Boys will be boys

Updated January 28, 2019


The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

THE forever war between the genders refuses to resolve itself. After the #MeToo campaign, the latest controversy to have hit the media in this regard is the new Gillette ad. The title, The Best a Man Can Get, is over 30 years old. But the content of the new piece of advertising is very current.

It concerns the argument of male persons being excused for bad behaviour on the grounds that ‘boys will be boys’, and places the onus of teaching on men themselves — boys, the ad says, ought to be taught by their older counterparts to not seek recourse in violence, harassment and invective, especially against women but also against each other.

There is in the video a nod to the #MeToo campaign, acknowledging the fact that women have forever been harassed and violated, and the persons conducting such activities have been excused. But also to be found are latent references towards men’s responsibility towards parenting, presenting an example, and chivalry. Boys having a scrum ought to be reprimanded, the ad says, and the persons who can do that are their role models and mentors.

Curiously, there seems to have been more criticism of the ad than praise.

All of this subject matter would appear proper and fitting to any right-thinking individual, one would assume. Curiously, though, there seems to have been more criticism of the ad than praise. Notwithstanding the many men (and women) that shared the video on the social media, the ‘dislikes’ were in greater numbers by the thousands. The central idea of the advertisement being ‘toxic masculinity’, perhaps it is hardly surprising that many persons across the world found it projecting emasculation and relegating male persons to a lower, perhaps more ‘feminine’ stature.

The fact, however, is that the company has achieved a world of good — within a limited sphere, of course — by putting out this ad, acknowledging that the transgression against rights of any person is outside the limits of acceptable behaviour. Boys, it ought be assumed, will not and should not be excused on the basis of gender and stereotype — the rules of good manners are rigid and well known, and they must not be slowed to be breached. Further, rather than female persons taking it upon themselves to shrilly forward the cause, it is the thinking male persons themselves who must educate and civilise their younger counterparts — better sooner than later.

In a country such as Pakistan, though — with high rates of violence against women, a deeply patriarchal and misogynistic society, and regression that appears to know no bounds — the ad may seem to have no relevance. That, however, is very far from being the case. Arguably, it is precisely such milieus that present that most urgent need for being made to be self-aware, in addition to knowledge of the recognition of basic human rights (regardless of gender) and the responsibilities that come with it.

Women in modern Pakistan do, undeniably, have a hard time. Leave aside crimes such as ‘honour’ killings, and the practice of domestic violence, egregious matters of which nightmares are made. Consider, in their stead, another basic reality. As urbanisation (and inflation) grows, the number of women attending college increases, and the participation of females in the workplace adds up. This scenario comes with its own challenges, such as taking the bus or being in a public space — and hence at the mercy of men who harass them.

Suffice it to say, then, that ad campaigns such as that put out by Gillette — a corporate, for-profit though it may be — are essential for chipping away at hidebound ideas: improper understandings of masculinity, the lack of the ability to understand concepts of human dignity, and the necessity for the genders to exist in mutual respect.

As the ad quite correctly points out, boys ought not be excused for ill behaviour on these grounds, and the onus falls primarily on their older counterparts to wean them into the practices of the men they should one day become.

The fact that the advertisement under debate has drawn such opprobrium from people across the world — one cannot ­conclude whether they were all male — means that toxic masculinity is a global problem, hardly restricted to any region or country.

The tug of war between the genders is as old as humanity itself, and there is no doubt that women have always had the worst of it — even if some of them have been at some point complicit. A hardnosed corporate reality though it may be, the company has done a good job, one that deserves appreciation and resolve. Of the many male persons that watched and then reacted to it, it is earnestly to be hoped that at least some will dwell on what is often referred to as ‘the order of things’, and take steps to change it.

The writer is a member of staff.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2019