Even as stars from Taylor Swift to Emma Watson to Jennifer Garner have talked about sexism in the entertainment industry, there are two questions almost never directed at a male celebrity: Are you a feminist? What does that word mean to you?
Certainly no one was beating down Matt McGorry's door to ask his opinion, despite the fact that he has regular roles on two TV shows with unusually diverse and outspoken casts and creators, Netflix's Orange Is the New Black and How to Get Away With Murder on ABC.
But then he had a simple, maybe long-overdue a-ha moment.
"I think you can be a feminist and not necessarily identify as one," McGorry tells ETonline, "which is what I think I had been for my entire life up — until a few months ago."
Then, he says, "I realized the term feminist is actually less convoluted than I imagined it to be. I don't know exactly what I imagined it was. But I know that if you'd asked me, I'd probably have said, 'Uh, I don't know, I don’t think so.'"
He posted a screenshot to his Facebook page, saying simply, "I'm embarrassed to admit that I only recently discovered the ACTUAL definition of 'feminism.'"
"I believe in gender equality," McGorry continued. "Being a feminist is for both women AND men. I AM A FEMINIST."
Once that was squared away, the 29-year-old actor took his fight to social media, posting comments that called out sexist stereotypes:
Encouraging followers to rethink their assumptions about the beauty standard:
And still trying to have a little fun:
"I'm not inherently a comedian," McGorry says. "I think I'm a comedic actor. The closest I've gotten to writing my own material is social media." McGorry's posts aren't necessarily going to break the Internet — he has about 750,000 followers on Instagram and another half-million on Twitter and Facebook — but they're getting increasingly popular.
Many of his more pointed posts are deliberately written to be humorous.
"If you're in my social media feed, you might not even see it the first 10 times or understand what it means," he points out. "But I'm hoping that my followers form different or positive associations with the word when they come across it in a different context."
On OITNB, McGorry's character, Officer Bennett, seems like as nice a guy as a prison guard can get. (Until he's…not.) And on Murder, even his bro's bro pest of a law student, Asher, has revealed a softer side. In interviews, McGorry is the class clown, cracking up his cast mates and — despite all the hype those two shows have received — generally coming across as a relatively chill, down-to-earth guy, which is key to his approach.
"I'm a white heterosexual male, and I have a lot of privilege in that way," he says. "When people make ignorant comments, I get angry, but I haven't personally been the subject of this sort of discrimination. So I think there's a certain level-headedness to it that I can bring, I hope. Even in my daily life, I get to have a conversation more simply because I'm putting it on social media, and my friends are asking me about it."
And he's pretty realistic about whether one actor with a recently-raised consciousness can change the world. "I'm not going to be convincing the people who really don't believe in gender equality on my Twitter feed, but I think people who maybe missed out on some understanding of it, but who are good people deep down — those are the people who are worth reaching. I do think there is some risk of isolating people, but — f**k those people, honestly."
McGorry, who spent 10 years working as a personal trainer before breaking out as an actor, credited that experience with helping him hone his approach. "I encourage people to learn and not feel that they have to be an expert immediately. I know that negative reinforcement does not work. And I’m just sort of piecing it together as I go. The more you become aware of it, the more you become aware of it, right? And the more you realize how many screwed-up things there are in the world."
Even after getting grilled by the feminist blog Jezebel and appearing on the feminist podcast Flip the Script, McGorry's the first to admit he's still not sure how he'd answer if pinned down on a red carpet and forced to quickly say why this movement is so important to him. "I haven't worked out my sound bite yet. It's still changing on a daily basis as I'm learning more and more."
Check out the video below to see Emma Watson's passionate speech on gender equality at the United Nations.