I have two younger brothers. Gabe is 15-years-old and plays Fortnight like it’s his job. Garrett is 18-years-old and hoping to attend college at Purdue University next fall. As they navigate high school and look forward to college, we talk often about their everyday lives. Most of these conversations revolve around the sports they play, the classes they take, and the friends they hang out with. Every now and then, the discussions shift to deeper topics.
I have always felt like it’s my duty as an older sibling to impart whatever insight I might have onto my brothers, but I’ve never been sure they were listening.
Recently, I asked them to revisit Gillette’s Super Bowl ad addressing toxic masculinity from earlier this year. I remember seeing the ad and thinking it was timely and creatively well-done. It addresses subtle and broadly socially acceptable traits of toxic masculinity—catcalling, interrupting women at work, letting young boys fight, and more. I knew my own opinions on the issue, but I wanted the opinions of some teenage boys who really are the “men of tomorrow.” I asked both of my brothers to watch the ad and then asked them what they thought.
Garrett said he remembered the ad when it first aired during the 2019 Super Bowl. He thought it was relevant with “everything that’s been going on lately,” but didn’t think much more about it afterward. Gabe, on the other hand, doesn’t remember seeing the ad at all. “I was probably out of the room getting some chips or something,” he said. (I can’t say I’m surprised!) After watching the ad, Gabe decided it was “accurate” because of his experiences as a teenager.
“It shouldn’t have to be this way,” he said, “with guys acting the way they do because they think they have to.”
He told me that boys think they have to fight and be tough to show they’re men, but the ad shows how to be a man in a better way.
Garrett enjoyed the ad because he saw that it’s “giving people relatable situations that show toxic masculinity.” Using dads grilling and young guys on the street is “showing how to treat the younger male population differently”—to teach them wrong from right.
Both boys echoed the same sentiment that the ad “makes you think about what toxic masculinity means.” Gabe expressed that toxic masculinity “goes way deeper than assault." Both boys walked away thinking the ad showed toxic masculinity “on all levels,” beyond the obvious ones.
When I asked my brothers what they thought Gillette was trying to say with the ad, Garrett explained that it “isn’t trying to tell people what to do—it’s prompting change.” Gabe seemed to think the same when he said that Gillette “is trying to raise awareness and spread the word” that toxic masculinity is real and a problem. When I told him about the backlash on social media, Gabe just laughed and said, “Gillette doesn’t have any power to make people do stuff, so why are they even mad?” He's not wrong.
I was curious if they thought that this ad, or any other marketing campaigns, can actually change the way people think about toxic masculinity. “It will only change the people that are willing to listen,” Gabe told me, blowing me away with his underrated teenage insight. “I noticed there were a lot more ‘dislikes’ than ‘likes’ on the YouTube video,” he remarked. “But that means that people have been exposed to the ad and had a strong opinion!”
Garrett stated something similar—the ad was already a win because it was encouraging people to treat young boys differently. Hopefully they would then grow up to be better men.
At the end of our conversation, Gabe said, “If I were in charge of a company, I would make an ad like this.”
I’ve always been proud of my brothers. They’ve become my built-in best friends as we’ve gotten older and I miss them all the time. After having this conversation with them, I’m as proud as I’ve ever been. I wasn’t surprised that they enjoyed the ad and thought it was relevant, but I was surprised at the depth of their answers to my questions. They had clearly pondered the issue of toxic masculinity and taken our previous conversations to heart. They were prepared to offer their opinions within minutes of my asking them to weigh in.
It seems as if our previous discussions were making an impact on them after all.
It takes a lot for teenage boys to call their sister for 15 minutes, and it takes even more for them to speak candidly about toxic masculinity. They’re already great guys with lots of friends and family who love them. Now I feel I’m doing my job as an older sister to help them become great men, too.