It’s fairly rare that I find myself fazed when people on the internet these days are either shocked, angry, offended or all of the above. It’s largely to be expected nowadays that any area of the internet that offers a comment feature will be speedily latched on to and poisoned by bloodsucking, leech-like trolls.

However, the negativity surrounding a recent advertisement from Gillette has really taken the biscuit. The ad, which has little relevance to ourselves at the end of the day due to the fact it will only air in the United States, focuses on the recent #MeToo movement in which actresses and stars in their droves stood up against the institutional sexism and widespread sexual harassment and assault against women taking place in Hollywood. The same sexual discrimination and violence which has been perpetrated against women across the world, in every setting, for decades. It looks at how male violence and, subsequently, bullying are instilled and encouraged at a young age as simply being a bit of ‘rough and tumble’, and how bad behaviour in men and boys is excused under the pretence that ‘boys will be boys’. And overall, it urges that men can be better, that men can be “the best a man can get” by speaking up against these issues, inequalities and injustices.

The advert clearly addresses the issue of ‘Toxic Masculinity’, putting forward the argument that men can fight back against this toxicity by being respectful, decent and just plain nice to women, and indeed, other men.

However, a message which may seem fairly clear and simple has been met with extreme backlash across the internet and beyond, with many feeling that the advert is an ‘attack’ on men and what it is to be male, and arguing that being male is not “toxic”. Some men who feel this way have called for a boycott of Gillette products, uploading images of themselves dumping their razors and vowing to switch to other leading men’s shaving brands, as well as calling for an apology from the company. Many more aired their abhorrence towards the “man-hating” feminist narrative that fuelled the message of the video.

Now, in case you didn’t already know or hadn’t ventured a guess, I’m going to put it right out there in black and white and say I’m a Feminist. Three words that are quite worrying to put out there, because the F word has quite negative connotations for some people. I could probably fill a few pages on what the F word actually means to me, and why it’s not a bad thing, but for the purpose of being concise all I’ll say is that no, I don’t hate men, and yes, I believe in equal rights for women. What I’ll also say is that, as a feminist, I agree that men are not toxic. Being a man is not toxic. But that’s not to say that ‘Toxic Masculinity’ is not a real issue.

You see, the backlash aimed at Gillette has been largely a result of a huge number of people misunderstanding the point the brand are trying to make. Ironically, many men have responded violently to the campaign, smashing their razors to smithereens to signify their disagreement with Gillette’s insinuation that being a man is toxic, that it’s inherently ‘bad’. Except that Gillette aren’t saying being male is toxic or bad at all. ‘Masculinity’ and ‘Maleness’ are not one in the same thing. Toxic Masculinity is originally a sociological concept, which refers to the toxic stereotypical social expectations men are held to. For example, men are expected to be tough and strong, both emotionally and physically. Men are taught from a young age that boys don’t cry, that men aren’t wimps, and so they bottle their feelings up. And so we end up in a situation where rates of male suicide are off the scale. It’s expected that men should fit the role of a ‘dominant’ alpha male, and the idea is driven by society throughout their lives. Lad culture and the expectation that young men should be ‘players’ is portrayed widely in the media, and can reinforce harmful attitudes towards women. Combined with the societal norm that men should be tough, hard, that the only acceptable emotion and reaction from a ‘real man’ is anger and violence, leads us to nearly 10,000 women being the victim of domestic violence crimes last year in Northern Ireland alone.

However, to be a man is not toxic. In fact, to be masculine is not in itself toxic, either. Toxic masculinity does not refer to the men themselves, but to the societal expectations which create poisonous masculine behaviours. Enjoying football or pints is not toxic - but killing a young lad with one punch outside a bar because of the pressure to act the ‘tough man’ is. Leaving a girl feeling vulnerable, unsafe or uncomfortable because tough men don’t take no for an answer, is toxic. Hiding feelings of depression and “manning up” instead, is toxic.

These societal expectations placed on men are toxic, and they harm us all – women, men and children, too. Forget ‘men who are in touch with their sensitive side’. How about men are human, and unsurprisingly, it’s completely normal for them to experience emotions that range beyond anger or indifference? It’s time we became a society where we no longer limit ourselves to a tiny, socially approved box, and normalised the reality that people of all genders can have and express a whole variety of feelings, interests, behaviours and personality traits.

I’m personally very happy to see Gillette targeting such a serious issue, whether it’s simply to score brownie points and get noticed, or out of genuine intent to raise awareness and make a change – this issue can only be amended, like the advert demonstrates, with the effort, co-operation and active choice by men to step up to the mark and turn their backs on these limiting, damaging and harmful societal norms.