Sound Off: Matt McGorry Should Take Several Seats

matt mcgorry leaning in

Uh, Matt? You do know that the whole “Lean In” movement is figurative, right?

IT’S DIFFICULT to talk about male feminists without mentioning actor Matt McGorry.

Known for his roles in Orange Is the New Black and How to Get Away with Murder, McGorry has made consistent headlines since he came out as a feminist in 2015, after being exposed to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Emma Watson’s HeForShe campaign. Today, inspirational quotes mix with links to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood on McGorry’s Twitter feed. He’s gotten accolades from the likes of Gloria Steinem, Our Lady of Fish without Bicycles.

In spite of all this, something feels hollow about McGorry’s feminism. Even if it all rang true, the actor would still have several seats with his name on them, simply because — despite self-identifying as an intersectional feminist — he displays a troubling pattern of talking over women who offer even the gentlest criticism of his problematic activism.

At least as far back as September 2015, feminists began to notice that something was a bit off in McGorry’s representation. That’s when The Frisky’s Megan Reynolds observed that “there’s something about McGorry’s approach that hints at a desperate yearning for approval, a flailing jazz-hands-and-tap-dance plea to be noticed for coming around to the fact that men and women should be equal.” Reynolds’ write-up was a swift response to “How Becoming a Feminist Felt Like Falling in Love,” McGorry’s Cosmpolitan article about his discovery of feminism.

Much of the criticism surrounding McGorry comes from his filterless approach. In a June 2015 interview with Jezebel, the actor admitted that he was afraid of saying the wrong thing, and the resultant backlash from other, more seasoned activists:

The sad and scary thing to me was that my biggest fear about commenting on things was really not from the people — I wasn’t afraid of the bigots or the people who were against me because really, who gives a shit about that. I was afraid of the people who were interested in the same thing that I wanted to do.

It’s a sentiment he repeated in Charlotte Alter’s April 29 TIME article. Alter touches on feminist critiques of “excessive celebration of men who are carrying the feminist torch that women have been carrying this whole time,” McGorry’s activism included. The actor said “there’s a lot of sh-t out there that frankly hurts my feelings a lot,” but acknowledges that the backlash he’s received is “never going to be as hard as being a woman or being trans or being black … [a]nd especially never going to be as hard as speaking out about sexism or racism as a woman or a person of color.”

Unfortunately, McGorry’s recognition of intersectional issues is all so much lip service. When Twitter user @itsbereniced casually pointed out the parallels between the actor’s professed feminism and the habits of faux-minists, McGorry responded with a harsh, mansplaining tweet.

Clearly, @itsbereniced had struck a nerve. McGorry’s outrage was palpable. How dare this woman try to shut down his very important work?

That wasn’t the end of McGorry’s problematic social media interactions. Despite fierce word wars with Piers Morgan in defense of Beyoncé, he doesn’t shy away from blocking feminists who dare to criticize him. Even those who subtweet McGorry aren’t safe from his blockhammer — which means yours truly will probably be blocked soon enough.

Look, I’m not saying that feminism isn’t for men, that male feminists shouldn’t speak out against bigotry, or that activists should be vilified for what are essentially learning experiences. McGorry has entered into a brave new world of activism, and he’s full-throttle into it. That’s great.

But the problem is, if you’re going to be involved in a social justice movement, you have to know how to take criticism, especially if you’re more privileged than the people you’re allied with. This is why white people don’t need to write about Lemonade, and cisgender folks shouldn’t legislate which bathrooms trans people should use.

I don’t see McGorry’s mentions, so, hey, maybe he’s getting dogpiled and has decided to use his block button as a self-care tool. That’s unlikely, given his conversations with Morgan and other men, but it’s still possible.

If McGorry isn’t getting dogpiled, however, then his blocking patterns are creating an echo chamber: a strange, shielding bubble, in which sexist, racist demagogues like Morgan can spout whatever bullshit they like, but McGorry’s fellow feminists can’t offer him guidance.

In this scenario, he’s the little kid who plugs his ears and says “la la la, can’t hear you” when someone delivers bad news. He’s the #masculinitysofragile ego that reacts harshly to criticism and retreats into the boys club for protection.

So Matt, bro, if you’re reading this, you need to take all of the hints and all of the seats. Remember Reynolds’ “reminder to McGorry and male feminist allies like him: the best thing you can do, always, is listen.”