Barbara Kay at The Post Millennial puts her finger on what is so disturbing about the central image of the Gillette ad. The line of worthless men manning their grills symbolizes hard working married fathers. From “Toxic masculinity” in advertising: keeping women scared and men shamed:
For what does a neatly-dressed man standing behind a barbecue signify? Think of every Father’s Day ad you have ever seen. How many of them feature barbecue tools? Maybe 50%? Why? Because when men barbecue, they are usually in a back yard. If men have a back yard, it means they live in a house. If they have a house, they are generally married with children. When men barbecue, they are usually feeding their families and friends and having fun doing it. In other words, barbecue men are deeply invested in family life.
They are, in short, fathers. And what is the easiest way to produce boys who do not understand or respect the boundaries between positive and negative masculinity? Take away their fathers.
The barbecue men are the reason most boys with loving fathers grow up to be strong, productive men: men who will never be a threat to anyone—except to bad guys who never learned the boundaries for—or how to positively channel—aggression, because so many of them had no fathers to teach them.
Kay says that after realizing this she finally understood why the ad prompted such a visceral reaction for her. I think she is dead on here. Gillette’s ad isn’t just garden variety misandry, it is an attack aimed primarily at respectable men. I understood that at some level, which you can see from the title of my original post on the ad, but I didn’t put my finger on the meaning of the men grilling. It is the masculine equivalent of women baking apple pies.
It is interesting to see that while Christian culture has been going after married fathers for years both via sermons and films with no complaint, when Gillette crossed that same line secular culture was outraged. I also think it wasn’t a coincidence that the central theme of the movie Courageous was expressed by the Christian men complaining about their fathers while sitting in Adam’s backyard, eating the steaks he had just grilled for them. The symbolism of the barbecue is important enough in Courageous that the scene appears prominently twice in the movie’s trailer. The first time is immediately after the words “Fathers Struggling to Connect”, and the second time is when Adam hands the other men his resolution and announces “I don’t want to be a good enough father.”
Related: How the Kendricks, Rainey, and Lepine see the married fathers they go to church with.