Whenever male celebrities wade into supporting feminism — whether or not that means actually identifying as feminist themselves — the reaction is usually two-pronged. On the one hand, high-profile allies are crucial to spreading the word of any movement. On the other, men who come out in support of feminism tend to get a more effusive reaction than women who say the same things, implying that men deserve extra kudos for merely acknowledging sexism, while women often need to speak twice as loud to be heard.
Actor Matt McGorry (How to Get Away with Murder, Orange Is the New Black) has largely sidestepped any backlash to his recent commitment to feminism. He has emerged as one of the most outspoken male celebrity feminists by making it a constant presence in his public persona. McGorry's Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds are loaded with feminist content. He recently starred in a PSA from the White House's "It's On Us" campaign, which aims to "increase education and awareness around preventing sexual violence on college and university campuses."
In a September 4 essay for Cosmopolitan, McGorry writes about how he was inspired to commit to feminism by Emma Watson's 2014 speech to the UN, which made a case for why equal rights are just as vital for men as women. "I cried," he says, going on to say that the fact that crying still has a harmful stigma for men proves Watson's point:
...this is part of the flip side of feminism and gender equality that benefits men as well as women: The notion of men being "strong" and therefore unable to admit to having "weaker" emotions is incredibly damaging. I hurt for all the boys and men who stuff away their feelings because they believe that this is the way to be a man.
Tellingly, McGorry's approach to becoming an ally — one that people trust — has also been marked by persistent humility and willingness to learn. He frequently acknowledges that he doesn't know everything, and often points to those women and minorities who can speak to the issue instead. His Cosmopolitan essay does the same, acknowledging that his (white, male) support of feminism and the Black Lives Matter movement is seen as more optional:
"I have the choice to confront these issues — they aren't implicit in my life due to my gender, the color of my skin, my sexual preference, or any other parts of who I am as a person."
The most noteworthy aspect of this essay, however, underlines why McGorry's particular approach to feminism has avoided alienating those voices and issues he says he wants to amplify. The feeling that he had after finishing Watson's speech, he writes, was the same as "falling in love":
One of the most thrilling and deeply moving experiences in life is the pants-shitting feeling you get when you realize you've met someone who will force you to grow in ways you'd never previously imagined possible. You feel like your boundaries are being pushed and your worldview is shifting. It's terrifying, but it's also one of the most exhilarating and fulfilling emotional states you can know. This is the internal stirring I had the moment I heard Watson's words.
McGorry doesn't treat his feminist awakening as a chore or an obligation. He's nervous, but ultimately excited to be thinking so hard about issues he never had to think twice about before. There aren't many celebrities who would admit to this much naked enthusiasm about gender issues, let alone be so honest about their own shortcomings.