Elamin Abdelmahmoud got a chance to chat with Terry Crews, and the two men bonded over the restrictions put upon men by the narrow definition of manhood.
I don’t remember the first time I heard the phrase “be a man.” I don’t remember when I came to understand what it means. Come to think of it, I don’t think anyone has ever explained to me what it means. Like most of our routines, the meaning is learned through unspoken codes of behaviour: “be a man” means be tough; don’t cry, don’t complain, don’t be too sensitive.
In late November, The White Ribbon Campaign held a conference called What Makes A Man 2014: Maps to Manhood. White Ribbon’s focus is on involving boys and men in ending violence against girls and women. The purpose of the conference was to challenge traditional notions of masculinity and introduce complex possibilities of being a man, beyond just “toughen up.”
The conversation is an important one to have, but it’s especially important at this moment in time. In Canada, last week a verdict came down in a high profile child pornography case in Nova Scotia, and this week former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi has been charged with sexual assault. In the U.S., Bill Cosby has been publicly accused of raping, drugging, coercing or sexually assaulting 19 different women, and California has passed an active consent bill. Consent is in the spotlight. Sexual assault is in the spotlight. And since roughly 97 per cent of people accused of sexual offences in Canada are male, men’s attitudes towards women and what is appropriate behaviour for men are at the centre of this conversation.
The What Makes A Man conference’s keynote speaker was Terry Crews, an NFL-player-turned-actor who is well known for being a hyper-masculine tough dude. You might know him from his role in the TV series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or maybe these Old Spice commercials. Crews wrote a book earlier this year called Manhood: How to Be A Better Man – Or Just Live With One. In the book, he shares his personal experiences with the expectations of being a man, and how he came to redefine his ideas of masculinity.
Crews’ book was inspired by the threat of his wife leaving him. He talks about how he came to a realization that he had always defined his success as a man by controlling those around him. He tells of a life where he used aggression and intimidation as a means of getting what he wanted out of people. But he also tells of a time when he realized that the connections he was fostering were not genuine, but manipulated. He understood that masculinity, for him, was a mask to hide behind in order to avoid vulnerability.
I sat down with Crews at the Glen Gould Studio in Toronto to discuss his journey through redefining manhood. He was thoughtful. He was careful to note that he can only speak for himself. And above all, he sounded the alarm on the consequences of a narrow definition of manhood. Watch the interview, and tweet me your thoughts about it. It’s a conversation I’m very keen to continue.
Interview shot and edited by Michael Lehan.
Follow Elamin on Twitter @Elamin88