Tarar Square

Something finally changed: Why I too believe in the 'best in men', like Gillette

You can be six feet tall, eat fries and chocolates like fast food is going out of fashion, think the new girl in class is super pretty. You still know how not to feel gender-superior.

 |  Tarar Square  |  7-minute read |   20-01-2019
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"Is this the best a man can get? Is it? We can't hide from it. It's been going on far too long. We can't laugh it off. Making the same old excuses. Boys will be boys. But something finally changed. And there will be no going back. Because we believe in the best in men. To say the right thing. To act the right way. Some already are. In ways big and small. But some is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow."

Who knew a few simple sentences in a simple ad would generate so much reaction, both positive and negative, in a world that despite being shaken in its edifice by movements of gender equality, #MeToo and Time's Up is still deeply patriarchal.

The Gillette ad. Yes, that one.

The one in which men are NOT told to not be men but be the best of men. The one in which boys will be boys goes beyond the stereotype to become the force that changes things at a very fundamental level. The medium of the visual to highlight an issue that in its simplicity holds a message so potent it has the power to reverberate across the world, causing a reaction of admiration and scorn and praise and criticism and gratitude and outrage.

gillette-ad-inside_012019034825.jpgWhat the Gillette ad is doing is simply showing a mirror. (Screenshot: YouTube)

I re-watched the Gillette ad this morning, as I started writing this column. It made me misty-eyed each time I saw it. It gave me goosebumps, the good ones. It strengthened my faith in the overwhelming goodness of mankind, pun intended. And it gave me hope that when the biggest producer of men's shaving equipment in the world has a realisation that things must change, the initiation of a much-needed conversation will take place. A dialogue will start. A healthy debate will start. Not a man-woman debate, not a fight to show how bad men are, not to demolish all that is good about masculinity, not to divide the world into binaries of bad men and good men, not to polarise an already divisive and cynical world that while trying to attain gender equality seems to be guilty of obfuscation of the real issue as the finger-pointing gains momentum.

There are countless men who are good, decent, kind, and just what a man should be: upright, self-assured, and hand in hand with women, making this world a glorious place. These men don't mind men being shown the reality. Or the Gillette ad.

What the Gillette ad is doing is simply showing a mirror. To ideas of masculinity that are toxic. Human beings get so used to doing things in a certain way, following familiar patterns of behaviour in mental laziness that frowns upon change, and being who they are without little or no knowledge of the positive or negative impact of their words and actions that it startles them to be shown a mirror. Self-reflection is a rare gift, and someone else showing you the mirror is rarely considered an affirmation of the need to change. The Gillette ad is simply telling you to look within, look around, look beyond the comfortable and the familiar, and be the best of you. The best of you is not a repudiation of your masculinity. The best of you is an affirmation of the best of your masculinity. To be a man who is kind, empathetic, respectful, fearless to step in, not afraid to exhibit vulnerability, and responsive to injustice is not in any way to minimise the importance of outward signs of masculinity. The good ones.

boys-will-be-boys_012019034843.jpgNot any more. (Screenshot of the Gillette advertisement: YouTube) 

The Gillette ad resonated with me because I believe in its message. I have written the same things, I have said the same things. The world will change when men and women unite. I wrote last year: "This is what I believe and this is what I practise: teach your son to be a good human being who should be kind to all around him — siblings, cousins, friends, class and schoolmates, neighbours, people working in the house, in school, shops, restaurants, the underprivileged, and of course animals — and as a man he will not grope, harass, exhibit sexism and misogyny, disrespect women, or inflict violence of any kind on a child or an adult."

"And I repeat one more time: nothing will change until male attitudes change. Until you teach your male children how to behave. Until you inculcate the idea of human dignity, of that of respect for all human beings in your children, nothing will change. Teach your boys to be good, kind, decent children, and you will be opening a path for inculcation of values and principles that help in the formation of a solid personality that neither harms nor endorses a societal system that harms women.

"Nothing will change until men stop being 'men.' That will happen when men start to notice what other men do. When men start to stop men. When men tell men: enough. When men tell men: no more. When men tell men: time's up. The code of brotherhood that supports and encourages undesirable behaviour towards women must be broken." Towards children, one another, people in general.

Growing up in a world set in dark shades of patriarchy and women-are-second-class-disposable beings, I fought the system every step of the way, in ways big and small. Mostly, it was a fight in futility, but to not fight what I considered unjust was never even an option in my mind that was too stubborn to fit into any box created by my family that expected me to just be, society I never really felt a part of and the lines I was supposed to toe. My validation of my values came from an unexpected place. Just when I thought not much changed around me, something made me rethink it all. Someone, not something. My son.

boys-watching-today_012019034902.jpgThe message is simple. The boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow. (Screenshot: YouTube)

My son, Musa, who will be 19 on January 26, and who I love beyond love, has made me understand what it is like to raise a boy, a young man, with all the characteristics of being a boy, a young man, without adhering to the age-old clichés of boys-will-be-boys-men-will-be-men.

You can be a good athlete, an A+ student, interested in drama, debate, computers, art and other student-y stuff, but that you can also be respectful to your teachers, non-confrontational with your class-fellows, respectful to custodial stuff at school, kind to the poor, wonderful with children, kind to those who are materially weaker, kind to animals, non-judgmental, believe in gender equality without ever being taught, ready to help a stranger, willing to give your pocket-money to help someone in need, bringing home stray dogs, never shout at anyone who is working for you, always be there when someone needs help in any form, step in when a child is being bullied, object when a female is being targeted, when two boys are pummeling one another, when a female is being talked down to, to interject when you see your mother shouting at anyone, to own up to a mistake, to say sorry, to make amends.

You can be six feet tall, have a muscular body, love to be a goofball, be argumentative, spend hours on PlayStation and YouTube, take seven rides on the world's fastest roller coaster, swim in the sea, pat an angry-looking Rottweiler, eat fries and chocolates like fast food is going out of fashion, think the new girl in class is super pretty, and party all night. You still know where to draw a line, what not to do, how not to feel gender-superior, how not to cross a line with anyone, to understand a 'no' without it being worded, to not hurt, to stand up against unkindness and injustice, and to be good to people without making a big deal about it.

Thank you, Musa, for being the boy that you were, the best a young man can be. And for teaching me in my middle age how not to be judgmental, to just be good without binaries, to apologise for behaving foolishly, to be rational without losing my sh*t.

And thank you, Gillette, for making a beautiful ad that I as a woman, as a mother, love, and that my son thinks is utterly cool and totally relevant.

Also Read: #MeToo is not a battle of the sexes. It's about agency of an individual


Mehr Tarar Mehr Tarar @mehrtarar

A former op-ed editor of Daily Times, Pakistan, and a freelance columnist.

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