I have spent 30 years studying bullying. The recent controversy concerning the Gillette ad about a man’s role in bullying stuns me. The ad was so spot on I was amazed at how powerful an image could be generated against such an important source of how a man becomes a man. I must confess to being a lifelong Patriot fan. As a seventy-year-old three-time cancer patient, I frequently see the contributions of the Kraft family on the walls of the hospitals where I received my care. Despite my bias, I hope to add some technical details about bullying that might improve understanding the ad’s value. These details evolve from a lifetime of studying, researching, teaching, and writing about bullying.
One criticism is that the ad takes too wide a swing at men. This assumes that all men are bad and do not require this message. It seems logical that most men would receive these messages from their law-abiding fathers. Unfortunately, much of society is oppressed and fatherless. In 1996, I published a paper which identified three social roles in bullying. There is the bully, the victim, and a bystander. We theorized that within each category of bully-victim-bystander there were some sub-categories. Some bystanders are victim bystanders and identify with the experiences of a victim. Others, may be bully bystanders who might exist as trolls in an anonymous world such as the Internet.
The scope of this ad should include all men. Effective smoking ads targeted all men who were not smokers or likely to be. All men can benefit from the ideas contained in this ad. The scope of this ad clearly did not imply that all men behaved in this fashion but was, in fact, a message for all men to get involved. One of the hidden gems of this message is that it targets the exact correct audience for prevention: THE BYSTANDER. Impacting the bystanders is the way to educate more responsible peers.
Most school, school, military, or sports organizations target the perpetrator or attempt to offer help to the victim. Treatment clearly should prioritize those actively involved in the aggression. When it comes to prevention, however, the most reliable target is the bystander. The goal of prevention is to make it very uncool to allow a friend to act like a jerk in front of others, especially those who may be vulnerable or different. Bullies will only do what bystanders allow. This is true in the playground or on the international stage.
The “pussification of men” is so soaked in prejudice that this criticism is an example of what the ad tries to prevent. The ad strongly states that there’s more to manhood than hurtful swaggering. It’s more than just shaving or having secondary sex characteristics. Being a man involves thinking like a man and respecting others. This ad shows men how to be a friend to a buddy who is acting badly. This ad makes me proud to be a man who will always shave with Gillette.