protect themselves. Scripture is most realistic about sin and evil in this world. It will remain until Christ comes again and shall always have to be resisted, in the civil sphere, with force. This is why police officers, men and women, train in academy in “defensive tactics” how to subdue criminals and to protect innocent citizens. They study how to fight and win. They must go the gun range regularly to keep their skills sharp.  They do all that because they know (or quickly learn) the realities of a sinful, fallen world.

Paul has much to say about and to men that gives us a rather different perspective from that of P&G on masculinity. We will consider that next time.

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25 comments

  1. Since the gender “toxicity” pendulum indeed swings BOTH ways, I’d like to copy The Heidelblog on a comment I posted earlier today on a Conservative website which is covering the Gillette (and Maybelline) fiascos.

    “I am categorically stating that I have had several jobs or career paths cut short by…toxic (fellow) FEMINIITY over the decades! And not long ago, a woman at church was the primary reason that I left a ministry-outreach group I loved. Her attitude/behavior was enabled (not lovingly admonished) by two other women who chose social over spiritual. But she’ll answer to the Lord later…

    We all know that good and evil/”toxic” folks — female and male — were, are, and always will be present and problematic. But stop telling males to flagellate and castrate themselves because they’re men! And women: Retract your claws, and taste your words before you spit them out and tear “fellow” females to shreds…all because you want to get ahead — or you think life is all about you and only you.”

  2. “Paul has much to say about and to men that gives us a rather different perspective from that of P&G on masculinity. We will consider that next time.”

    I’m excited. Generally, Evangelical pastors such as Driscoll, Russell Moore, and Matt Chandler just try to shame men into doing better. They spend very little time telling women to submit to their husbands and obey them in all things.

    I find that these discussions often lack a good summary of God’s second book of revelation: nature. There are scientific facts about the way men and women think and behave that are not really debatable. Men are bigger, more violent, and think completely differently than women. Here is a good summary of both the science and theology behind gender and marriage.

    For my part, I can’t understand corporations’ pivot to politics and moralizing which just alienates and angers at least one half of their customers. In this case, I’m done buying Gillette razors because I certainly am not their target customer as a toxic man.

    These corporations are a real threat to family and liberty. We should at least boycott them if at all possible.

  3. I encourage you to go back and watch the video again. Specifically, slow it down so that you can see the two boys at the bbq. They aren’t “rough-housing” when the man breaks them up. Maybe, they were in the beginning; but, at that point, the boy in plaid has the other boy pinned and is continuing to hit/push him. He’s angry and lashing out, while the boy on the bottom is no longer able to properly fight back. When the man pulls them apart, the one on top is still fighting the one on the bottom. Perhaps, given their age, the one on top got extra angry because he was losing whatever the game was, following which he turned violent, instead of merely “rough-housing.” Thus, the man is correcting him on the use of violence to express his emotions, not punishing him for “being a boy.” Likewise, while the commercial brought attention to multiple abuse-related issues, the fact remains that the one boy beating up the other boy is not meant to reference sexual harassment, anymore than the pack of bullies chasing and beating up the other boy is meant to directly relate to sexual abuse. They do overlap, in that sexual and nonsexual abuse often only differ in methodology. However, Gillette is only “guilty” of trying to address a broad array of so-called “masculine” traits in one short commercial.

    As for whether or not that’s their job, I say “why not?” Commercials shape society everyday and, no matter what their content is, if it involves people or animals, someone is going to cry foul. Someone is going to try to make it political. With that in mind, commercials might as well do more to encourage respectful behavior.

  4. I have no idea where the management team at PG learned their marketing approach. I own a business and I have never sat around trying to come up with ways to chastise my customers. People try to do business with people that they like. If they like you, they may give you a second opportunity when you make a mistake. It costs many times more money to gain a new customer than it does to keep an existing customer.

