This former NFL player turned gender activist is here to clarify what feminists really want from men

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For a long time, former NFL player Wade Davis put up with it all: the derogatory “locker room” talk, disbelief of women’s harassment allegations, and casually tossed around slurs like “fag.” Then, deeply offended on behalf of himself and on behalf of all women, he woke up.

Today, Davis is on a mission to teach men how to be better feminists—not only to elevate women, but also to save men. Since 2012, when he came out as gay, he has become the NFL’s first LGBT inclusion consultant, a UN Women Global Champion for Innovation, and the creator of the #BlackMenAndFeminism campaign, which he launched in partnership with the Ms. Foundation for Women and Ebony Magazine.

His feminism, as he told Quartz last year, centers on the idea that all men who advocate for gender equality, including himself, should be on “one-day contracts”—meaning they need to be working to prove themselves as allies every single day.

In our most recent conversation, Davis explains the real power of the Me Too movement and what the world is really asking now of men.

1. Did you actively think about workplace gender inequality prior to the Me Too movement? And what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from Me Too?

Yes. I’ve been doing work at the intersection of race, gender, and sexual orientation since about 2012 or 2013.

The Me Too movement was not started for women. The Me Too movement, like all movements, exists to awaken the violators, not the survivors. Movements exist to show us how to walk through fear and stop being bystanders or violators. Hopefully it can help us learn to love ourselves, which creates the capacity to love others.

2. Do you identify as a feminist? Why or why not?

Yes. Feminism gave me to tools to see myself clearly—my beauty, my flaws, all of me without flinching. And then it taught me how to love me. How do I define my feminism? Feminism is advocating for social, economic, and political equality and equity for all, starting with those individuals who are most marginalized.

3. What do you do on a daily basis to advance gender equality?

My day job is in “culture building and inclusion” so I’m either coaching senior men or celebrities, running workshops with groups of men, “calling in” (my alternative to the verb “calling out,” which feels accusatory and exclusive) men on their sexism, or reading books by women and about women to educate myself.

4. What’s the biggest threat to men in America today?

The unrecognized belief that we are “owed” something because we identify as men. This belief creates panic and fear causes us to resort to violence in order to protect something we believe is our birthright.

5. Do you talk about sexism with your male peers? If so, what strategies prove most effective, and if not, what inhibits you from doing so?

All the time. Almost every day. One of the most effective strategies is to own my own shortcomings first and not try to show up as perfect so other men are less afraid to own their own shortcomings as well. Also, understanding how to ask open-ended, powerful questions that create dialogue, not preaching sessions.

6. What is your biggest anxiety about being a man?

That I will not be capable of protecting my loved ones and myself.

7. What do you wish your female co-workers, and women at large, knew about you?

That I often have moments of insecurity. I don’t always feel confident, competent, and capable.

8. Some men feel like they can’t win: They’ll be criticized by men for speaking up, and by feminists for not speaking loud enough. What would you tell these men?

Perfection is not “the ask” of men. “The ask” is that we grow-up. And it takes self-awareness, self-education, authenticity, transparency, vulnerability, and consistent action to grow as a man and remove the barriers women face in the workplace and beyond.

9. If you could take back one thing you’ve said or done that contributed to bias at work or at home, what would it be?

I wouldn’t take anything back because I’ve grown as person from my mistakes or moments of silence, though I would love to undo the harm. Without the mistakes, I wouldn’t have evolved in the same way that I have.

10. What’s the best advice you’ve received from another man, and what’s your best advice for young men today?

Best advice from a man—Mychal Denzel Smith said, “Stop trying to be a ‘good’ man because there’s no such thing. Just be human. And own your shit.” My advice to young men: Understand that no one can emasculate you. You can only emasculate yourself by violating another. You define, destroy, or create your own definitions of manhood and masculinity—no one else but you.