New French ad suggests toxic masculinity is as dangerous behind the wheel as drunk-driving

By Alma Fabiani

Updated Feb 13, 2023 at 12:31 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

Growing up in France, it almost became tradition for the general public to denounce the disturbing messages presented in every road safety campaign that was launched—which, in a way, means that they successfully accomplished what they aimed to do, to raise awareness about the many dangers of careless driving.

But, among the current Andrew Tate-fulled discourse surrounding toxic masculinity, the country’s latest campaign is betting on more than shock factor. For the first time ever, it’s warning viewers that toxic masculinity itself could be as important a contributing factor to road deaths as speed, alcohol, drugs, and fatigue.

Released on Wednesday 8 February 2023, the advert shows men during the births of their sons, portraying them as sensitive in what is probably an attempt to contrast with the aggressive virility of macho stereotypes.

The voice-over is emotional and has a father speak directly to his newly born son. “You don’t have to be what people expect from a man. It’s up to you,” the dad says. He continues, advising his son to be a man who’s “sensitive, a man who cries, a man who’s big-hearted.”

As stated on the Securite Routiere’s website, in France, 78 per cent of those killed in road accidents in 2022 were men, a number that is very close to the average across the European Union (EU). Of French drivers aged 18 to 24 killed on the road last year, 88 per cent were men. Of people suspected to have caused road accidents, 84 per cent were men. Moreover, men accounted for 93 per cent of drunk drivers involved in an accident.

The message of this campaign is certainly not to blame or stigmatise men but to urge them to notice and subsequently resist societal pressure when it comes to what’s expected from a man. Sociologist Alain Mergier carried out a study on masculinity and driving across all age groups for the project.

Speaking to The Guardian, he said: “It’s striking how certain stereotypes are persistently passed from father to son, including the car as a symbolic object of masculinity, male identity and virility. This isn’t given much thought and yet we can see the far-reaching impact on accidents.”

Mergier further explained that, in France, some boys and men are taught from childhood that the car is their ‘symbol’ and that it’s through driving that they can “defend their manliness.” Furthermore, the cultural notion that boys and men are instinctively “very familiar” with cars can quickly lead to an assumption that men naturally “know how to drive,” which can often lead to overconfidence in dangerous situations on the road.

We’ve all witnessed the ridiculous contest of who’s the alpha male when a man gets overtaken by another car and tries to do the same in order to defend their masculinity, “lest it be seen as fragile or vulnerable.”

“What’s important about this campaign is that it doesn’t stigmatise men, it suggests another vision of men and masculinity, which is not about confrontation, or being aggressive, but about sensitivity,” Mergier aptly concluded.

The number of men dying on the roads is a serious issue—one that should push society to take a closer look at engrained behaviours which we never linked with reckless driving until now.

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