Allison Williams Is The Feminist We Need

Photographed by Patricia Lopez Ramos.
Allison Williams' weeknights probably look more like yours than you'd think. Take this past Wednesday, for example. Rather than walking a star-studded red carpet for her wildly praised film, Get Out, she took part in an intimate gathering with Keds in honor of International Women's Day. Okay, maybe no one's asking you to sit on thought-leadership panels, but once there, Williams and the other guests of honor took part in the types of conversations you might have with your inner circle — around femininity, female empowerment, and style, to start. The resulting dialogue was transformative, insightful, and ripe with actionable takeaways about what each of us can do to continue to fight for female equality.
Following the #beboldforchange panel, we stole some one-on-one time with Williams to delve deeper into her spirit of activism. From how fellow Girls alum Lena Dunham inspires her to speak out to her hopes for women in the next decade to what she considers to be "the magic sauce to create change," Williams proves she's just the feminist we need.
Girls is a show where the women are completely in charge. How do you think it has empowered women? 
"The show has provided an example of four women showing audiences most (if not all) of themselves. And that kind of portrayal — a realistic, non-aspirational one — is empowering. From what fans of the show tell me, Girls has helped them feel better about their bodies and their lives and [improved] their self-esteem. That’s a huge victory as far as a television series goes."
How do you feel about the series coming to an end? 
"I’m really sad that it ended. I knew it would, but I also knew I'd never be ready for it when the day came. I anticipate missing it a lot right around April when we’re usually gearing up to shoot again."
Lena Dunham is very outspoken on issues close to her heart. Has that pushed you to become more vocal, as well? 
"I’ve learned so much about activism from Lena. I’ve always had deeply held beliefs, but watching Lena do her work has given me so much to learn from. Compared to Lena, most of the advocacy I do really only has one side (kids deserve good educations; withholding treatment for HIV/AIDS is bad). I have an enormous amount of admiration for the work she does, and I admire her guts to put her own reputation on the line in defense and support of others."

I like to play strong women, yes, but more importantly I like to play real, 3-D women.

Allison Williams
You have a history of playing strong female characters. Is that intentional?
"I like to play strong women, yes, but more importantly I like to play real, 3-D women. Women who I could picture encountering someday. Not a facsimile of what a woman might be juxtaposed against a male protagonist. Even if she falls short of her best intentions or her best self (ahem, Marnie), I like playing people who at least feel they have some amount of agency. I don’t believe in putting out into the world female characters who we don’t want our young girls modeling themselves after in some way."
Has there ever been a time in your career when you felt at a disadvantage as a woman?
"To say that there has been any moment in my life when I’ve felt disadvantaged would be incredibly tone-deaf and self-unaware of me. I have been so fortunate. Have there been instances in which I think maybe I’ve been treated differently because I’m a woman? Yes — chiefly by the media. But that word — disadvantaged — is not a word that I can, in good conscience, apply to myself. I’ve been disproportionately lucky and privileged, and I intend to spend the rest of my life working off that credit by giving back and paying it forward."
When you think of the women you look up to, who and what traits stand out?
"When I look at my mom and my grandmother, I see two women who are self-governing, self-assured, and self-possessed. They are powerful, intelligent, savvy, driven, loving, giving, and insightful. I was always taught that nothing should stand in my way just because I’m a girl, and I owe that in large part to them. I also thank my dad and my grandfather for broadcasting that same message. They consider my mom and grandmother equal in every way. If anything, my dad and pop pop acknowledged long ago that they are outmatched by their mates."
You took part in the Women's March earlier this year. What other steps are you taking to feel empowered and make a difference?
"I think the number one thing we all must do as citizens is brush up on our civics. What are the rights we are given as per our Constitution? I want to know everything about what is going on, to stay vigilant, to read between the lines, to get information from different sources, and to look up facts that seem dubious. That’s what I’m focusing on — the activism work that comes from the heart, the causes that speak to me, the stories that tug at my heartstrings or seem unfair or un-American in some way. That’s where the work should go. That’s the magic sauce that creates change."

That’s what I’m focusing on — the activism work that comes from the heart, the causes that speak to me, the stories that tug at my heartstrings or seem unfair or un-American in some way.

Allison Williams
Is that what made you want to partner with Keds?
"I have always loved Keds, and when I learned that the brand's slogan is 'Ladies First,' I loved it even more. Keds has been making women more comfortable in their own shoes for 100 years. Back then, very few other people cared at all about the comfort that women experienced — it was a time when women were still expected to look pretty and behave as objects, first and foremost. I’ve marched for women in Keds, which is as true an embodiment of its brand as I can imagine."
How does this go hand in hand with International Women's Day?
"On a day that celebrates women, it feels really appropriate to celebrate with Keds. It’s on days like these that I feel fortunate to work with a brand that already cares deeply about women and girls. I don't have to shoehorn someone who doesn't put women first into doing something for IWD."
This is such an important time for women. What's your advice for those who are worried about speaking up, perhaps due to fear of judgment or to having family and friends who don't share their point of view?
"I’m not going to sugarcoat it: It’s not always easy to stand up for what you believe. But imagine where we would be if nobody had conquered that fear. Educate yourself so you can debate even the fiercest foe. Arm yourself with knowledge and self-love and hit the streets. You’ve got this. You’re a woman, after all."
Finally, what do you hope to see over the next year, five years, 10 years?
"Equality. Autonomy. A presidency."

More from Pop Culture

R29 Original Series