‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ Actor Terry Crews’ Inspiring Crusade Against Toxic Masculinity

He’s played football, hosted Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and starred in sitcoms and Old Spice commercials. And in many ways, he’s embodied a comically hyper-masculine ideal, sometimes with a softer side. Now, Terry Crews is modeling how to be a male feminist ally.

Yes, Crews has a lot of fascinating things to say about masculinity and feminism. He was the keynote speaker at the White Ribbon Campaign‘s What Makes a Man conference, thanks to his book, Manhood: How To Be a Better Man or Live With One. As he makes the rounds with the book, his words are worth listening to, partly because — as a good ally’s should be — they are so deeply personal, and not entirely prescriptive.

“I can’t speak for women,” he told interviewer Elamin Abdelmahmoud, on talk on a show called The Agenda With Steve Paikin, after his keynote address (“Thank you,” said every woman watching on the Internet.).

Instead, Crews is doing a classic feminist move: making the personal political through storytelling. “It wasn’t all roses. This was a fight,” he said of his marriage and his struggle to overcome his allegedly natural masculine instincts to be controlling and dominant in his relationships. “I have been that guy where I thought that I was more valuable than my wife and kids.”

But he’s optimistic that his own attempts to redefine manhood are part of a larger movement that has created “a fork in the road” in terms of what it means to be a man. Manliness used to be a rigid box, and acted as constraint. Now, “young men coming up, they can make a choice,” he said.

As for the F-word, he has thoughts about why so many shy away from the label. “The big thing about feminism is that it scares men,” he said. “People are scared of being controlled… I want to be clear that feminism is not saying women are better than men. That’s not what’s going on… what it is is true gender equality.”

Crews has also learned the dangers of pursuing success with a win-at-all-costs mentality, because, “if you have that mindset, people try to manipulate it.” He compares “Man Code,” or the set of rules that allow men to treat women as “trophies” without minds of their own, to the Taliban and ISIS.

Not everything Crews says is perfectly in line with doctrinaire fourth-wave intersectional feminist ideology (TM), but the fact that his words comes from his own life, and are not a lecture, means that more men may hear his message. And that matters.

Certainly, the endgame for all this gender-role talk is that we should all just aim to be good human beings, treat each other decently, and follow the golden rule. But one way of getting to that goal is examining the way these gender roles shape our lives, thereby stretching the definitions of those roles wider and wider until they overlap far more than they do now.

Thus, I think the spate of celebrity men who are embracing feminism is a positive development in the culture. Indeed, I hope more of them begin to reach into their lives as Crews have, and share their own contentious relationship with toxic masculinity.