It’s a familiar scene – a news story or ad campaign centred on a social injustice surfaces, and cue public outcry. Twitter hashtags, numerous news pieces and blogs (of which I’m adding another, sorry about that) and angry conversations ensue. When the US Gillette ad first made the news I could barely keep up with the heated Facebook conversations unfolding beneath it. Similar to the Colin Kaepernick Nike ad, and many others before it, it focuses a cultural spotlight in on a topical conversation in a way that’s different enough to the norm to fire up emotions.
There are a huge number of excellent thought pieces out there covering various points of view on the Gillette ad. Your opinion on how well the ad is shot and how suitable it is for this message to come from Gillette is just that – your opinion, and you are entitled to it. What can’t be argued with is that it is refreshing to see a discussion on masculinity and its impact on society coming from a male perspective, as opposed to the female echo chamber that we experience all too often.
It’s fantastic that we’re at a moment in history where this conversation is gathering momentum. However, it’s equally frustrating that we’ve now passed a century since women in the UK were given the right to vote and we’re still having to have these discussions; injustice in any form isn’t something that’s easily broken. Yet when the Gillette ad launched, as well as hearing many interesting conversations about the role brands play in influencing culture, there was one conversation that I heard multiple times that made me more than uncomfortable.
It comes in various forms – but it’s usually something along the lines of “I don’t agree with feminism. You want equal rights but all you do is hate on men”. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s heard it in varying degrees, and I’m saddened to say I hear it from women sometimes as well.
A few years ago I would hear conversations like this and feel extremely frustrated, yet not feel equipped with the language to challenge it. So rather than share my opinion about the Gillette ad and its role, I want to share my thoughts on how I approach this conversation in case others feel the same. Some people will say they don’t believe in feminism because they believe in equality. It’s an inherent linguistic issue with the word “feminism”, simply because the word itself relates to women and therefore excludes men – something men aren’t particularly used to and therefore many of them don’t tend to like.
The definition of feminism to me, is simple: it starts with accepting that men and women are different. You won’t hear me argue that physiological differences don’t exist. But the fact is that those differences do not mean women are lesser human beings than men; we’re not of less value. The feminist movement exists to recognise and challenge the fact that society is currently structured to favour men – both consciously and unconsciously. In agreeing that women deserve equal opportunity, I am not saying that everything should be the same because we are not the same.
To give a current example, this year the UK Armed Forces will for the first time allow women to apply for all roles – including front line infantry. Anyone watching Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins programme on Sunday evening will see for the first time the popular show allows women to compete alongside men in the challenges. The season started with 12 men and 12 women – to avoid spoilers I won’t share the exact numbers, but 3 episodes in and the majority of the people who have voluntarily withdrawn from the challenge have been women. I'm already seeing and hearing jibes on this, “Oh, what a surprise the girls are dropping out, what about feminism?”, ...but it’s not exactly a surprise.
To have an infantry role in the Armed Forces, I personally agree that there shouldn’t be a different standard for women and men. The fact is on a battlefield you could face a threat from weaponry and opposition troops that won’t distinguish your gender. You may have to carry heavy artillery or injured colleagues and citizens, and the entry guidelines have been put in place to ensure you can successfully do the tasks required to keep yourself and your colleagues safe. Therefore to hold one of those roles, it makes perfect sense that you should have to meet those guidelines – regardless of gender.
It’s not surprising that more men than women are meeting them in the series because we are physiologically different. Men tend to be bigger, they tend to be stronger, they tend to have less body fat. There are exceptions – some men have dropped out of the challenge, and some of the women in there seem to be getting through the tasks with no issues whatsoever. They are proving that it is possible that women can meet those guidelines, but demonstrating that it is likely that more men than women will be able to meet them.
The simple fact remains: the feminist movement does not argue that men and women are the same. It argues that women do not deserve to be treated like lesser human beings because of our gender. So the next time you hear someone saying they disagree with feminism, or using a physiological difference between men and women to challenge the movement, boil it down to this – by saying that, are they saying that they fundamentally believe that women are of less value as humans than men? You’ll usually find it makes for a more productive, less emotional conversation from there.