On Tuesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, Terry Crews gave a moving and intelligent testimony full of hard and honest truths. Last October, during the wave of Hollywood-centric sexual assault/misconduct allegations and the rise of the mainstream era of the #MeToo movement, Crews went public with his own story of sexual assault. Crews tweeted that “this whole thing with Harvey Weinstein is giving [him] PTSD… because this kind of thing happened to [him].” He elucidated that while he was with his wife at a Hollywood event, “a high-level Hollywood executive came over to [him] and groped [his] privates.”
Initially, there were two main responses to Crews’ allegations, and for the most part, both opinions still remain. On either supported Crews for sharing his story and acknowledged the significance of his story or one made light of the alleged assault and mockingly questioned why Crews did not fight back. More often than not, this is a wide but justified generalization, men held the second opinion. Terry Crews, a former NFL linebacker and a modern-day iconoclast for physical fitness weighing in at 245 pounds and six feet and three inches, did not fight back for several reasons.
Crews understood his place. As a black man in America, reaching the level of success that Crews has is not an easy feat. Crews expertly transitioned from the sports industry to the entertainment industry, played multiple iconic and acclaimed roles in television and film, and has maintained a relatively clean image. If Crews were to fight back in the middle of a Hollywood function, he would instantaneously be seen as the aggressor in the situation. In addition, Crews alleged that his assaulter was “a high-level Hollywood executive.” If this is true, then Hollywood would have retaliated against Crews in their most notorious fashion: blacklisting. Crews would have to kiss his movie/T.V. roles, advertising spots, and other opportunities goodbye for retaliating against someone who holds power over him. Crews himself said, “as a black man in America, you only have a few shots at success… I’m from Flint, Michigan. I have seen many, many young black men who were provoked into violence, and they were in prison, or they were killed. And they’re not here.” Crews could have lost his livelihood if he did fight back.
In situations like these, power is the most vital component to understand. Yes, Crews is larger, taller, faster, and has more muscle, but despite all of that, he still had less power. Hollywood is run by agents and producers and the like, it takes one bad look to be blacklisted and barred from auditions and opportunities. Sexual assaulters commit their transgressions because their power gives them security. Adam Venit knew that Terry Crews would not fight back, that is why he, allegedly, grabbed Crews’ genitals without fear of retribution.
To recall the two main opinions, the cult of toxic masculinity influenced men who were of the latter opinion. The phrase “toxic masculinity” has been a buzz term for the past few years, but it is often misunderstood and misused. Simply put, toxic masculinity is a term used to describe the set of social norms and traditional gender roles that restrict what actions and emotions are allowable for men in a given society. One key feature of toxic masculinity is the innate need for men to protect each other, knowingly and unknowingly. In his testimony, Crews stated “as I shared my story, I was told over and over that this was not abuse. This was just a joke. This was just horseplay. But I can say one man’s horseplay is another man’s humiliation.” By sharing his story, Crews assumed the role of the victim, a direct contradiction to the mentality of dominance upheld by toxic masculinity. Often, men claim to be victims in an attempt to undermine harsh experiences endured by women, yet when a legitimate male victim shares his story, other men rarely take that story seriously.
Crews’ testimony made him an American hero because he seamlessly tied race, power, and masculinity into his story of sexual assault and started an open dialogue among men that was long overdue. Through his testimony, Terry Crews has provided a space where men can be vulnerable and tackle what it truly means to “be a man.” Recently, rapper-producer-actor, 50 Cent, posted a meme on Instagram that chastised Crews’ allegations. The comment section was even worse: alleged rapist Russel Simmons added laughing emojis and other posters questioned Crews’ sexuality and gender for not fighting back. Yes, the post was in poor taste, but it perfectly exemplified what Crews meant by “this is how toxic masculinity permeates [the] culture.” Memes like the one 50 Cent posted, are exactly the reason why men bottle up their hurt. Men don’t allow one another to be honest with how they feel, especially if it removes them from the dominant position. The comment section was even worse: alleged rapist Russel Simmons added laughing emojis and other posters questioned Crews’ sexuality and gender for not fighting back.
If the first stage of the mainstream era of the #MeToo movement was the tsunami of high profile allegations, let the second stage be legislative progression in tandem with real conversations. In his testimony, Crews said that “what happened to me has happened to many, many other men… I have had thousands and thousands of men come to me and say, ‘Me too.'” There’s a reason men are not publicly sharing their stories in greater numbers: they don’t feel safe. The way this can change is by dismantling and reconstructing our traditional idea of masculinity. Terry Crews is a hero because he is willing to put his career on the line to help spark real change on an interpersonal level. If the term “real men” still has to be used, Terry Crews is a “real man” for his willingness to destroy misogyny and redesign what masculinity means. Terry Crews has given a voice to so many men who are silenced by toxic masculinity, and for that, he is to be applauded.