“I think it’s the job of any of us, of any person who speaks to young students and has the platform, to say you are worthy already. You’re there already.”
To celebrate International Women’s Day, IGNITE brought in Sophia Bush to speak at our Real Talks event. Not only is Sophia an award-winning actress, but she is an activist for a number of causes such as women’s rights and education.
Sophia sat down with IGNITE before her inspiring speech to talk about everything from social media to using your voice for causes you believe in, personal growth, and more.
Here’s what Sophia had to say:
Your most well-known character, Brooke from One Tree Hill, experienced a lot of growth as she grew older. Looking back, do you feel like you experienced a similar growth into womanhood?
I certainly should hope so. I think the natural path of evolving as a person is that we grow and widen the scope of our understanding and tolerance, and become hopefully more aware of how to take care of the world around us. That show, in particular, was fun for me to evolve through with a character because, in the beginning, I couldn’t relate to her. I got into a lot of arguments with the writers about her behaviour and what we were saying to teenage girls watching the show. For me, bad behaviour is always symptomatic and I wanted to get to the root of where her behaviour came from. I wanted to get to the root of why someone would be so performative because she really didn’t have a sense of self-worth. I think that’s a truism for all women.
We’ve been raised in a society that’s taught us to devalue ourselves and to compete and to compare. We’re competing against things that aren’t real and comparing ourselves to women that aren’t real either. There’s a lot that women are told they have to be that’s completely unrealistic. So for me, it meant a lot to examine those themes with a character and I had to fight for the right to do that and for her to grow as a person. It was a great evolution but my personal life, my own story is different.
You’re very vocal about the causes you support. How do you find the courage to stand up for what you believe in?
I can’t do it any other way. I’m not interested if I have to censor my voice, which I use to defend people and to fight for what’s right or to talk about issues like equality that shouldn’t be up for debate in the first place. If I have to censor myself for a job then I’ll get a new job. I think that there’s this assumption with entertainment, especially, where people look at you and think that your life is perfect and that that’s my life but the way I see it is my job is my job. If I worked at a bank it would be the place that I worked and left at the end of the day, it wouldn’t define who I am, why I am, why I live.
When people say to me that because of my job I don’t get to have an opinion, I just think it’s crazy. You can’t tell someone to stick to their job. For a long time, because there obviously is a requirement of public exchange to be an entertainer, so many people would say well I can’t risk upsetting someone. Well, what do you want to be? A robot? You don’t have to like me but you’ll know that I’ll always be honest with you. That’s just a trait that I value in people, it’s a trait I require of myself to give to others. No matter what you do, what field you’re in you can’t please everybody. It’s not possible.
You’re a fan of using social media for raising awareness of causes that you support. We recently saw how social movements, such as the Me Too movement, were catapulted through social media. In your opinion, do you think that the conversations and changes currently being made are possible because of social media?
I think social media is a piece of it, not all of it. Movements don’t just happen when there’s a space to have a conversation. Movements happen when enough people are banded together to realize that they’re not alone. If you take something like a Me Too movement, so much of harassment and the cultures of harassment and this sort of secret world of corporate NDA’s have existed because of the status Quo. Enough people were able to say, “oh you too? you too? Yes, me too.” and they got together to get articles and stories published. Social media is a piece of that. It’s a great way for an incredibly powerful interview to be shared globally very quickly. But, again, we’ve got to be logical here and know what percentage of the population is on social media and what percentage isn’t. It’s not the only way to launch a movement.
[Social media] is a very important tool in the toolkit but if you put too much focus on it we will think that sharing these stories solves the problem. Now, the cover has been ripped off but what are we gonna do with it? What I want to see is real change. I want to see legislative change, I want to see unions implement laws that change way workers are taken care of. That doesn’t happen on social media. That happens in offices, in courtrooms, in places where laws are made. Social media is an arm of the movement, not the whole t
You recently talked about a meeting you had with your bosses on Chicago PD, where you opened up about your feelings of dissatisfaction. What’s your advice to women who are unhappy with their situation at work?
I think you have to have a little bit of grace for yourself. Everyone thinks they would know what they’ll do when they’re confronted with injustice or being victimized by inappropriate behaviour. You’ll never know how you’re going to react or how strong you’ll feel in that moment. Maybe you will surprise yourself with your strength and maybe be heartbroken by you own paralysis and the silence that comes with it. You need to be gentle with yourself. I think that the work comes from really examining how you feel.
If an environment makes you feel unworthy, unsafe or less than, figure out how to change it and who to go to.
Create a network of women you know you can speak to in any workplace and figure out who your male allies are.
You always have the right to stand up for yourself. It never gets less scary. It’s not the kind of thing where you’ll feel more confident to say something to your boss at 28 than you did at 22. It’s always going to be scary to bring up something that’s hard to talk about. The difference is that as women tend to age, they tend to own their self-worth. It becomes less about the situation and more about what they know and who they are. I think it’s the job of any of us, of any person who speaks to young students and has the platform to say you are worthy already. You’re there already. For the women who have already gone through it, our goal is to lessen the time between the lesson and the action on the lesson.
A lot of women aspire to be as confident and sure of themselves as you are. How did you overcome feelings of self-doubt and insecurity to get to where you are today?
I have this conversation with girls all the time, that stuff doesn’t ever go away. There’s never a day in your life where you wake up and you go, “oh my god, today’s the day I feel amazing, I know what I’m worth and now I’ll never be sad again.” That doesn’t happen. What happens is that as you age, as you see the way the world works and realize the power of your own voice and learn to stand in your own intellectual prowess and creative power, you start to give less of a shit about upsetting anybody by taking up space and about what anyone else thinks of you. You run out of time. I just don’t have time to wallow in the stuff that exists in my life and in my heart and my head. I just don’t have time to pay attention to it.
So it’s not that it isn’t there, it’s that it isn’t worth as much energy and I have more practice recognizing insecurity, doubt, and fear. I’ve done the self-work to go, “Interesting, where is that coming from? Ah, this situation is making me feel less than because I’m nervous that I’m not good enough for X, Y and Z. Ok, I observed it, I saw it, and I named it now I can move one.” That’s what you have to learn how to do. I would love for girls to learn to know how to do that at 21 and not have to wait until they’re 31. That’s why it’s so important that we’re having frank conversations about mental health because no one teaches us how to take care of ourselves or how to get out of a shame spiral or how to talk ourselves out of self-doubt in the way we that we know how to for our friends.
Years ago I was having a day where I was hating on myself and I was venting to my best friend and she listened to me for a while. And she looked at me and said, “That’s my best friend you’re talking about like that.” And I was just like, Oh. Because if someone had been talking to about my friends like that we’d have words. So why would I talk about myself like that, why do all women get taught to talk about ourselves that way? It’s on us to stop. It doesn’t mean that it leaves you but you can’t water it. They’ll pop up all the time anyway but you don’t need to make it the main focus of your energy.
*This interview was edited for length and clarity
Don’t miss out on IGNITE’s next Real Talks with Hasan Minhaj on April 12th.