January 18, 2019 • Dennis Ellingburg
This past week as I listened to podcasts during my morning workout, I began to hear some of the conservative and libertarian commentators that I listen to attack an ad by Gillette. I admit I had not seen the ad to this point, but their critique of the ad made me angry before I even sat down in my office and watched it. I was angry and disappointed, and I went to Facebook and wrote the following comment:
“Well, I guess I’m going to start shaving with a Dollar Shave Club razor before I go out of the house in my Adidas sneakers to go get some Hagen Das ice cream for desert.”
But then I was surprised to get a text from a godly young woman in one of my youth groups. She is the mother of two precious babies, the wife of one of the most godly men I know, and a faithful professor of Christ, (and I also should note I received some loving and helpful pushback from my own godly wife). She asked me why I didn’t like the ad that, in her mind, promoted positive, masculine traits even if the company was not Christian. For the next hour we traded back and forth texts about why we thought we were right and tried to help the other see the blind spots in the argument of the other.
I thought about this the rest of the night, and even texted a few pastor friends to see if I was being outrageously short-sighted in being offended by the ad.
But as I awoke this morning, and spent time in God’s Word, I began to rethink some of what I said yesterday. Not that I think I was wrong, but I do think I was guilty of confirmation bias. Here’s a wikipedia link if you need a definition of that principle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias
First I want to point out the good of the Gillette Razor ad. It wasn’t all bad. The ad does point out some of the truly sinful manifestations of masculinity and some of the critical issues of our day such as sexual lust, a lack of accountability, passivity, and bullying (although I do not see bullying as a purely masculine trait as we have seen from the rash of suicides by both young men and women who have been victimized by members of their same sex).
These are all problems that Christians for centuries have recognized as sin problems that men deal with. And the ad does point out in poignant ways the reality of the devastation these sins cause. In the Bible, these same sins have been condemned from the beginning, and shown for not only the effects they have on the men who engage in them, but also the damage that these sinful behaviors have on society at large.
We can see this in the way that Adam’s passivity in the garden (Genesis 3) led to the crushing effects of sin on the whole world.
“she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6, ESV)
We also see the catastrophic effects of sexual sin and male misogyny (this is true misogyny) in the story of the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19. Far from celebrating or endorsing what the man did, the Bible uses this story to illustrate the lamentable effects of the cycle of sin, punishment, complaint, and rescue that we see in Judges.
On this point, the Gillette ad got it right, pointing to these as sinful (though they did not and would not use this language) attitudes that should be shunned and abandoned by our society.
They also celebrated good manhood. Men who stand up for those who embody God’s commands to Israel in Isaiah 1:17, and Micah 6:8.
“learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17, ESV)
The images of a man protecting a woman’s honor, saving a young boy from a group of bullies, and stepping in to give his son advice on how to resolve differences were all applaudable. In this the ad got it right and this should be highlighted.
But there was also a lot wrong with the ad. And this was the death nail in what could have been an encouraging and helpful statement on positive manhood.
The biggest problem that can be seen is this statement made during the voiceover of the ad: “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.”
This point betrays the underlying tone of the ad and moves it from a helpful critique to being another attack on manhood. By saying that only some are doing, saying and acting in the right way, the ad castigates what I believe are most men who love their wives, are seeking to raise their children well, and are respectful and kind to women.
Most men didn’t need a movement to tell them that these actions are bad, nor do they need a condescending commercial to do so. As Matt Walsh notes, “The vast majority of men are not rapists or harassers and were, prior to this past year, already staunchly opposed to both activities.”
Furthermore, the phrase “boys will be boys” is claimed by the ad to be a universal excuse used by men to ignore and make excuses for the bad behavior shown on the video. I have honestly never heard anyone, anyone use this phrase to excuse bad behavior in their child, friends, or husband. This type of straw-manning is disingenuous. Most father who see this behavior, and most men who see bad behavior in others do call it out, especially Christian men.
The challenge for us as men is that God has called us to do better. And we should do better. We can and should be challenging our sons and other men to be biblical men. We should be working to help instill traits like humility, sacrifice, obedience, justice, discipline, bravery, protection, love, and community in others. These are the traits that we see personified in the life of Christ. He was all of these to a degree that we cannot begin to imagine.
As a father, I am called to challenge my sons to be better, and I believe most men (especially the Christian men I know) are committed to these, but we can do better. On this the ad and I agree. So how do we instill these traits in our sons and in our coworkers? We do it by giving them the gospel and pointing them to Christ as our example of biblical manhood.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2, ESV)
We do this by correcting other in love, challenging them to abandon the way the world views manhood in favor of a biblical model. (Ephesians 4:10-15)
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:15, ESV)
As believers, our model is not the whims of the media, nor the challenges of corporations, but rather our challenge is to grow in maturity as we focus our hearts on the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ.