Can brands help detoxify masculinity?

18 : 05 : 2018 New Masculinity : Advertising : Retail
Cassius January 2018 cover Cassius January 2018 cover

Brands have a core role to play in helping men take the first crucial steps on the road to becoming better allies.

Peter Maxwell, Foresight writer, LS:N Global

When we look back at 2018 in 10 or 20 years’ time, it will hopefully be seen as an apex point in our collective understanding of what it means to be a man in the 21st century. As Kiese Laymon, an author whose works often explore modern concepts of masculinity, asserts, this year ‘will demand that those who know better, do better’. The impetus behind this demand is obvious. The eruption of the #metoo movement in 2017 has shone an inescapable light on the damaging behaviour many men exhibit towards women. Beyond finally holding these men to account, however, #metoo’s ultimate success has been to force society at large to address whether today’s mainstream perception of masculinity is broken. ‘There’s a narrative that there’s something about masculinity that’s fundamentally toxic,’ claims David Fuller, founder of Rebel Wisdom, an organisation to that hopes to define a form of healthy masculinity.

This is not a problem that can be addressed on a case-by-case basis, however. The assessment of what masculinity has become needs to be conducted on a system-wide level. As such, Laymon’s call for men who know better to do better, while well-meaning, underestimates the intractability of this situation. Do enough men know better, and if not, how can they be made more self-aware? And for those who do, are they equipped with the right tools to do better in a substantive way? These are the first crucial steps on the road to becoming better allies, and they are steps that brands can play a core role in helping men achieve.

If you doubt that brands can or should be part of this conversation, take a moment to consider how central they have been in reinforcing many of the negative behaviours that are responsible for our current cultural climate. Advertisers and marketers have invested billions in constructing an image of successful manhood as being indelibly defined by power, domination, strength and aggression. These are the constituent pieces of the so-called gender straightjacket that forces many boys and men, even those who don’t at heart identify with such an image, to perform their identity in ways that is destructive to those around them. ‘The media’s depiction of men is generally still about being strong, stoic, six-paced and unbreakable,’ says Martin Robinson, founder of the The Book of Man, a new platform that aims to re-appraise modern manhood. ‘By questioning that and subverting it, we will give a voice to all the men who sometimes feel weak, and afraid, and insecure.’

If you doubt that brands can or should be part of this conversation, take a moment to consider how central they have been in reinforcing many of the negative behaviours that are responsible for our current cultural climate.

But this condition is much more endemic than simply colouring the way brands market. It touches every part of every industry, from workplace culture to corporate strategy, product development and pricing. Many sectors have caught up to the fact that they need to reposition themselves in relation to female and LGBT consumers, finally recognising the ways in which they have either damaged the identity politics surrounding these demographics, or else ignored them entirely. The version of manhood that brands endorse has, however, been left largely unchallenged. ‘Boys… have been left behind,’ writes comedian and author Michael Ian Black in a 2018 New York Times opinion essay. ‘No commensurate movement has emerged to help them navigate towards a full expression of their gender. It’s no longer enough to be a man – we no longer even know what that means.’

Over the next four weeks we aim to map out the role brands can play in leading that search for meaning, from the moment boys enter the world to their first day at school, when they step into the workplace and eventually even become fathers themselves. This will act as our guide to how your brand can be foremost in people’s thoughts when they look back to 2018 as the year in which we started to detoxify masculinity.

For more on how your brand can play a formative role in defining what modern manhood looks like, read our New Masculinity series.

Lab Notes

  • Masculinity has come under more scrutiny than ever this year, thanks to the rise of the #metoo movement. But if as a culture we aim to take on toxic masculinity, brands must take on some responsibility for helping to shape the narrative.
  • Throughout our month-long series we will examine how brands can participate in the conversation. Each week we will tackle a different theme in relation to masculinity: Identity, Development, Health and Entertainment to understand how masculine ideals are shifting.