Matt McGorry: Case Study

So if you’ve been living under a rock, or somehow just circumnavigating the Netflix globe and haven’t managed to come across Orange is the New Black or #OITNB as we call it, then you’ll have probably missed breakout star Matt McGorry in his role of prison guard Bennett.  You can also catch him in How to Get Away with Murder.

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-4-18-26-pmMatt McGorry as Bennett in #OITNB, by Elena Duggan.

I’ve warned you, that this page would be at times political.  This is one of those times.  I want to make it clear however that while I have my own opinions, the purpose of this case study is to look at this actor’s contributions in the world of activism.  Overall the opinion most important to this blogging space is that we should all believe that any level of activism contributes something good to any movement.  EVEN the negative stuff.  That stuff is the fuel for conversation to continue.  Dialogue is the only way change can start, and sharing stories is key here.  So keep that in mind when I discuss the ways McGorry has been both praised and hated on by media and activists alike.

McGorry posts to his Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts a wide variety of content.  He promotes new shows and movies he’s in, he posts photos of him with castmates… But most importantly he posts links to campaigns for social innovation, tweets whenever he attends a physical meeting of those within a movement, uses hashtags to demonstrate his solidarity and alignment with a cause, and engages in discussion with his followers about all manner of political topics and his involvement with them.

Laverne Cox with Matt McGorry accepting her Television Industry Advocacy Award, by by Elena Duggan.

First things first, this is brave.  It takes a lot of courage to speak our minds.  It takes even more thoughtfulness and consideration to not only have an opinion and share it but also to be able to back up what you’re saying, and admit where you’ve been wrong.  Is he perfect? No.  He’s told us that himself.  Should media news outlets be lauding him as they do? Well, that’s up for debate.  One side of that argument is that continuing to give praise to white men who do good things over shining lights on those marginalised and subordinated within the movement itself perpetuates that which McGorry and other activists are trying to challenge.  A convoluted way of saying that privileged white males are not really allowed to define themselves as feminists, but rather allies, and that them receiving praise continues the system of patriarchy.  This last part, I totally agree with. Where’s all the praise for the ultra brave women who fight this every day?  Well, I can tell you, it almost doesn’t exist. No one thinks it’s cool to be a feminist. And we all know the ways people have perceived this movement.

The other thing that’s interesting is that he doesn’t just post or know about one topic.  He posts about feminism, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, domestic violence… the list goes on.  Critics would say that he contributes primarily to the #slacktivism side of each of these campaigns.  But that’s wrong.  He is posting as a part of the activist strategy that suits his life best.  He goes to #BlackLivesMatter chapter meetings, he donates to these organisations… and then he posts about these events on his social media.

Matt McGorry with Francesca Ramsey, ridiculously busy activist, by Elena Duggan.

Let’s take a particular moment of his online activism into consideration.  In 2015, he posted the definition of feminism to his accounts stating that he ashamedly only just discovered the true meaning of the word and the movement.  Then this year for International Women’s Day, McGorry designed a shirt that all proceeds from would go to NARAL in support of women’s reproductive rights.

And then, he got absolutely slammed by Feminist blogs for it.  Wow, it was vicious.  I would definitely recommend reading this and this though because they both are incredibly poignant for highlighting the struggle women face every day with this.  I feel these things too.  And some things that have been said by all sorts of people that claim themselves Feminists like McGorry leave me with equally conflicting emotional responses.

But I will never condone criticising someone for their attempt to develop their understanding and contributions to fixing something so wrong with societal systemic prejudice.  Especially with regards to feminism.  This is something incredibly difficult to overcome… We’ve been trying for decades.  And hey, look, it still exists.  Should we not be embracing any individual who fights against patriarchy?  Just because the way they fight is different, or maybe could be interpreted as adjacent or oppositional in contrast to some of the core tenets in the fight for women’s freedom, this doesn’t give us the right to say they shouldn’t speak their feelings.  I don’t understand anyone who fights for a more inclusive and equal society by labelling other peoples’ contributions to a similar if not the same fight unwanted, incorrect and stupid.

We are all on paths towards education, change and meaningful contribution to our world.  Fundamentally, he’s hoping to spark dialogue about something truly wrong that he along with many others has a problem with.  All of these arguments could be applied by people of all the movements he supports.  And they are all good arguments.  To be successful in creating change we need to be hypercritical that the steps we take are all in the right direction, I just think there are much better ways to criticise, discuss and create dialogue.

While feminism is about removing patriarchy and male power, rather than the fight for gender equality, this doesn’t mean the fight can or should only be won be women willing to stand up.  I would not feel content within myself to achieve any type of feminist state where all and any gender identities are not given equal power.  Getting away from patriarchy should not be seen as a binary.  Again, my opinion.  I am equally as free as you are to express it.

Matt, by Elena Duggan.

But what does all of this teach us?

Here are your takeaways from studying Matt McGorry:

  1. Be prepared that once you take a stance, you will cop both love and hate in equal measures.  Either way you MUST question both.
  2. To be an influencer, it’s not enough to know the bare minimum about your content.
  3. Dialogue is all important.
  4. Listen.
  5. Make growth and progress your constant goal.  This should actually be a takeaway on how to live your life as well, but in this case, you need to make sure you are focussed on learning, evolving and being open to the rest of the world.