The attack on Gillette’s “Integrity” is a Larger Cultural Inoculation
How the integrity bind is used to silence men in the era of #MeToo.
The CDC estimates that one in five women in the U. S., are rape survivors. That’s approximately 25 million human beings. Bullying is at epidemic levels among the children in our schools and among adults in the workplace. Against that backdrop, Gillette dropped an ad about men stepping up to challenge bullying and sexual abuse. The uproar has been significant. Gillette’s ad has been attacked as cynical virtue signalling. Gillette’s history as a company has been raised, bringing Gillette’s “integrity” into question.
Go to any Facebook thread about the ad and this integrity argument comes up over and over again. It’s part of a pitched cultural battle that will feed directly into the coming 2020 elections, ultimately determining tax policy, women’s rights, environmental policy, immigration policy, health care policy and more. As Thomas Edsall writes in the New York Times, The Fight Over Men Is Shaping Our Political Future.
Because the stakes are so high, there is ample evidence to suggest an orchestrated effort to control the narrative around this debate, supported by troll farms and foreign players who are aggressively driving messaging into our volatile manhood discussions.
If you’re skeptical that foreign troll farms are working full time to tip the scale on our how we view our own culture, take a look at this article at Slate.
A new study by researcher Morten Bay examines online discussion of the film [The Last Jedi] and finds that on Twitter, the discourse was affected by “deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments,” including by possible Russian trolls.
And so, Gillette’s pricing, manufacturing and advertising practices are suddenly an issue for reactive voices across the media landscape. Issues that these same commenters had no problem with, until it was time to call out the company’s integrity in relationship to an ad which says, “men should step up more often, and in more public ways, to stop those behaviors we all know to be wrong.”
And right on cue, we’re embroiled in a national discussion of virtue signalling and Gillette’s lack of continuity in promoting this kind of messaging. We’re talking about how companies “cynically” take moral positions to improve their bottom line. What we’re not having is a wider conversation about ending bullying and sexual abuse.
“We’re enraged about Gillette. Yeah, 25 million rapes, yeah, sure, that’s bad, but damn, Gillette, you stepped way out of line. Dudes, your lack of integrity has me furious.”
in·teg·ri·ty | \ in-ˈte-grə-tē
Definition of integrity
2 : an unimpaired condition : soundness
3 : the quality or state of being complete or undivided : completeness
This is the “integrity bind.” It is a core component of the full court press to push back against Gillette’s message on bullying and sexual assault, and it’s about much more than one company’s advertising. The angry and reactive attack on Gillette’s integrity is actually a cultural inoculation, designed to reinforce the same bind for men in general.
It works like this: If integrity is the defining measure of why Gillette has no right to speak out on abuse issues, then integrity also limits what we, as men, can say individually. If I am considering stepping up and calling out bad behavior, how is my integrity any better? I’m not perfect. I’m a man raised in man box culture, (the bullying dominant culture of manhood we all live with). From an early age, I was socialized to make fun of women and gays. I messed up a few times. Okay, a lot of times. I have no integrity, either. As such, who am I to criticize others?
How do we end up in this place? Our dominant culture of manhood, otherwise known as man box culture begins impacting boys’ masculinity from infancy. Man box culture tells boys “Man up” and “Don’t be a sissy,” but what is actually communicated in those drumbeat messages is “Don’t be female or gay, because those people are less.” Wrongly gendering the universal capacity for human connection as feminine and then shaming boys to see feminine as less is how we block our sons from the trial and error process of growing their powerful relationship building capacities.
During the years when boys should be expressing and constructing their identities in more diverse, grounded, and authentic ways, they are brutally conditioned to suppress authentic expression and instead cleave closely to the expression of male superiority as identity. Locker room talk and the denigration of women become central to proving they are “real men” in their social circles.
We’re all living in man box culture. How could we not fail the integrity test? Bingo.
This integrity bind doesn’t affect abusers. The continuity of their abusive actions is typically unbroken. It effects the millions of men in the often ambiguous middle, guys who are just trying to get their jobs done and take care of their families. Guys who remain silent in the face of the denigration of women, who choose to not confront bad behavior, who stay on the sidelines because, having grown up in man box culture they say to themselves, “Some guys are like this. Besides, who am I to speak up?”
The integrity bind inoculates men against speaking up in opposition to abuse against women. That’s how the integrity bind works at a cultural level. We should all stay quiet because otherwise we’re just cynical hypocrites. Which makes Gillette’s audacity goddamned annoying. Who are they to speak out? Many men are genuinely struggling with this bind, the guys in the middle, who remain the silent majority because, thanks to man box culture, we’re all short on integrity where abusive behavior is concerned.
Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
So, the question becomes how do men push past our deeply ambivalent awareness of our own histories? How do we, as men, manage the question of integrity around speaking out against abuse, having grown up in man box culture?
The fact is, those of us who choose to speak up against bullying or abuse often do so knowing we are hypocrites on some level, breaking with our own histories in that moment. The likely response from the abusers we may decide to confront? “Oh, NOW you decide to speak up after doing the same stuff for years? You have no integrity, so shut up.”
Which is exactly what they’re saying to Gillette.
And this is why the full court attack on Gillette’s integrity is such a central strategy in the larger culture war around #MeToo. As men, we will either align ourselves with the integrity argument, opposing messages like Gillette’s, or we will encourage all people and organizations’ right to evolve and take a moral position regardless of past actions. In doing so, we grant ourselves the right to grow beyond our own histories, and speak up against abusive behaviors when we see them playing out.
The integrity inoculation, pumped into social and broadcast media when ads like Gillette’s appear won’t ever end. We’ll hear immediately about virtue signalling, no matter who speaks up against abuse. “Yes, of course, abuse is bad, but your message doesn’t count because of the obviously cynical motives that you as a company/celebrity have.” All these inoculating messages will be with us, ultimately seeking to keep millions of men doubtful of their own moral agency, remaining in confusion on the sidelines on issues of abuse and bullying. The systemic inoculation against our obligation to assert our moral agency will continue because there are elections to be won and lost and trillions of dollars at stake.
And so, as men, we will have to make our own choices about what integrity means to us. Is it an unbending commitment to continuity of beliefs and actions, or is it the choice to accept our histories, good and bad, grant ourselves permission to change, and take a stand for what we know to be right today?
There’s little time left for men’s ongoing moral confusion. We can’t remain much longer on the sidelines in an effort to avoid conflict or protect our status and position. We have to make some challenging and public choices and we have to make them soon. What the future holds for our sons and daughters will depend on those choices.