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What I Learned About Feminist Activism From Actor Terry Crews


This past August, I was granted the incredible privilege of traveling to the United Nations to represent Her Campus at the 2015 Millennium Campus Conference. And in the midst of activist presentations, ultra-inspiring speeches and action plan workshops, I made my way over to the VIP luncheon to hear from one of the six Global Generation Award winners to be acknowledged in the keynote later that day—actor, artist, former athlete and feminist Terry Crews.

Courteous, attentive, down-to-earth and downright hilarious, Crews dished out the answers to some of our most breaking questions, including his perspective on feminism and of course, where he learned how to dance. Here's what I gathered from the incredible insight of this champion for equality and big and small screen hero.

Men can, and absolutely should be, feminists.

Some men misperceive feminism as a male-hating movement that they should avoid or fully denounce. Others think that women-centric issues should be best kept in the reigns of women. No one knocks down such misconceptions better than Terry Crews. Portrayed as a man's man on both the athletic field and in the media (Old Spice commercials especially), Crews demonstrates that manhood and feminism are not mutually exclusive. 

"A few years ago, I kind of came to what I call a positive trauma in my life, in regards to everything I ever believed about what it was to be a man," said Crews. "I said, I have to correct all of these things that I have been presented with in my life, the things I have taken as given, as solid truths." Those outdated ideals? Crews believes they're fostered by what he calls the cult of masculinity. "The cult of sports, the cult of entertainment, the cult of we are better value, we're bigger, we're better, this and this, the male privilege cult, is something that's been around a long time." According to Crews, such a mindset contributes to a sense of false manhood that's incredibly dangerous to the gender equality movement, but one that male allies can actively tear down. "We're conditioned," said Crews, "and we have to change it." Crews speaks a strong truth—for the feminist movement to succeed, feminism needs to infiltrate the core of sexist culture, making male participation absolutely vital.

Falling prey to sexism doesn't make you stupid, it just means you need some guidance.

It's easy to attack those who perpetuate sexism, but is that the most effective approach? Hostility fosters hostility, and so Crews abides by a different route. Assuming good intent (because many don't intentionally support the patriarchy), Crews models how feminists can convert stubborn deniers into full-fledged supporters. Rather than adopt an accusatory approach, one which can backfire and cause the accused to shut down, Crews advocates for educating those who fall prey to sexist tendencies, rather than condemning them.

"You would think 'I'm too smart for that'," said Crews in regards to men, "but you're not, because the thing is, very intelligent people think things like this all of the time. It doesn't have anything to do with intelligence, but it has everything to do with empathy. Once you can see it from someone else's viewpoint out of new fresh eyes, it wakes you up." 

Undoing a wrong takes time, effort and action.

"I always feel like it's my job to not only tell people, but to show them," said Crews. His advice translates to any activist movement. As we all know, walking the walk and talking the talk are two very different things. To all of the men in the room: take notes. Declaring yourself as a feminist is a first step, but only a first step. Crews reminded me that "it's not enough to apologize, you have to make amends," and his wisdom is absolutely on point. 

But, it is never too late to make a difference.

Crews takes full credit for his past flaws, a move that is both brave and necessary in order to move forward. "I know what it feels like to come out of a cult," admitted Crews. "I needed reprogramming." But rather than allow his faults to paralyze him, he used them for inspiration, giving him the feminist voice he has today. "I'm just getting started," said Crews, and his refusal to settle is pretty inspiring. 

Privilege can be used wisely as an incredible tool for good.

"This is part of the amend process for me, making a stand, using my voice," said Crews in reference to his presence at the conference. "As a figure in entertainment, in sports, or whatever, you're always put high up and everyone wants to hear what you're saying." Crews now uses this often-abused power to champion for others rather than champion for himself. Recognizing the inherent privilege in being both a male and a public figure, Crews makes impactful use of what he calls a "really, really good platform."

Defying stereotypes is hard, but oh-so-rewarding.

Tearing down the patriarchy requires tearing down sexist definitions of what it means to be a man. Sure, Crews is strong and athletic—two "manly" characteristics. But he is also so much more. "One thing for me, it's always been a thing where I just do what I love. I like to paint, I like to draw, I like to act, I like to dance, and I just say, why stop?" To an outdated onlooker, these activites might appear "feminine." To us, they make Crews all the more admirable (I mean c'mon, we wish we were that talented!). Nothing's more empowering than doing what you love, and Crews proudly proves that dated gender norms are oh-so-inaccurate. 

A youthful perspective isn't naive. It's empowering.

Never want to grow up? According to Crews, you don't have to. "I have never considered myself fifteen years old," said Crews. "I'm perpetually a fourteen year old in my brain, 'cause youth looks forward, whereas when you're old you're always looking back, and I'm always looking forward."

Unconvinced that your youth is beneficial? It's time to recognize (and embrace) the optimism and ingenuity that youthfulness entails. "I decided that the world is getting better and that people are good," said Crews, and he blames this perspective on his young mind. Believing in change is what makes change happen, after all. 

Crew's final comment on age? Never let it get in the way of reaching your full potential. "Who told you need to stop being creative? Who said creativity has an age?" said Crews. So beat down the voices that tell you to slow down or give up, and take pride in the youthful glow you possess—you never have to stop thinking sharply.

Bonus: Where did Terry Crews pick up those impeccable dance moves?

And now, for the question you've all been waiting for. Where did Crews learn how to dance?

"Oh man, you know what, I learned how to dance in my bedroom when I was like eleven, twelve years old with no girlfriend," laughed Crews (so real). "But I loved it. And I just never stopped. I never ever stopped." And thank goodness he didn't, or we'd have never had the pleasure of gawking at his skill! Ending on, you guessed it, an inspiring note, Crews stated something we can all relate to. "I love to dance. Put a song on, it's on. I have no problemos with that." Preach, Terry, preach.

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