When actor and former NFL player Terry Crews declared #MeToo in a 16-piece Twitter thread in 2017, it was an important moment for the movement. Crews were one of a handful of high-profile male survivors who stood with the millions of women who shared stories of sexual violence. While Crews said his tweets were cathartic, he also said the reaction to his revelation underscores the unique challenges facing male survivors. After sharing that he was sexually assaulted by a high-level Hollywood manager, Crews was dragged online because he “is not a man.” He was called a “simp”, told his muscle “was not meant for anything” and asked how he could have an “old white man” caressed.
But Crews said when he spoke publicly about his sexual abuse and finally held his perpetrator accountable, it was the first time in his life that he felt truly powerful. It was not the brute force that propelled him to the soccer field or the retaliatory beatings he gave his abusive father one Christmas. It was not the anger that washed out in his marriage or in his parenting. This power seemed to come from a different place. It was careful, controlled and used forever.
In his new memoir, “Tough: My Journey To True Power,” Crews challenges a masculinity that requires silence around actions, defined primarily by toughness, which Crews grew up believing was elementary, and which he now as manufactured see. It was a masculinity he saw modeled by a father who beat his mother, by neighbors who used violence to instill fear and fellow footballers who treated women as property. It is the masculinity he has internalized that has poisoned his relationships with his wife, his eldest children, and in many ways himself.
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“I grew up and lived my whole adult life with a false idea of what it means to be tough. I puffed out with my chest walking around this world, as if I were the alpha male. I just saw myself as strong and “In fact, I was weak and powerless, and everything I did was driven by shame, insecurity and fear,” he wrote.
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Crews’ book is a sharp rejection of toxic masculine ideals – an exercise in the very vulnerability that culture suggests is the antithesis of masculinity. His book delves into some of his life’s most painful and shameful moments in an attempt to explain exactly how these ideals shaped his becoming. He tells how his father rejected his soft kiss on the cheek and showed him that men do not express love. He shares how his budding masculinity became a threat to his own mother, who when he was about 11 years old demanded that he take off his pants so she could inspect his genitals for pubic hair. He talks about his addiction to pornography, which led to an episode of infidelity, which threatened his relationship with his wife, which is most dear to him.
USA TODAY spoke to Crews about his book, his evolving views on masculinity, and the ways he still strives to be the most authentic version of himself.
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Question: This book is vulnerable, which is the core on which it rejects traditional masculinity, or as some say, “toxic masculinity”. Which part of the book was the most difficult to write or made you feel the most vulnerable?
Terry Crews: When I talked to my mom about the problem, when I was young and how she made me take off my pants to see if I had reached puberty. It was wild because I never thought I was so transparent. It was so hard because I love my mom and to be honest, I did not want her to come down to the fact that she did something so horrible. But at the same time, it was insulting. These are the things that came out in therapy, the things I really had to address.
Q: When you grew up, weakness could have real consequences. It was not just that you felt you could not show weakness because that is not what a man does, you could not show weakness because it could make you a target. How would you advise young people growing up like you to be authentic who they are, while also facing such a strong mandate in their communities to be tough?
Span: Find your tribe and find your people. One thing that saved me was that I did have my best friend and we talked things out together. We kind of got older. But I have to say a lot of my posture was necessary. Thank God I was not attacked mainly because I played sports and many of the gangs left me alone. Many times you do not have a choice, especially if you are super young, but as you get older, you can always go a little further and that was my choice. I just want to encourage people to find people at their church, find people at their school, people they can trust. When you express the need, that need will be satisfied many times, but if you sit in silence, you are guaranteed to have no help.
Q: Your father’s violence was great in the book, but I found that his rejection of your love is one of the most painful parts, especially the kiss you gave him when you were just a child, the way he acted. felt as if something was fundamentally wrong with that love. How does your physical relationship with your son differ from yours with your father?
Span: Oh, it’s night and day. Let me tell you. I hug my son. I kiss my son. It’s a very, very wonderful relationship because I’m about finding out what my son wants. A few years ago we went viral because I remember I went home and my son wanted to play video games, and I did not understand. I would almost jump into that mode of, “Yeah. You kids playing those games,” that old thing. But suddenly I realized, wait a minute, this is an opening. And so I said, “How are we going to build a computer together?” And my son, to this day we never forget it. We are closer than ever.
Q: You say at some point that part of “proving that you’re a man” is to cover other men, especially when they are doing “stupid” or harmful things. Where else do you see this kind of complicity around you, and do you think this cultural demand, men protecting other men, is changing?
Span: Well, first of all, I do not hang out in that circle. So lately I do not. But I felt the pull a lot in college, where four guys are going to do something and no one is going to stop them. It’s about competition.
The analogy I have is, you’re standing on a beach in California and all these guys are like, “I bet you I can swim to Hawaii.” And people take that challenge and they jump into the water. A wise woman is on the sidelines and says, “What are you doing?” And these guys will start swimming, but everyone drowns because you can not swim to Hawaii. You just can not.
This is what guys do and no one wants to look like the person who backed off. We talked ourselves into this picture of ultimate masculinity, of being this superhero. And the greatest thing about this book is that I recognize how mortal I am. Like, I’m a mortal man. Error. I can die. But by doing these crazy things, my wife had to warn me like, “Yeah, you can die by doing this stuff. You hit people and jump around. You go on the wrong guy, it can be over.” Previously, I did not listen to my wife simply because she was a woman. And it was so ridiculous. Everything in this book that I have learned, she has already told me. But I would not listen.
Q: What remains a challenge for you as you strive to be the most authentic version of yourself?
Span: You think you are about things and then you hear something and you are affected. Sometimes I still feel insecure about who I am. Sometimes I feel scared. And if someone calls me that, “Hey, are you scared?” I want to take on that challenge right away. It’s all part of the therapy. It’s all part of not getting bait, because you realize many of these things are bait and manipulative to pull you in certain directions. Now I can recognize when lines are crossed. Now I can choose which side I want to go.