I never thought I’d see a day where it was me arguing that “MeToo has gone too far”, yet here we are. Like all good things, a movement created to empower women has been co-opted by the male-dominated capitalist machine and butchered into a one-and-a-half minute ad to make men feel better about themselves (and buy stuff, of course).
This week Gillette, one of the best known men’s razor brands, has released an ad which overlays news snippets about the MeToo movement with examples of sexism: a bad sitcom where a man appears to grope a woman, a music video with provocative female dancers in varying states of undress, a man speaking over a woman in a board meeting. The implication being that this kind of behaviour is in the past – in this post-MeToo world (whatever that means), we’re better than this.
It’s such a ludicrous suggestion that my instinct was to assume the ad must have been created by men. That it was written and directed by a woman is baffling and does nothing to mitigate its failings – and it should not prevent us from criticising the message it sends.
The video continues with men appearing to call each other out in clear cases of sexual harassment by muttering “Come on,” and “Not cool!” as opposed – we are to presume – to the alternative: passively standing by and watching as women get assaulted by their mates.
The message that men need to be feminist allies is important, but this 10-second montage seems to be about as watered down a version of this notion as humanly possible. At this point, the ad forgets about MeToo and the women it affected altogether, and shows us clips of men and boys being told not to fight. The whole video is basically one big long high five to men who don’t assault people. It seems like a pretty low bar considering it’s supposed to represent “the best men can be”, but more importantly it’s a warped denigration of what the MeToo movement is all about.
Not long after the initial wave of support for MeToo, the inevitable backlash commenced. The narrative we’ve seen emerge every time a man has been accused of anything mildly less awful than Harvey Weinstein was is that MeToo is damaging to men. It’s made them fearful, reluctant – these poor men can’t even look at a woman without the terrifying possibility that they may be “MeTooed” – in other words, accused of acting inappropriately or worse.
The problem with this (aside from its obvious absurdity in painting men as victims of their own potential wrongdoings) is that it takes a movement created to empower women and makes it all about men.
Although MeToo came to be known as shorthand for calling out powerful men for their misogynistic – and often abusive – behaviour, its value lied in what it gave women: a voice to speak out about experiences they had thus far been forced to stay silent about, for fear of the inevitable societal repercussions.
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What Gillette has done, in my view, is weaponise this movement as a cultural trend and create an ad campaign which puts men at the centre again. In a patriarchal and deeply sexist society where men are given centre-stage in almost all aspects of life, they have now come for the movement that women created for themselves and each other. And they’ve done it to increase profits on one of the most gendered products out there.
Gillette is owned by Procter & Gamble, a conglomerate worth hundreds of billions of dollars. It also owns Venus, the female counterpart to Gillette. To be clear, both brands sell razors – the only difference is who they’re selling them to. While women’s razors have historically been marketed by brainwashing us into believing that female body hair is somehow shameful and unattractive, men’s adverts focus on the power of choosing their own facial hair choice. For men, it’s a matter of personal preference and grooming – for women, it’s about making us feel ashamed of the way our bodies look to men.
This objectification of the female body is lucrative. A 2017 study showed that for the same disposable razor brand, women were charged 60 per cent more than men. On the Boots website at the time of writing, the most expensive Gillette razor was priced at £14.99, while the Venus options ranged up to £25.
The gender segregation of these products allows brands to charge women more, and many women are willing to pay – it’s hard to ignore decades of media messaging implying that the slightest hint of body hair will make us instantly unattractive to men, while also telling us that our sole worth is based on whether men are physically attracted to us. It’s the same gendered manipulation that drives the beauty, fitness and fashion industries, yet razors are sold not as a luxury but as a necessity.
It’s not impossible to challenge this warped status quo. Last year, Canadian brand Billie was broadly praised for releasing the first ever ad campaign for razors which actually showed women with body hair. The opening shot is of a woman in bed with hair on her legs – we see women blow-drying and combing their armpit hair and gladly posing in their underwear with pubic hair peeking out of the edges, while others choose just to shave their toes, or that irritating spot where ripped jeans expose the skin. It’s non-judgmental, it doesn’t objectify women for the male gaze, it simply shows what the product does and it promises to do it well, if you ever want to shave.
Gillette could have noted the value in questioning the gender norms associated with the products they’re peddling. They could have created a gender-neutral product, or even a MeToo-inspired marketing campaign focused on the women affected by a long history of oppression which begins with gendered slogans and escalates to the kind of sexual abuse they’re ostensibly condemning.
These types of products and the campaigns they’ve pushed on us for decades have contributed to a culture where women’s bodies are perceived as commodities for men to enjoy. To use a movement aimed at changing this as a way to sell these same products is not just distasteful: it’s hypocritical and cruel.
It devalues the importance of the MeToo movement – making it not a vital campaign for women’s rights to bodily autonomy, but a fashionable slogan they can offer men to make them feel better about themselves. And it takes the stories of women brave enough to speak up about their assaults, harassment and denigration, and exploited them to make more money as a result. This is a shameful indictment of the world we inhabit, which always has, and seemingly always will, put men first.