Expectations of boys have remained more rigid

Gaby Hinsliff suggests that Piers Morgan is actually part of the advertising campaign.

What would the advertising industry do without Piers Morgan?

Whenever they need a grumpy middle-aged man to be triggered, there he is, reliable as clockwork. He did it with Greggs’ vegan sausage roll, helping catapult their January marketing wheeze onto the front pages by complaining that it was a monstrosity. And he’s done it again with the new Gillette ad targeting toxic masculinity, which twists its familiar “the best a man can get” tagline to suggest that men can do a lot better than Harvey Weinstein and fighting in the street.

It’s true! We’re all pitching in to help sell this shaving cream.

Gillette is solemnly insisting that it’s not just a stunt; that in addition to the ad it will be putting money into projects to “inspire and educate” men of all ages, and routinely challenge male stereotypes in the images and words it chooses. Like all marketing gambits, that should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt.

Now we’re marketing salt. It just never ends, does it.

But seriously.

Feminism has endlessly opened up horizons for girls, giving them permission to be anything they want to be. They are bombarded with messages about how it’s fine to be both smart and pretty, encouraged to visualise themselves in male-dominated careers and to push the boundaries of behaviour considered “acceptable” for women. That paves the way for girls who never fitted the pink princess stereotype to be far more comfortable in their skins.

But expectations of boys have remained more rigid, to the detriment both of those who don’t fit the macho stereotype and of those who will grow up to be the victims of insecure male rage. “Let boys be boys” is an excellent principle. But only if we recognise the full range of things boys are capable of being, when we let them.

It’s a bind. Women are the subordinated half of the equation, so the move for them is as it were upwards; for men it is as it were downwards. It isn’t literally, but it seems that way. Since women have always been figured as weak and subordinate, men are by implication strong and dominant; trying to change that runs into this “You want to make us into cowardly weaklings” problem.

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