Vice President Joe Biden was flanked by "Orange Is the New Black" and "How to Get Away with Murder" star Matt McGorry while promoting the White House's anti-campus rape campaign It's On Us at the University of Pittsburgh on Tuesday and, in many ways, he was the perfect sidekick for the Obama administration's second banana.
McGorry has grown a rapid fanbase in part by being an outspoken proponent of feminism and women's rights. Besides advocating for pay equity, supporting the "Free the Nipple" movement, and decrying slut-shaming, McGorry has a expressed a personal commitment to doing his part to "shake" the perception and stereotypes of who is and who can be considered a feminist. "I think that all those things — having some traits that are traditionally masculine — doesn't exclude me from wanting gender equality. I don't think they're mutually exclusive," he told Mic last year.
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The actor is just one of several celebrities recruited by Biden to raise awareness about campus sexual assault, which has become epidemic in the U.S. in recent decades. (The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that roughly 25 percent of women are victimized during their four years in undergrad.) However, the issue only began receiving significant scrutiny recently, thanks in part to press coverage of high-profile Title IX complaints and the Oscar-nominated documentary "The Hunting Ground."
The vice president even made a plea at this year's Academy Awards for the audience and viewers to sign a pledge on the It's On Us website:
- To intervene instead of being a bystander.
- To recognize that any time consent is not – or cannot – be given, it is sexual assault and it is a crime.
- To do everything you can to create an environment where sexual assault is unacceptable, and all survivors are supported.
Since its launch in late 2014, more than 330,000 people have taken the pledge, with 5,000 signing on during the NCAA Final Four. Meanwhile, more than 600 It's On Us events have been held at 92 schools in 26 states, according to the White House. Both Biden and the Obama administration have been longtime advocates for victims of sexual abuse, with the vice president famously leading the fight for passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994 when he was a U.S. senator.
"I'm here at the invitation of Matt McGorry," Biden joked in his remarks at the University of Pittsburgh on Tuesday. "He really cares about these issues. Everything single thing that he has been engaged in has been about equity, been about equality, been about civil rights," he added.
On Tuesday, McGorry delivered an emotional message to women who have been assaulted. "You're not alone, we will do better, we must do better. I love you, I believe you and I stand with you. And no matter what, it is never you fault."
He also called on men to "step up" and take responsibility for their own actions, and to remember that we are "no longer just our brother's keepers, but our sister's keepers, too."
"it is all our responsibilities to make sure the men in our lives know that we are committed to changing the culture that allows these atrocities to persist," he added.
McGorry, who previously appeared in an It's On Us PSA, wrote that his own awakening on women's issues could be traced by to actress Emma Watson's widely praised speech before the U.N. on equality in the fall of 2014, which he said moved him to tears.
"My parents never framed what they were teaching me as 'feminism.' They pushed me to ask the question 'How do I become a better and more evolved person?' — and the pursuit of an answer to that question inevitably led me to my current path," he wrote in an op-ed for Cosmopolitan last fall. "The moment I heard Watson say, "If not me, who? If not now, when?" I felt a shift inside of me. It wasn't the chicken burrito that I had scarfed down 15 minutes prior, but the rare and instantly recognizable feeling that I would never be the same. I now know that the feeling reminded me of falling in love."
Of course, McGorry is not beyond making the occasional misstep. Last month, he irked some feminist followers by selling a pro-NARAL t-shirt via Twitter on International Women's Day.
"In the future, consider not rolling out a male feminist project or whatever on the one day that's about women," Aura Bogado, a staff writer at Grist tweeted at him. "Additionally, sexualizing your male feminist shirt by saying you slept in it? Umm. No. You can figure out why."
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McGorry appeared chastened by that experience, later asking for "guidance" from fans to avoid insensitivity in the future.
"[T]here’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," wrote Megan Reynolds last year in a piece for The Frisky entitled "Welcome To Feminism, Matt McGorry, Now Please, Take A Seat." "When a person becomes radicalized in any way, the process itself can feel very righteous and pure for you, but can also be insufferable for others to be around."
But it is precisely McGorry's openness about his learning process that has made him so endearing to some fans. He has been candid about the fact until fairly recently he hadn't been fully educated on what the term "feminist" meant, and that he “didn’t really know that a male could be a feminist.”
“The definition of feminism is so simple, and this many people are this excited and stimulated by it; I have a unique position as a heterosexual white male, also, and there aren’t a lot who make this their thing, and this needs to be,” he told Jezebel last summer.
He added: "The more I learn about gender inequality, the more I know that there are things I need to know if I’m going to help make a difference. And they’re gonna be related to, probably, policy changing and all that stuff."