    PG is taking a gamble, trying to differentiate their razors from the upstarts that are taking market share. What they are going to get is an activist investor who will demand a few seats on the board of directors and then breathe fire down the back of the CEO. PG is doing this because they don’t know what else to do to drive sales.

  5. Warren Buffet (of Omaha, Nebraska) once said, “When a management with a reputation for brilliance gets hooked up with a business with a reputation for bad economics, it’s the reputation of the business that remains intact.”

    Investor Peter Lynch remarked that investors should “invest in businesses any idiot could run because someday one will.”

  6. It does look like the boys are only wrestling, but I think that is just poor direction. The kid should have been yelling “help” or “stop” to avoid the conclusion that wrestling in itself is wrong. I find it hard to believe that the men taking action at the end of the commercial were not first formed by struggle as boys.

    I’m not sure how forgoing proper child restraints or seat belts makes a kid tough. Seems like a good way to make them dead. There are better ways to build character that don’t involve debilitating injury.

    When David took his sling into single combat, he was the one taking a gun into a knife fight. Slings in that hands of those with a lifetime of training were deadly weapons of war. The effective range of the sling often exceeded that of the bows of the era. David broke with convention and Goliath didn’t stand a chance.

    • Scott,

      8 year olds in car seats? Teen-agers? Maybe the first, maybe, but the second is beyond stupid. Read the law again.

      The point of the narrative is to contrast the unlikely tool v the giant. David was skilled but the narrator is pointing us not to David’s skill but to God’s power.

    • Children should be in a booster until they are tall enough to use a shoulder strap without one. The AAP says that’s 4’9″. Eight-year-olds are rarely that tall. The law only requires teenagers to use the proper restraints which in almost all cases is a seat belt alone.

      David’s use of a sling was unexpected, but that doesn’t mean slings were inferior. David deflected glory from himself by refusing the “honorable” arms of heavy infantry and instead taking up the weapon of the skirmisher.

  7. Car seats for 12-year olds in Mississippi. Freedom on your 13th birthday! (Unfortunately, a generally conservative populace is no guaranteed cure for stupid.):

    “What are the car seat laws in Mississippi?
    Car seat regulations in Mississippi are very specific when it comes to age, weight and height. Additionally, the Mississippi State Department of Health has also released recommendations per a child’s age for the type of seats he or she should be using. The recommendations and car seat guidelines include:

    Infants and Toddlers – Infants and toddlers should only use rear-facing seats, convertible or otherwise, until they are at least two years of age or until they reach the weight or height recommendations as per the seat’s manufacturer.
    Toddlers and Preschoolers – Toddlers and preschoolers should use forward facing car seats with a harness, up until they reach the weight or height guidelines as per the seat manufacturer.
    School-aged children – School-aged children should be in a booster seat with a seatbelt until they reach the height of 4 feet 9 inches and are between the ages of eight and 12 years old.
    Older children – All children younger than 13 should be in rear seats with a seat belt securely fastened.”

    https://www.dmv.com/ms/mississippi/car-seats

  8. This business of men are the head at home and church but not outside is inconsistent in the extreme. Particularly when you consider that Paul grounds his argument in nature.

    I have (many times) seen non Christians reject Christian when they get this type of argument. Are you going to address this in your next instalment?

    • “Why? We’re not under the Mosaic civil law and it’s not contrary to nature”

      Why does the Mosaic civil law matter? Adam was made first and Eve was made out of Adam’s rib for Adam. There is an order to creation and woman was made for man. Last time we had this discussion, we learned that Calvin believed

      But this does not apply to the case of woman, who by nature (that is, by the ordinary law of God) is formed to obey; for gunaikokratia (the government of women) has always been regarded by all wise persons as a monstrous thing

      Calvin doesn’t seem to be applying Mosaic law here or confusing sacred with secular. He’s looking at the natural order of things, admittedly explained in Genesis.

