Stacey Abrams, Ashley Judd, Priyanka Chopra Jonas Talk #MeToo, 2020 Election at WITW Summit
The various women interviewed or taking part in panels revealed their plans for the future while also reflecting on things like the arrest of Harvey Weinstein and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
From Priyanka Chopra Jonas previewing the projects she's working on this year (a book, a Bumble partnership, and numerous shows and movies) to Stacey Abrams teasing a presidential run ("Nothing is holding me back"), the first full day of the 10th annual Women in the World Summit was brimming with women leaders and notable conversations.
But before the packed theater at Lincoln Center in New York City heard about what was to come, the "Feminism: A Battlefield Report" panel with Ashley Judd and other prominent activists took a look back at past year or so, which included the rise of #MeToo and Time's Up.
Throughout the conversation on the movements, Judd offered up many personal anecdotes. Like she has before, the actress explained that she began talking about how Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted her the moment after it happened. "I told everybody about it, but nobody was willing or able to listen,"Judd said.
Now, Weinstein is facing criminal charges for allegedly sexually assaulting two women. Judd herself is suing the movie mogul for defamation after he allegedly nixed her for a film role after she rebuffed him. Despite her attempt to also sue for sexual harassment being dismissed in December, Judd revealed that the harassment suit is "actually going to be heard by the ninth circuit court of appeals."
"And what that language is about is whether or not as a producer it was criminal for him to sexually harass me," she explained. "It’s not disputed whether or not he did; even he admits to that.”
Judd also opened up about her own abortion when Katie Couric mentioned the protest against filming in Georgia due to the state's new restrictive abortion bill. "It's starting to feel a little like The Handmaid's Tale, isn't it?" Couric asked.
"What I like to talk about is my personal experience with abortion. As everyone knows, and I'm very open about it, I'm a three-time rape survivor and one of the times I was raped, there was conception," Judd explained. "I'm very thankful I was able to access safe and legal abortion because that rapist, who's a Kentuckian — as am I, and I reside in Tennessee — has paternity rights in Kentucky and Tennessee. I would've had to co-parent with a rapist."
Being that the focus of the panel's conversation was feminist battles in recent history, it was inevitable that the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings would come up at some point.
“The conflict of being a black woman watching those hearings, was that I was relying on the power of white girl tears to actually compel this nation to do something," said Brittney Cooper, author and associate professor at Rutgers University. "We needed Christine Blasey Ford to be heard, to be believed. She was literally the most kind of upstanding white woman you will ever see: very well educated, from a particular class of white folks, very sort of poised — and yet, those white men trounced all over her like she was nobody, and like she was standing in the way of them getting the keys to the kingdom."
Cooper added that she hopes white women — particularly the majority of them that voted for Trump — learned what she called the lesson of 2016: "You can't get in bed with white supremacy without also getting in bed with the patriarchy."
"You can't decide that you want to have proximity and access to the power and money and influence that white men have without realizing that you are stepping into the lion's den willingly, and that if you don't play nice, if you do call them out, they will come for you too," she said. "The thing that I know as a black woman in this country is that if white women’s tears can’t compel any kind of moral compunction for white men, what do you think that means for the rest of us?”
The group also compared the treatment of Dr. Ford to that of Anita Hill in the 1990s, which segued the conversation to former vice president Joe Biden, who's been criticized for the role he played in Hill's similar Senate testimony. More recently, the potential 2020 presidential hopeful has been accused of inappropriate behavior by numerous women. Those on the panel, for the most part, criticized his behavior.
If there's one 2020 hopeful that there was a consensus on, it was Stacey Abrams. Tina Brown, who founded the conference and interviewed Abrams, repeatedly urged her to run. Eventually, she turned to the audience and asked for their thoughts. The answer? Perhaps the loudest applause of the day.
"I will take it under advisement," Abrams said, laughing.
If she were to make a bid for the presidency, Abrams said her campaign wouldn't be about defeating Trump.
“You don’t beat Trump, and I think that’s the wrong frame. When you go into any intention trying to defeat someone else, then you’re going to lose because you’re automatically playing by their game," she said. "You’re using their narrative. You’re trying to undo what they’ve done, which means you’re not doing yours. I believe that you run a campaign, you run a business, you run an organization, with your end in mind, telling people what you will do; why you’re the one to do it.”
But the decision to run is not one she wants to make right now. "You have to do things for the right reason and at the right time, not just because it’s available," she said, dubbing doing so as a "vanity exercise."
"There’s some folks who wake up and they see that something is open and they think, ‘Well I should do it because it’s there.’ That’s not how I operate," Abrams explained. "And often when you come from an outside community, you don’t have that luxury."
She also respects the current candidates enough to see how the race continues to play out: "I want to see whether their approach to this campaign — this fight for the soul of our country — if they’re going to approach it in a way that I think will actually yield the result we need. And that’s why I don’t think there’s an urgency to making that second decision just yet."
As for Priyanka Chopra Jonas' future, she seemingly hinted that she could be creating a Bollywood-type production for American audiences. Brown asked her if she could bring Bollywood’s elements like singing and dances to the U.S., and Chopra said to “give me another year and a half.
“I have a few things up my sleeve,” she added, while also acknowledging that Hollywood and Bollywood are “so different” culturally.
“What Bollywood movies stand for is an experience. It’s magnum; it’s colorful; it has song and dance and music,” Chopra Jonas said. “And the work I do here is catering to a different culture altogether.”
When she began to break into the U.S. market, Chopra Jonas said it took her “playing ethnically ambiguous parts to be in mainstream pop culture.”
Now, she refuses to take stereotypical roles “because all you will see me as is what I can already do.”
“I am Indian. I don’t need my parts to justify why I can be an actor,” Chopra Jonas said. “And it would take me doing that to become mainstream enough now to actually play parts where I am my own ethnicity. And I will not be considered as a niche actor, or an actor who can only do that.”
In addition to acting, Chopra Jonas is also producing projects in both America and India; writing a book of memoirs titled Unfinished; and continuing her work with organizations like UNICEF.
Regarding the latter, she said she especially wants to team up with Nick Jonas (or as she calls him, O.M.J., which stands for Old Man Jonas), whom she married in December.
"Nick has always been philanthropic. We come from families where philanthropy is not a choice, it's just what you do; it's second nature," she said. "We've discussed many things we want to do together, and we know we have the ability to. It's our favorite phrase, we want to change the world.”
The Women in the World Summit continues on Friday with speakers like Bryan Cranston, Adwoa Aboah, Glenda Jackson and more.