Less than two months ago, actresses Sophia Bush, Hilarie Burton, and the rest of the female cast members of One Tree Hill penned a powerful open letter in support of their colleague, One Tree Hill writer Audrey Wauchope. The letter came after Wauchope accused the TV series’ showrunner of sexual harassment. On Monday, Bush—along with nearly 300 other Hollywood women—signed a decree in The New York Times as a member of the Time’s Up movement.
InStyle spoke exclusively to Bush on the eve-eve of the Globes to discuss how she got involved and “seismic shift” she’s already witnessing.
The initiative was announced on New Year’s Day, but when did all the work of planning begin? How did you first get involved?
The work began months before. It was inspired by a letter, signed by 700,000 women from the Farm Workers Union, which they wrote to stand in solidarity with the women of the entertainment business who had come forward. As the #MeToo conversation came, finally, to the forefront, we all recognized that this moment could be a pivotal and revolutionary time across industries. Amber Tamblyn brought the idea to me, and I was all in. The notion that with our platform we can elevate all women, that their pain is our pain, that their justice is our justice? That’s what this is all about.
During a time of heightened emotions, this group is proposing a clear and pragmatic way to create change. Why was that key to the mission?
Firstly, I’d like to clarify that emotions are “heightened” because they should be. Sexual assault and violence, and at times the insurmountable reality of harassment that women are faced with simply for being women who want to work, and create, and make, and put food on the table, should make people upset. It should evoke an emotional response. It’s what we do with that response, once people’s moral compasses are triggered by the undeniably wrong reality of assault and harassment, that has to go beyond feeling and be transformed into action. Elevating the conversation to make it household name and thus open a dialogue for people has been incredibly powerful. Women no longer feel like they have to hide. And from here the initiative will go after the practices that kept them in the dark. There are plans for legislation that will stop the systematic pressuring victims with non-disclosure agreements. The fund will help defend women in all walks of life as they stand up to abusers and the organizations that protect them. And that’s how systems change. That’s how this movement draws a line in the sand and becomes a marker of systemic change.
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Have you seen any immediate, tangible changes on set or in other environments?
Absolutely. I’ve been so grateful to the men in my life who’ve called, or asked to break bread, and dive deeper into what all of this means. Men who’ve said, “I think I’m a good guy, but am I? Have I ever done anything to make you uncomfortable? Is there anything you would share with me to teach me?” I’ve noticed men catching themselves when they interrupt women in meetings, and stop. It’s an awareness that lives in the minutia at times, yet to witness it feels like a seismic shift. It’s powerful.
Are there personal experiences that inspired you to say, "Enough"?
Indeed. And they’ve been broad-spectrum.
What message do you think the Golden Globes blackout will send, and why this form of protest? Why do you think it’s been divisive?
I understand why, on first examination, a group of women wearing black to a fancy awards show might seem trivial. “What does an outfit really mean to assault,” you might ask. But it’s bigger than a dress. We are subconsciously very accustomed to seeing a sea of color at these shows. It’ll be visually startling to see everyone in black. Subconsciously, a large group in all back reads, in our cultural lexicon, almost like a funeral. It’s inherently serious. And the point is, you cannot unsee it. The symbolism will stand. You cannot edit the coverage to talk about what’s in her purse or what she’s wearing rather than the work it took to play her role, or what she thinks about the geopolitical climate. You cannot promote fluff against her will this year. You will acknowledge the black; the blackout. The conversation will matter. Women’s voices will be heard. Women at awards shows have a platform, and this year it’s being taken to stand with women everywhere. And no one can cut away from it. So certainly, it’s about more than a dress.
What part of this initiative has been most moving to you?
Seeing how strong women are, and how deeply committed to elevating each other we are, has knocked the wind out of me at times this year. Society tries to teach women that we are each other’s competition, and it’s simply not true. When a crisis hits, women circle the wagons and lift each other up. This shift, this reclaiming our time and our right to take up space, will have effects on all of us, on our daughters, and on our daughters’ daughters. The random texts on our group chains has done that for me, in real time. That kind of support, multiplying and transmuting into a legal defense fund of this size, to positively affect women anywhere who need help? It’s awe-inspiring.