Ayushmann Khurrana’s recent advertisement for The Man Company – ‘Gentleman Kise Kehte Hain?’ picked up 3.4 million views on his Instagram handle in just a single day.
The general reaction can be summed by this comment on Instagram:
“What a beautiful thought you have come up with… (five heart emojis) actually it’s only you who can always talk about these topics… Thanks a lot to bring out a gentleman in themselves @ayushmannk (kiss emoji)”
Gentlemen’s manuals were popular in Victorian England for middle-class men looking to imitate men of noble stature. ‘Gentleman’ etymologically means someone aspiring to high Victorian society – it comes from gentile, which more or less means of noble birth.
While we hope that that is not what Khurrana’s #thegentlemaninyou intends to be – a new age manual of sorts – but it definitely reminds one of a new social class: woke boys.
The ‘perfect gentlemen’ in my experience (and the experience of women I know), these days is this new class of men who try and earn social brownie points by not being terrible.
These ‘perfect gentlemen’ repeatedly insert themselves into women’s conversations on harassment and say ‘I would never’, ‘these men should all die’, ‘I am so sorry, don’t worry you are safe with me’… or straight up ‘#NotAllMen’ and other such hot potato phrases.
Their sentiments are completely on brand with idols like Shah Rukh Khan – who made headlines for putting the names of his female co-stars before his in film credits. That, of course, whitewashes how he repeatedly and systematically stars against women half his age.
A prime example of sheer wokeness would be the time my roommate’s friend was forced to buy a specific brand of sanitary napkins that one ‘gentleman’ aggressively advocated for – because ‘he knew it would be better for her’.
The ‘perfect gentleman’ understands why women talk about inequality, but will always point out politely that ‘ranting about it on social media won’t get you anywhere’ before asking: ‘So, what do you think is the solution?’
The ‘perfect gentleman’ sometimes ‘makes ginger tea’ for you when you are tired, but assumes otherwise that the responsibility for cooking and other household chores falls on you.
The ‘perfect gentleman’, essentially, is aware that patriarchy benefits him, but is benevolent enough to not hit women, has agreed to (sometimes) share the load, and will (occasionally) stand up against some injustice.
So, in the ad, writer Gaurav Solanki’s ‘perfect gentleman’ sits on stage, and politely claims that toxic masculinity is bad because it hurts men. It makes them unable to cry, feel, or own up about being sexually harassed and that is so, so terrible that men finally have a reason to fight against patriarchy.
I will never be able to articulate this phenomenon better than artist and author Shelby Lorman does in her book Award For Good Boys. She describes these ‘good boys’ as:
“A man who would never do anything explicitly ‘bad’ by his own measure, but consciously or not uses his ‘goodness’ as a shield behind which he can get away with still pretty bad behaviour on the grounds that its not outwardly horrific.’
She writes about how men are put on literal and figurative pedestals in public spheres and in our private lives for simply achieving what should be “the baseline for human decency”.
Do not get me wrong – as women, we want and need allies; we want men to support feminism and be feminists. I’m also sure many men would want other role models than your ‘manly man’ type like a Salman Khan. So it’s a learning experience for men to see women declare their love for a Ranveer Singh, a Farhan Akhtar and even an Ayushmann Khurrana as the boys can then see that cross-dressing, self care, grooming or feminism doesn’t make men less attractive to the opposite sex.
Now, let’s get into really uncomfortable territory.
What if I told you, all of these men are also good boys?
For example, once during a music concert, Farhan Akhtar stopped performing to yell at a man who was groping women. All the women in the audience, including myself, cheered ourselves hoarse. In that one moment, we instantly became part of Team Farhan.
But… should that not be the norm? In retrospect – is Farhan Akhtar amazing, or just bare minimum decent?
Now, imagine if a female performer stopped her show to yell at a man groping a woman in the audience. Would she get the same reaction? Not likely – yes, she would be celebrated, but she would also be slammed by various quarters instead of being showered with outright adulation as Farhan Akhtar was.
Being ‘woke’ is actually just social capital – and social capital also means money. And if someone is being paid good chunks to promote feminism, some women really ought to be put on that roster as well – especially considering the glaring gender pay gap in Bollywood.
The popularity (or blind hero worship) of our male actors is directly reflected by their paycheck, especially when compared to their female counterparts.
Bare minimum decency. Baseline bravery. Putting men on pedestals for not being the absolute worst.
These aren’t just phrases – this is a phenomenon under which we have let off men on a subsidised version of feminism. A more palatable, easy, comfortable idea of gender equality has hijacked system. It’s much like a Nike advertisement on inclusivity that is celebrated while Nike actually has kids in Bangladesh working in unauthorised sweatshops for less than minimum wage.
In the book We Were Feminists Once, Andy Ziesler talks about the problem of commodifying feminism. She writes:
“Most of the problems that have necessitated feminist movements to begin with are still very much in place, but at the same time there’s a mainstream, celebrity, consumer embrace of feminism that positions it as a cool, fun, accessible identity that anyone can adopt. I’ve seen this called ‘pop feminism’, ‘feel-good feminism’, and ‘white feminism’. I call it marketplace feminism. It’s decontextualised. It’s depoliticised. And it’s probably feminism’s most popular iteration ever.”
Some might say the Khurrana ad was not about women at all; that it was about allowing men to come to terms with toxic masculinity
To them I say, it’s one and the same. My little brother shared this advertisement on Instagram with a heart emoji – which is what set me off in the first place. I spoke to him for more than an hour to help him understand that any list or dictation of what a man is meant to be is simply a trick to get men to follow a set of rules of gender performance.
Being a ‘man’ is not a list of dos and don’ts – women have been fighting this exact ‘listing of dos and don’ts’ through feminism. A man telling you that ‘this is how you become a gentleman’ is asserting that if you do these things you have broken out of toxic masculinity – and that is a lie.
It requires so much constant unlearning to fight patriarchy, you simply cannot put it in an ad for beard oil and leave it at that.
Now I’m not saying don’t make that ad, all I’m saying is that it shouldn’t be made a prime example of ‘what a man should be’.
At the end of an hour, my brother told me: “So, basically one should not try to follow a stencilled path, no matter how good or bad it is. Like khana banao if you want to cook, not because it will somehow uphold your masculinity.”
Proud of that kid.
So, here it is.
Men, there is no cheat sheet for men to be men. Just cause you are emotive or make her ginger tea does not automatically make you 100% devoid of sexism.
And unfortunately, women, there is no treasure map for women to find good men. Just because he makes that ginger tea and cries while watching Forrest Gump does not mean he has not gaslit you from time to time while also indulging in frequent bouts of mansplaining.
That is the real lesson, folks. For the rest, read a damn book.
Seriously, please read We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s only 64 pages and will go a longer way in teaching you a thing or two rather than some ad full of content stolen from feminist literature and orated by a cis-het male in a tux ever will.
Sreemoyee Mukherjee is building a fortress of words in her home in the Abyss.
Featured image credit: YouTube screengrab