Égard's Appalling "What Is a Man?"

By now, everyone who is even remotely familiar with social media has seen the Gillette's "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be." The ad has over 26 million views on YouTube with 730 thousand Likes and a whopping 1.3 million Dislikes. In the short video, Gillette addresses “toxic masculinity” and challenges men to do better in the #metoo era. Many felt it hit the wrong note, either by crassly attempting to harness a feminist movement to sell a grooming product to men or by unfairly implying that men as a whole are misogynistic and violent. Apparently, the folks at Égard Watches took issue with it because they felt the need to produce a response video. I think it is garbage.

I am apparently in the minority with that opinion as "What is a man? A response to Gillette" has been wildly successful. It has been viewed on YouTube over 3 million times, received 339 thousand Likes and only 5 thousand Dislikes. The comments are overwhelmingly positive, and the brand reports a sales boom that has allowed it contribute $10,000 to the Bob Woodruff Foundation for veterans. Égard clearly knows its market. It's my market too. Watch collecting is a predominantly male hobby and men are 89% of my audience, so I fully expect I will lose readers over this post. That's fine. This is watch related, and it is important. I'll get back to my reviews later. 

Now, I’ve got nothing against men. I am one. As far as I'm concerned, men are people, plain and simple. Most of us are decent human beings who try to get through our lives as best we can and do the right thing. Some of us suck. My life experience has taught me that bullying, violence, and sexual discrimination and harassment are not myths. They are pervasive problems with significant consequences for both the individuals affected and for society as a whole. When I saw how the Gillette ad addressed them, I recognized that it wasn’t biting social commentary so much as a big corporation trying to sell me their product, but I certainly didn’t feel threatened by the message that engaging in or excusing violence and harassment is wrong and that men can do more to fix these problems. This should not be a controversial position. I was disappointed by the visceral backlash the ad generated in some quarters, but not at all surprised. I clicked to the next news story and moved on. 

Then I saw the Égard video. The brand's YouTube page describes it as "a short film dedicated to those who sacrifice everything to make the world safer and better for all of us" and by "those" they mean men. A voiceover asks us, “What is a man?” while rolling footage men of working, smiling, and generally doing good things. It begins with three aspirational qualities, asking if a man is brave, a hero, a protector. It then turns to other, more difficult aspects: is a man vulnerable, disposable, or broken. It ends on an uplift, recognizing the good in men for trying. It's supposed to tug our heartstrings and pat us on the back. 

I didn't feel like a needed any kind of affirmation after watching the Gillette ad, but I obviously have no issue with anyone saying that men do good things. Men can be all kinds of awesome. Had they just left it with the sad music, soul-searching voiceover, and manly man imagery, I wouldn't have thought twice, but they took it too far. You see, for each quality or plight they mention, they show a statistic intended to prove the sacrifices men must make. These are presented entirely devoid of context, and the net result is misleading to the point of insult.

The first two points are bravery and heroism. Bravery is portrayed by male firefighters in action. The accompanying statistic tells us that men account for 93% of workplace fatalities. Let's start with the fact that not every workplace fatality involves a firefighter, nor are all of those fatalities a result of bravery. Lax safety protocols, fatigue, and yes, occasional acts of stupidity, all contribute. Putting that aside, we must recognize that 95% of American firefighters are male, and that figure is even lower in many major metropolitan areas. New York City, for example, had over 11,000 firefighters at the end of 2018, only 87 of whom were women. This pathetic number was a record high. 

Similarly, Égard illustrates heroism with men in military uniform and provides a Department of Defense figure that 97% of wartime fatalities are men. I have no doubt that this is true given the demographics of the US military, where women make up only 16% of the enlisted forces,  18% of the officer corps, and were not allowed combat positions until 2016. 

The Égard ad implies that we men should be thanked for risking our lives more than women. To accept this, you must ignore the fact that women are grossly underrepresented in most dangerous jobs, due in large part to generations of systemic discrimination. The well-documented history of hostility towards women in firefighting is an excellent example. Don't get me wrong, I respect and appreciate firefighters and soldiers. Are they brave? No doubt. Are they good people? In my experience, most are, and some are not (they are people after all). Should we honor people who die in the line of duty? Absolutely! But should celebrate the fact that men are more likely than women to do so? No. That is the inevitable mathematical result of the near-total exclusion of women from those jobs.  For generations, American men have been free to pursue any profession we want without being limited by our gender. In 2019, American women are still fighting for that same opportunity. 

As misleading as the first two points are, the next two are far worse. "Is a man a protector?" the voice asks while showing us that 79% of homicide victims are men. Without more information, it sounds as if all those men died defending their families against hordes of criminals, but that is absurd. Homicide victims come from all walks of life and are killed for a great many things, some worthy, some not. In this context the statistic is meaningless. On the other hand, it's worth considering that the latest published FBI data shows that in cases where the perpetrator's gender was known, men were responsible for almost 87% of murders and an even higher percentage of other violent crimes. I'd say that shows we have some room for improvement.

Is a man ... vulnerable?" is perhaps the most galling part of this vapid disaster. We see a man hugging a child, and the statistic is, “Nearly half of fathers without any visitation rights still financially support their children.” First of all, “nearly half ” is hardly something to crow about, especially when it comes to a man being responsible for his own kids. Second, financial support and visitation rights are two separate issues; one is not dependant on the other. A man can lose visitation for many reasons, most of which are pretty ugly, and that has no bearing on his often court-ordered responsibility to provide support. Finally, how this of all things supposed to show that men are vulnerable? The ad makes it look like contributing to the welfare of your own children is some kind of gift and that a man who has lost the right to see his kids should be off the hook. That take isn't just misguided, it's morally repugnant. 

The last two figures raise some interesting questions although they are hardly the kind that would make me think about buying watches. "Is a man disposable?" reminds us that men account for 80% of all suicides, and "Is a man broken?" says that 75% of single homeless people are men. These are truly distressing numbers, which should make us question how men end up in such dire straits. 

There are many factors at play here, but one jumps right out; the suicide figure represents the number of deaths, not attempts. Women are more likely than men to attempt suicide, but they tend to use less efficient methods like poisoning or slitting their wrists, while men are more inclined to use firearms. Thus, the 80% statistic does not show that men are suffering from suicidal impulses any more than women, only that they are more likely to succeed. I am not trying in any way to diminish the suicide of any person - every suicide is a tragedy. I only want to point out that by using that figure in isolation for dramatic effect Égard disregards the bigger picture for the sake of portraying men as victims.

Homelessness may be even more complex. Factors include poverty, addiction, mental health, domestic violence, urban housing shortages, and other societal issues. It is important to note that the 75% male figure is for single homeless people, not family units, which according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development now comprise 35% of the homeless population (a staggering number that has more than doubled in just three years). Over 60% of people in homeless families are women. At the end of the day, there are still more homeless men than women, and that is certainly something worth study, but for the purpose of this video, it is too little, too late.  

The ad ends on a high note, asking us, "Is a man trying?" and proclaiming "We see the good in men." Needless to say, there are no associated statistics. What is Égard's point? Certainly not to challenge men to harness that good for a positive change. They do pay some lip service to the idea, writing "We agree that issues of abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and bullying are serious issues and stand behind those issues being dealt with and getting the attention they need." That's nice, but they are not going to help anyone by peddling red pill talking points masquerading as feel-good advertising. If Égard really wanted to contribute something useful, perhaps they could acknowledge the power men have to affect these problems and encourage us to stand up and do something. Instead, they showed us man at his self-aggrandizing, self-pitying worst. 

If that is the kind of man who wears an Égard watch, you can count me out.  
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