“Traditional knowledge is being ignored by those who should listen most closely.”
— Darren Thompson, an organizer for the Indigenous Peoples March
Last week two events took place that (re)launched yet another National Discussion, this one about How Men Should Behave. The first was an advertisement by Gillette called “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” that called out men for not doing more to stop bad behavior like bullying. The second was, in fact, the bullying of a Native American veteran of the Vietnam War by a group of white male students from a Kentucky Catholic high school.
The ad received a lot of backlash from those who believe it was part of a “war” on men and masculinity. Many, many men believe it is not the role of a vendor of razors to tell them what to do, or even to imply that there is anything they have to do. Perhaps the most visible example is this photo of social media personality Graham Allen in a cotton field with his three children and three guns. “Hey Gillette, does this offend you? I’ll raise my kids the way I believe they should be…thanks for your advice,” he wrote. Marksmanship is a fine and valuable skill to have (and it’s also a Perfectly Proper skill for girls, too, Mr. Allen. Why have you only armed your sons?), but it’s not Perfectly Proper to whip out your heat like that as soon as you feel threatened.
And then there was backlash to the backlash. Etiquetteer was deeply moved by Christopher Muther’s column in The Boston Globe, in which he courageously shares his own bullied childhood. “Do you know who isn’t taking to Twitter to complain about the Gillette ad? Those of us who have been bullied, beat up, and sexually victimized. When I watched the ad, I didn’t see tanks gathering at the border of masculinity. I saw myself, and it nearly brought tears to my eyes.”
The message in the Gillette ad, to Etiquetteer, is no different from calls in church to follow the footsteps of Christ in showing compassion for all. Nor is it any different from the Oath and the Law of that bastion of American men’s learning, the Boy Scouts of America: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” The Scout Law has 12 components: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” With all of the anger unleashed by an advertisement that promotes these values, Etiquetteer has to wonder if, finally, we’re seeing the truth: that many men don’t attribute that kind of behavior to “manliness” and only pay lip service to it.
Only a couple days after that ad was launched, we saw a demonstration of just why it’s still so necessary. Students from a Kentucky Catholic high school swarmed, mocked, and bullied a Native American veteran (a veteran!) in the Nation’s Capitol. (See this additional video footage, too.) “Boys will be boys” indeed! So much for that hymn “And They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” Etiquetteer puts the blame solidly on their role model. This is not how to #BeBest, boys!
The school has put out a statement condemning the actions of the students in its charge and offering the usual apologies. The behavior of these students should offend everyone. It cannot be laughed off, excused, or otherwise condoned in any way. Is it time to bring back the Inquisition? No, but Etiquetteer expects a heavy penance for those young men with an unwavering focus on the many different kinds of religions and people there are in America, and on service to others.
Etiquetteer’s Dear Father (may he rest in peace), both a man and a gentleman, once wrote “We must concentrate on lovely, pure, and virtuous things.” This does not have to be all wispy angels-in-the-clouds sentiment. What could be more virtuous than preventing someone from committing violence? What could be lovelier than setting an example of kindness for young people? That’s a lot of hard work, day in and day out, but that is the behavior that we need to acknowledge, celebrate, and encourage. That is what truly makes a Great Nation.