      As to whether or not Queen Elizabeth is a genuine monarch, the lesser magistrates and people clearly affirm she is, so she is. Ponet used the example of the people making Saul king as the act that established his legitimacy, not his annointing. Several Reformed jurists, if I’m not mistaken, believed a monarch derived legitimacy from the lesser magistrates at the very least. This idea is found throughout history. One example is lesser magistrates making the king sign the Magna Carta. I think the question of legitimacy is therefore different from the question of whether women should rule or can rule.

      Many philosophers have argued that men have natural advantages over women in things that pertain to government. I could appeal to Calvin above. You replied on November 17,2018 to this point as follows

      An argument from what was to what must be does not follow. It used to be that women were not allowed to own or operate businesses but you are not opposed to that? Why not? If there was a Patriarchy (and that is, in my view, a gross over-simplification of history) it doesn’t follow that was the proper order of things. One may not simply assume the righteousness of the alleged Patriarchy and all the more (as a matter of logic) on a selective basis.

      That females were not allowed to do x, doesn’t imply that they are cannot (are not able) to do x. S

      I think women were not allowed to do certain things because they generally lacked the aptitude or because the property rights were set up to reinforce fathers in the household. For example, what about women’s suffrage in the United States? Do you think the Founding Fathers were foolish to deny women the vote? What arguments did they use against women voting? Why weren’t they allowed to vote until that great era of progressivism known as the 1920s? What about other Western nation-states that denied women the right to vote?

      I think John Murphy’s point is powerful. I have a hard time believing men should rule at home (a common grace activity since unbelievers also marry ) and at church (a sacred activity) but not outside the church and home. Polities can, of course, consent to whatever ruler they want, though. If a polity wants to be ruled by a monkey, nothing’s stopping it, but that doesn’t make it wise.

      • Walt,

        People don’t typically try very often to make an argument from nature. It’s typically an argument from male federal headship, which they extrapolate from the Mosaic legislation.

        I’m open to an argument from nature but it has to account for the experience of the last 150 years. Frankly, I think Calvin was wrong on this. We have lots of empirical evidence that females can do well many things that folk in the 16th century could imagine them doing.

        There were some, e.g., Knox opposed to female monarchs so opinion was divided in the period but we have plenty of experience with sound and effective elected female legislators, mayors, governors, and administrators.

        So, yes, the founders were wrong to deny females the franchise.

        An argument from nature has to show that some is contrary to nature, to the way things are or to the natural order, the way they are intended to function. Men dressing as females or committing sodomy is manifestly against nature but that it seems far from clear that female civil leaders is contrary to the nature of things. They seem entirely capable of doing the work.

    • The fact that Eve was made from Adam’s rib shows that she is of the same substance as Adam, and therefore equal to him in every way. The submission of women in the church and home is a voluntary obedience to the commands of God. In a similar way Christ submitted Himself to the will of the Father to provide perfect obedience for the elect, not because He is inferior to the Father. Outside the church there is no requirement for women to be subordinate to men, neither from Scripture or as a result of an inferior nature.

  9. Dr. Clark,

    “An argument from nature has to show that some is contrary to nature, to the way things are or to the natural order, the way they are intended to function. ”

    I think the science about gender differences is clear and obvious. Even in the United States, where women have had the vote and property rights for 100 years, there’s still a vast disparity in the number of male CEOs versus female or men in elected office versus female. This is true around the world when it comes to business leadership and government. Are there any other queens besides the one in England and what real power does she have? There is simply no plurality of men and women ruling throughout the world. Most of the world is a patriarchy. Why does this matter? In the article I linked about, it says there’s a strong correlation between female legislators and progressivism. The progressivism in the United States over the past 100 years has multiple causes, but a big one is women voting.

    Angela,
    You wrote,

    “The fact that Eve was made from Adam’s rib shows that she is of the same substance as Adam, and therefore equal to him in every way”
    Of the same substance but also a complement to him and for him. God even said he made Eve for Adam. Are you really arguing Eve was equal to Adam in rank and authority?

    “The submission of women in the church and home is a voluntary obedience to the commands of God. ”
    It sounds like you’re making obedience to husbands some sort of Corban where you dishonor your husband under the pretext of obeying God. The Reformed understanding of the law is that you have obligations to both God and neighbor.

    ” Outside the church there is no requirement for women to be subordinate to men, neither from Scripture or as a result of an inferior nature.”

    So a wife is not required to submit to her husband in an unbelieving family? Peter actually addresses this. He said Christian wives have to submit even to unbelieving husbands.

    • Walt,

      1. I would prefer to speak of the sexes. Gender is a grammatical category that isn’t identical with sex.

      2. I agree that males and females are different, with different proclivities and potentials. Women tend toward nurture more than men. Women tend to exit the career path to have children and to raise them. That seems grounded in the nature of things and has an influence on career paths, ascent to leadership etc.

      3. We need to agree on what constitutes “nature.” Is it against natural law, is it unnatural for women to govern in the civil sphere? You seem to be largely arguing from what is (or has been) to what must be. Here I think we disagree fundamentally. We have gone round this tree before. Your appeal to what was or is does not account for the significant limitations that females faced that were grounded less in nature and more in prejudice. Females, particularly in the Victorian era but before as well, were widely regarded as inherently inferior. That was mistaken and quite simply prejudice.

      4. As progressivism, your claim cannot be sustained. The theories of Socialism and Communism were formulated by men. Their political implementation was forced by men. In the USA, well before females had any serious political power, it was males (e.g., Woodrow Wilson) who led progressivism.

      5. As to males and females in the family and church, we certainly see female heads of household in the NT (e.g., Lydia) and females active in significant roles of service in the church (e.g., Phoebe—remember that the Philippians were to help her do her work; Paul calls her a “co-worker” with him in the gospel). The headship principle that Paul taught was aimed at Christian households and Christian women (as you note 1 Cor 7) married to unbelievers but Paul never applies it to secular/political governments. There were queens in the ancient world, whom Jesus recognized as such (e.g., Luke 11:31).

      6. The queens in the British empire prior to the Glorious Revolution had real authority (e.g., Bloody Mary and Elizabeth I). Obviously, after the Enlightenments, most of the old monarchies lost most of their authority to legislative bodies but that had little to do with the sex of the various monarchs.

      7. As to the creational order, there was an order, as Paul says in 1 Tim 2 but it was not an order of inherent superiority and inherent, ontological (as a matter of being) inferiority. They were equal before God. They were to be partners. The fall did change that relationship. There’s a great deal of debate over what Eve’s “desire” was. Susan Foh’s hypothesis may be correct but it may not be. The text is ambiguous and (contrary to recent moves by the ESV) should probably be left ambiguous.

  10. Walt, I would like to clarify. In so far as Adam was the first representative head of all humanity, Eve was subordinate to him, and yes she was to be his help mate. That does not make her any less equal to Adam as a human being, made in the image of God. God made Eve the mother of mankind, and her daughters share her gifts of physical endowments and commitment to nurturing children which make them suitable for their role as mothers. That makes women different, but no less equal to men in the sight of God as human beings created in the image of God.

    The first obligation of all human beings is obedience God. Our obligation to neighbor is always secondary to the first table of the law, of first obeying God. God commands that the wife should submit to her husband and in the church, women, and all church members, should submit to their male leaders. That is, provided that this submission conforms to obeying God’s revealed will. No where in the bible are women commanded to submission to all men, unless the men have limited authority over them because of their civic position, such as police, employer, and government official. Again, here submission is not even limited to women, and obedience to God takes priority to obedience to a lower authority. Women’s submission to men in the church and the home is voluntary, and it is first an obedience to God’s revealed will, and secondly an obedience to our obligations to neighbor, provided that obedience is in accord with the primary obligation to obey God’s revealed will.

    There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor male and female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ. Gal. 3:28 In the sight of God we are all equal, regardless of our role in this life. Our voluntary submission is in respect to God’s commands, not because of being inferior by nature.

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