The next time someone brings up the recent Gillette advertisement with you (or any other topic about problems with masculinity in our culture for that matter), show them that the root of the issues highlighted in that advertisement is that many men simply don’t know how to be real men. There are elements of masculinity in our culture that have become seriously corrupted and need to be addressed. Yet, all attempts to tackle these problems that do not include a call to conversion and discipleship in Jesus will ultimately fall short.
Whether you belong to the so-called ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ camps, or whether you sit on the fence, we can all agree on some basic principles: we don’t want sexual harassment at work or anywhere else, we don’t want bullying in schools, we don’t want to excuse bad behavior from men towards each other or women, etc… We can also agree that we want men to be good fathers to their sons, we want men to be faithful husbands to their wives, we need men to hold each other accountable, etc.
In many ways, we’re all talking about the same thing. We want men in our world and culture to embrace authentic masculinity. Where the different camps are divided, is on the definition and model of authentic masculinity.
This is where we as Christians can step up and point to the perfect man: Jesus.
It may sound overly simplistic, but think about it for a moment. If there is confusion about what characterizes the ideal man, or what authentic masculinity means, why not direct people to look to the perfect man and learn from him?
There are many rich theological reasons behind Jesus being called the perfect man. But for the sake of this article (and for us mere mortals), there are a number of other reasons that can be referred to, which explain why Jesus embodies what it means to be the perfect man. Jesus taught us by his words and example how to love, to serve, to be humble, to be courageous, to speak the truth, to be strong when needed and to be meek when needed, and so on. Obviously, the greatest example that Jesus left us was how he gave his own life, sacrificing himself for the good of those he loved. It’s no wonder that the Church teaches that whoever follows after Christ, the perfect man, becomes more of a man himself.
This is why it’s imperative that we don’t get sucked into the controversy surrounding the recent Gillette advertisement, but rather use it as an opportunity.
It would be naive to say that some of the issues pointed to in the advertisement like bullying or sexual harassment are uncommon. But to label all men as being guilty of ‘toxic masculinity’ (whatever that really means) is also an unfair generalization. Yet, we’re not looking for men to become a bunch of ‘nice guys’. We need righteous and virtuous men. By steering men’s gazes to Christ, we can allow them to hear that call to a higher standard in their manhood, so that they will strive to grow in virtue and authentic masculinity. We need men who are not afraid of being men – which means we need men to be good and loving husbands, fathers who are around and who impart a genuine understanding of masculinity to their sons, and friends who are not afraid to challenge each other if it leads the other to a greater degree of holiness. In other words, we need men to live out the Bible verse: As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Prov 27:17).
And the starting point for this is for us to extend an invitation to any man around us to a way for them to have an encounter with the love of the perfect man himself, Jesus Christ. The more any man is drawn into the love and mercy of Jesus, the more he will see the specific areas in his life and masculinity that require conversion, so that he can live in imitation of the model and example that Jesus has left us.
Let’s change the topics of discussion that are surrounding this advertisement. Is it really of paramount importance to endlessly deliberate if Gillette, which primarily makes shaving products, has any business preaching to men or anyone else about the state of masculinity in our society? Similarly, how long will we keep debating about whether this advertisement is unfair to either men or women? Those conversations have already occurred ad nauseam online and on TV. Let’s start talking about the way forward. And that way forward is Jesus.
Boys will be boys while they are boys, but at some point, they need to grow up and become men. They can learn this from the example of Jesus alone, either directly from learning to imitate him, or indirectly through the example of other men, who have allowed themselves to be molded by the love and mercy of Jesus. The boys of today will be the men of tomorrow – let’s have them learn what it means to be a man from the perfect man.
Brenton was born and raised in Goa, a small state on the west coast of India. I worked for several years as a reporter, before finally mustering the courage to follow God's call to pursue the priesthood. I'm currently a seminarian with the Companions of the Cross, and I study at the seminary in Detroit. My dream is to one day be able to preach on all seven continents, including Antarctica.