"I’m a woman. I’m a part of the LGBT community. I’m a sexual assault survivor," she said during a phone call this week. "I’m a mother, raised by a single mother." Which is to say: Her reasons for showing up are close to her heart.
"But also a woman’s march is about standing in solidarity for everyone’s rights, for equal rights. It even goes beyond marching for women; it’s marching for people," she went on. "I believe when a weaker group is suffering, we’re all suffering, and we all need to come together — men, women, people of colour, people of different religions."
Wood also confessed that she has regrets about not stepping out in solidarity prior to November 8, 2016 — one of the things she plans to change, starting now. We spoke to her about what she wishes she would have done, her views on Ivanka Trump, and why now is not the time for celebrities to stay silent about politics — no matter what the president thinks.
How did the election shape the way you felt about your own political involvement?
"While none of these issues are new, they’re so blatant, and becoming normalised in a way that is terrifying. After the election, I made many promises to myself. I promised myself I would be less complacent. I promised myself I would make whatever small gestures I could to reach out to people and women — that’s why I decided to wear a suit to every awards show.
"These are not world changing feats. But I do love Martin Luther King's quote, 'If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.' I believe in that. I want to be there, and I want to stand with everybody, and I wanted to show my support here on the ground. If we all make small gestures, collectively, that becomes a giant movement. That’s one thing that the march represents."
Sometimes it seems like the world can be divided into before November 8, 2016 and after November 8, 2016. Do you feel that too?
"Something I did notice after the election is a lot of people come up to me saying, 'I’m just shocked, I didn’t know it was this bad.' I, unfortunately, was less shocked than most people, maybe because I’m a woman, or because I’m part of these marginalised groups. I do think if any positive is coming out of this, it’s that people are waking up to how bad it is, and always was. More people are getting called to action and realising that you can’t just assume that something is going to happen, or that other people are taking care of it. We’re in a time now when we need all the manpower — man and woman power — we can get."
Are there things you wish you would have done before election day, on an advocacy front?
"Absolutely. I’ll be the first person to admit, looking back: I was one of those people who thought, 'Well, enough people are doing it, standing up for that cause,' that I probably didn’t get as involved as I should have, that I didn’t speak up in situations where I should have. I probably didn’t pay enough attention to local elections and certain things that matter. I will totally take responsibility for that and that’s one thing I want to change in this new dawn."
That’s the point of standing in solidarity: You’re willing to put yourself out there, and possibly put yourself in harm’s way, for what is right.
"I would like to be hopeful. That’s hard when you’re associated with certain beliefs and rhetoric, and things that are genuinely terrifying for most women. We’ll have wait to see. You always have to have hope. I think it’s okay to be cautiously optimistic. But it is a bit alarming, of course."
"I was raised in North Carolina. I remember, growing up there, it being a more progressive state — we almost prided ourselves on being a more progressive Southern state. I have noticed a shift, moving back to the South now. I love the South: It’s a part of me, there are things I think about growing up there that are incredible. It gave me an amazing foundation, definitely not knocking it. But I do feel like there’s work to be done in certain areas. I have noticed people automatically assume that I believe certain things, and they feel very comfortable talking to me about them.
"In the past I operated on: Don’t make an argument, don’t make a scene, it’s all about being polite, let’s just avoid this conversation because it’s uncomfortable. But I’ve gotten to a place where — though I’m not going to get into someone’s face or fight — if something’s brought up, I will say how I feel, and I’ll try to listen, to understand, to start a dialog. I just don’t want to avoid those conversations anymore."
Can you tell me about a specific example?
"One thing that was really upsetting to me: Someone came up to me and showed me a picture of Melania and Ivanka Trump. They were looking very dolled up — I guess what most people would consider beautiful, even though beauty is subjective. That photo was next to a picture of Hillary Clinton and Chelsea, some sort of candid photo of them with no makeup, looking like what I guess what most people would consider unattractive. And the photo said, 'Dodged a bullet.'
"This man who came up to me, he was laughing and he says, 'Look at this... Right?' I knew what he meant. But I wanted to hear him explain it to me, so that he could hear it come out of his mouth. So I just said, 'I don’t understand.' And he said, 'Well look at them.' It’s like a dagger in the heart, and I said again, 'I just don’t understand. You’re going to have to explain this to me.' He said, 'Well, which ones would you rather have — the hot ones, or the ugly ones?'
