Can ads targeting men be empowering for women?

Ahead of International Women’s Day I found myself opening multiple tabs on my browser, searching for a truly empowering ad worthy of this Women’s Day. Something that helps us move forward, instils more confidence and helps change the narrative. And as I was looking at these moving commercials starring women in the main lead, telling women all over the world to stand up for themselves, end stereotypes, I started thinking to myself whether this approach is a little one-sided?

Are we as women expected by society to go change the world for ourselves while patriarchy watches and perhaps even claps every now and then? Or, can patriarchy itself change?

As communication specialists, isn’t it our job to project a gender-neutral world? A world where women and men are not tied down to their stereotypical image. Where the pressure to change and evolve just doesn’t rest on women, but on men too. And where men are also held accountable to improve themselves.

And thus, I started thinking that perhaps empowerment is when the patriarchal landscape starts to change and starts to undo years of toxic masculinity. One ad at a time. And the ad that I think is doing that is, the Gillette’s We believe: the best men can be.

Maybe the ad is a little preachy. Maybe the treatment a little high-handed. But maybe, it is what is needed to carry the conversation forward. I know this commercial caused quite an uproar. Especially, among men. But as the mother of a boy, I feel there needs to be more communication that projects men in a real and, if I may use the word, ‘progressive’ light. Tells boys and men to stand up or stand down. Tells men some behavior is just not acceptable and some that are the need of the hour.

Because, how do we raise better sons if we don’t directly address decades and even centuries of their toxic masculine behavior?

While communication on women is progressing both in ads and in shows, I think it is time for the narrative for men to change as well. To show their weaknesses, their flaws, their fears and most of all, their heart.

The Gillette ad is the right step towards that. And the backlash it caused? Well, perhaps a little sting is to be expected when you apply disinfectant.

Vasudha Misra is ECD of BBH India.

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