A recent advert by Gillette highlighted a range of issues that have been receiving increasingly widespread attention. The ad has been met with both praise and criticism by men and women from across different social and religious representations. It includes video footage of media coverage of the #MeToo movement that saw women and men speak out about sexual harassment and assault that led to several high profile legal cases. It mixes in other videos that went viral last year, demonstrating positive male examples and challenging negative racial stereotypes, and included acted scenes that presented perceptions of accepted male social standards including bullying and fighting, encapsulated in the phrase ‘boys will be boys’.
Unfortunately when such a strong statement is attempted – a promotion of a zero tolerance culture of sorts – it will always fall short of reaching everybody with its intended message. It’s difficult to acknowledge challenging realities in isolation, and even more so if they are part of a wider conversation involving things that we may not understand or see a problem with. It’s harder still if we feel like we are being told that the problem is personal, rather than a problem with society more generally.
The response to the Gillette advert has demonstrated how easily conversations can be shut down and how the entirety of a message can be dismissed when parts of it are just too difficult or challenging to discuss.
“Boys will be boys.”
Recognising that there are observable differences between boys and girls or men and women, whether encouraged by society or due to an innate difference in us isn’t harmful in essence. But this language becomes dangerous when it’s used to reinforce negative and harmful behaviours as socially acceptable, encouraged or expected. One example shown in the advert is when violence is overlooked when boys fight because “boys will be boys”. This can perpetuate the harmful idea that a certain level of violence is both allowed and expected by boys and men, and therefore must be a necessary part of their lives.
This concept extends to girls, too. As with the recent Surviving R. Kelly docuseries, (which we wrote about here) intervention to stop harmful and dangerous behaviours can be blocked by our acceptance of false stereotypes. In the case of young black girls in particular, the abuse can be overlooked because they are seen as older and more sexually responsible. A stereotype that should be entirely rejected.
When something is wrong with society and is causing harm to people, it should certainly be spoken about. There will always be an inevitable level of backlash and attempts to completely shut down the conversation, and we must find a balance between making the discussion accessible and remaining certain in our message. If any social shift is achieved it should be reached not through fear of repercussion, but from a real acknowledgement of society’s ills and a deep willingness to see it change.
“Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith” – Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Sahih Muslim)
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
You can watch the Gillette advert here.