Terry Crews says toxic masculinity is a 'cult': Men 'need deprogramming'

Terry Crews may be making big moves as the newest host of America’s Got Talent, but the actor and activist is still committed to stemming the tide of toxic masculinity. Ahead of a powerful speech at the 2019 Makers Conference on Friday, the 50-year-old former NFL linebacker sat down with Yahoo Lifestyle to talk about what it’s like to be one of the most public-facing male survivors in this movement.

“It feels scary, there’s no other way to really describe,” Crews tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I’ve had a lot of men who are very, very angry.” Crews initially went public with his own #MeToo story in 2017 and has since remained a public face of the movement, even testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2018. But he says his message — that men need to look inward — has infuriated some males.

“They’re angry at me because I’ve changed the narrative. The only way I can describe it is that there’s a movie that everybody’s playing in their head and the movie doesn’t end up the way they want it,” he says. “They’re like, ‘Wait a minute, you’re supposed to beat up everybody you’re supposed to get revenge and everybody is supposed to ride off on their horse. And I’m like, nope. In fact, I’m a survivor, and the truth is sometimes you don’t get justice. You get freedom, that’s the difference.”

“Survivor” is a title that Crews began identifying with after coming forward with assault allegations on Twitter. “This whole thing with Harvey Weinstein is giving me PTSD,” Crews tweeted on Oct. 10, 2017, five days after the New York Times published an explosive report (suggesting that Weinstein “paid off” his victims). “Why?” Crews continued. “Because this kind of thing happened to ME.”

The actor went on to detail how, at a party in 2016, a Hollywood executive grabbed his genitals, in front of his wife, while grinning. The actor initially stayed silent about the event, evidently to avoid being “ostracized,” but he later identified the alleged abuser as Adam Venit, a talent agent at William Morris Endeavor. Venit, who reportedly settled a lawsuit with Crews, retired in September 2018.

“Accountability,” Crews tweeted in response to that news.

Although Crews was the one being objectified in that scenario, he says he relates deeply to the culture that likely fueled it. “When you’re talking about toxic masculinity, I was raised in it. I watched my mother getting punched in the face and beaten and intimidated nonstop,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I was a part of it because I thought, if you can’t beat ’em, join em. I believed that I was more valuable than the women in my life, because everything in my life told me that.”

Terry Crews speaks onstage during The 2019 MAKERS Conference at Monarch Beach Resort on February 8, 2019 in Dana Point, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for MAKERS)
Terry Crews speaks onstage during The 2019 MAKERS Conference at Monarch Beach Resort on February 8, 2019 in Dana Point, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for MAKERS)

On the Makers stage, Crews said toxic masculinity centers around strength. “The rules of the toxic gang is literally the bench press, it’s ridiculous,” he says. “It’s like determining whoever gets to run everything, you bench-press the most, you get to run the world.” Crews said dominance is seen as a point of pride. “It was like you weren’t a man until you slept with at least 10 women, used them, abuse them and throw them away,” Crews said on the Makers stage. “Lie to them … and walk away.”

Crews took it a step further backstage, implying toxic masculinity is religion-like. “It’s a cult,” he says. “I love being a man. But people have taken this thing and warped it and twisted it … what we’re talking about is an abuse of power. There are men who really believe if you win, I lose. Everything becomes opposites: men are strong, women are weak. I was a card-carrying member of that.”

The moment that Crews says he stopped think that way was when his wife walked out. “I was like what in the world is going on? I got all the trappings: I played in the NFL, I beat somebody’s ass,” he says.But then a little voice came to me and said, ‘Terry, what if it’s you?’ And I said no, I have everything — I’m strong, rich, successful, I’m the man, I never beat her. You justify and rationalize.”

But after reflecting on what went wrong, Crews realized his wife was right, and he elicited professional help for pornography addiction. Even then, he says, it took years of therapy to unravel his thinking. “It forced me to have a moment of introspection. It was almost like a dark room and a piercing light cracked through, I call it the egg crack. You can’t seal it,” he says. “I was forced to look at myself as I really was, just for a blink. I had made all these excuses as to why I’m a victim. Because when you’re talking about toxic masculinity — pity rules that. Pity is the number one emotion. Feel sorry for me.”

Crews says he found his way out of this toxic thinking by being vulnerable — which he realizes is particularly difficult for men. But that’s the point. “I’m asking guys to look at yourself. That’s it. Don’t look out there. Get alone and examine why you think the way you think,” he says. “It’s scary. But when you’re in a cult, you need deprogramming. That’s the whole thing about being in a cult — you believe the lie.”

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