"I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing, or why that man thought I would think it was funny. That is inexcusable to me, because it’s not about policy, it was just, 'I would rather have my first lady be attractive and someone I want to sleep with, that is all that matters to me.' It showed me exactly why there’s work to be done — why we’re still being viewed as eye candy, or our only role is to look pretty and put on a dress, why what’s in our heads and what’s in our minds and our hearts are not valued the way they should be.
"I looked at him and I said, 'I think I would rather be valued for what’s in my mind than the way that I look.' It got very uncomfortable for a second. Then he just kind of laughed it off and said, 'Well, I’m sure that’s true too,' and walked away. So when people say these things aren’t a problem, they are: This is still the mentality that a lot of people are operating on."
That uncomfortable beat, when you know it's coming, is so hard.
"It is very hard, and it’s hard to contain the rage that you feel, and to have that not get in the way of your message being heard. To just sit there and take a breath and just say, very simply and directly, why you don’t agree with something instead of just calling him a name or getting angry — it’s just like teenagers. The more you get in their face and tell them not to do something and make them feel stupid or bad — they’re just going to push back more.
"Sometimes it is kind of a lost cause, but if you can find a way to control that rage, reach out, and be heard instead of just barking at them and making them feel stupid and trying to just prove that you’re right — that's what I'm trying to do."
That reminds me of what Meryl Streep said about bullies at the Golden Globes: to use your platform to call out what is intolerable.
"It’s about human decency and respect, and setting the bar. We’ve lowered the bar so much and normalised so many things. It’s scary, giving a certain kind of behaviour that can lead to violence, and can lead to a certain kind of determination that can lead to very dangerous situations for half of America. That’s when you have to speak up."
What do you think is the role of celebrities in speaking up, especially after Donald Trump called out Meryl Streep for her awards show speech on bullying?
"Now we’re writing off celebrities speaking up as Hollywood elitism. But we’re also citizens. We’re also people. We have our own stories. I was raised by a single mom in a small apartment. We shared a bed. I’ve been working since I was 5 years old to get to where I am, and I still had my own experience. I haven’t been super sheltered or in a little bubble.
"I believe in the responsibility you have if you do have a platform to speak about what you think matters. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night, if I was going out and pretending everything is okay when it’s not. So that to me seems selfish in a way: I think it’s a silly argument to make, and an easy way to write off people using their opportunity and platform to speak about what they think matters."
I do think if any positive is coming out of this, it’s that people are waking up to how bad it is, and always was.
"Honestly, the thing that worries me the most for my son, and what breaks my heart is, for me — just because this is a really personal thing, especially when it comes to sexual assault, and the way that we sometimes excuse certain behaviour — lowering men and saying that they’re these mindless animals who can’t help themselves. That, to me, is just as damaging. I want him to grow up with a sense of value and respect for other people and to know that he is more than that.
"I want him to grow up knowing decency is not a sign of weakness, especially if you’re a man. I’ve seen a lot of boys and a lot of men made to feel like they aren’t real men, or that they aren’t strong because they believe in treating other people with humanity and respect. So that’s my biggest fear and hope for my son."
Do you have any anxieties, heading to the Women's March on Washington?
"You always take a chance when you’re going out to things like this, because you never know, especially in times like this. But people are going to have to start digging deep and putting themselves on the line, because if you don’t it’s only going to get worse. And who knows, one day, maybe they’re coming for you; and you think, 'I should have gotten out there, I should have put myself on the line.'
"That’s the point of standing in solidarity: that you’re willing to put yourself out there, and possibly put yourself in harm’s way, for what is right. It’s going to take a lot of strength, and a lot of bravery. The more people who do that, the more surrounded and protected and supported we are. It’s always a gamble. But if you really do believe in the causes and why you’re standing up, and willing to accept there are consequences and ramifications, then that’s what you’d have to do. I’d rather be attacked or demonised for something that I believe is right than to just pretend everything is okay.
"I don’t want to be successful in a society that doesn’t hold onto values of human decency and respect. There’s just certain things I can’t — and won’t — bend on."