Sparking Joy For Our Boys: Marie Kondo and the Gillette Ad


Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

At its core, parenting children is a hopeful act. You hope that your baby gets here safely, you hope they like you, you hope you will do the right things to help them form into healthy, happy, whole humans.

You also hope as you raise them to radiate goodness out in the world that the world sends some of that goodness back to them in the form of acceptance and freedom to grow into the people they will become.

As I am about to complete my first decade of parenting a son, two phenomena have hit social media and our conversations at once: The Netflix hit Tidying Up with Marie Kondo and a new viral ad from Gillette. The connection might not be immediately clear, but stick with me.

Tidying Up and the Gillette ad are both aspirational. They capitalize on the spirit and momentum and unwritten page of a new year, and challenge us to consider a new way of doing things. They give us an idea of the promise of a future that could lie ahead, if we are willing to take an honest look at where we are and make some changes by getting rid of the things that are no longer serving us. Both acknowledge that change can be hard, and will take work and a little bit of discomfort to get to that hopeful future place.

The heart of the process is explained by Marie Kondo throughout her series and illustrated perfectly in Gillette’s new video. In 2019, we all need to be asking ourselves two questions: Does this spark joy? Is this something I want to take with me into my future?

So simple. So revolutionary. So hard. So necessary.

We are a species meant to evolve. We are a society built for relentless progress in so many ways, and yet we find ourselves in this moment where the suggestion that we let go of things that are no longer useful or relevant to our current lives is met with defensiveness and anger and entrenchment in our rights to stay bogged down with the weight of all the stuff we are currently surrounded by. Do we really want to stubbornly hold on to the things that cause us stress and pain, and that don’t reflect the people we want to be, or the values we want to live by?

I want better for my two sons and daughter.

Thanks to the ongoing work of the feminist movement, we have long had a model for thinking about and encouraging our daughters to step outside the roles that were traditionally defined for them. I can buy my daughter a navy blue “Strong Like Mom” t-shirt at Target, and no one blinks an eye at the fact that she has several favorite dinosaurs and not a clue about My Little Ponies. Women continue to fight their way into traditionally male-dominated arenas, and society is slowly continuing to adapt. As this new year dawns, we see highlighted in mainstream media the flip side to this coin: striving for equality means our sons also get to step outside the roles that have been traditionally defined for them, and lead lives that are more whole.

In her series, Marie Kondo shows how men of different ages, races, and sexual orientations can all become competent and engaged caretakers of their homes. She brings men into this process of identifying areas for change and then initiating that change, without any of the tired tropes that make them out to be incompetent or incapable. Over and over again, she brings them back to those core questions: Does this spark joy? Is this something you want to take with you into your future? And if not, she shows them how to thank something and then let it go. Men can take initiative. Men can have joy in their home lives. Men can choose to be different.

The Gillette advertisement is also speaking to men. In 90 seconds we see the stereotypes of toxic masculinity that too often still reflect reality laid out: the guy groping a service worker for laughs on a sitcom, the hands-off dads unwilling to intervene in a conflict, the catcaller on the street about to set off in pursuit of a woman walking by, the mainsplainer at the conference table shutting down the ideas of the female executive, the herd of boys chasing another child through different scenes. Essentially, the ad asks men: Is this the best a man can get? (Does this spark joy? Is this something you want to take with you into your future?) We see then men choosing to take a different path in these situations. Showing care and empathy, taking initiative as dads, being willing to call out their friends when they see unkind behavior. Because men can be caring. Men can be good parents. Men can resist going along with the crowd.

The tagline? “It is only by challenging ourselves to do more that we can get closer to our best.” Can’t really argue with that.

Yes, I know Gillette wants to make money, and so do Netflix and Marie Kondo. But I can’t help but feel hopeful in this moment when the chase for profits is reflecting society’s turn down this path of equality and toward freedom for all of us.

I want to take in this hopeful moment and make sure our daughters and our sons are free to live their lives surrounded by and doing the things that spark joy, and free from the clutter and weight of other people’s ideas of what that should look like. Let’s all be willing to stop and take this honest look at the things in our lives, both material and not, and have the courage to leave behind the things that do not serve the future we want for all of us. 

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Alana DiMario
A transplant from southeastern Massachusetts by way of Wells College and Bridgewater State University, Alana has been in Rhode Island long enough to feel the loss of 95.5 WBRU and Benny's, and to give directions based on where things used to be. After living in Providence, Woonsocket, and Lincoln, she happily planted her toes in the sand in Narragansett almost a decade ago with her husband Eric, a Rhode Island native. Two sons and a daughter came along afterward, and she transitioned from working full time at an intensive behavioral health clinic in Providence to her own private practice in Peacedale, Essential Parenting of Rhode Island, in 2010. As a Licensed Mental Health Counselor Alana focuses on helping parents navigate the transition to parenthood, supporting families with young children, and assisting people across life stages with anxiety and other mood issues. To further her mission to get families off to the best possible start, she also leads groups for new moms and developmental play groups for babies and toddlers at Bellani Maternity in Warwick. (As a mom, Alana tries to take her own advice at least 85% of the time). She is an avid reader, totally addicted to podcasts, never says no to trying out a new restaurant, and is always DIYing some type of home improvement project. She would also like to say she enjoys running, but believes it's important to be honest. Along with her family, Alana loves exploring Rhode Island's many public parks and natural areas, gardening, cooking, and - to the surprise of many who know her - going to visit a certain mouse's house on the regular.


    • Hi Melissa! The piece you linked to is complementary to what I write here, it is just examining the female perspective vs the male perspective.

      Too often, changes that are seen as feminist are seen as being something where women are gaining something and therefore men are losing something. In this case, I am highlighting how men are also gaining something important when these shifts happen. Given the backlash about the Gillette ad, I wanted to present the view that this progress is not something negative that is happening to men, or that they are somehow losing out when norms change.

      Thanks for your comment!

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