Actress and activist Ashley Judd speaks at Vanderbilt

Ashley+Judd+at+the+Lincoln+Memorial+on+the+National+Mall+in+Washington%2C+D.C.%2C+Jan.+18%2C+2009%2C+during+the+inaugural+opening+ceremonies.

Ashley Judd at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Jan. 18, 2009, during the inaugural opening ceremonies.

Allison Mendoza

On Wednesday evening, actress, author and activist Ashley Judd spoke at Vanderbilt about her childhood, the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements and her work with various activist groups around the globe.

Judd gained fame starring in movies such as Twisted, Kiss the Girls, Dolphin Tale, and Divergent. This has provided her with a platform to speak on and support humanitarian issues. She currently serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNFPA and the Polaris Project. She also serves on advisory boards for organizations like the International Center for Research on Women and sits as Chairperson of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project: Curbing Abuse, Expanding Freedom.

Judd was named as one of Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for her role as a whistleblower in the #MeToo and #Time’sUp movements by speaking out about being sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein in 1996 during the filming of the movie Kiss the Girls. Judd’s story was told in a New York Time’s piece in early October of 2017 and was one of the first women to speak out against the accused rapist.

She began her talk by holding a moment of silence “for those in and out of this world who are suffering and the children who don’t have a choice,” followed by the Serenity Prayer.

we have transformation from the inside out that has become a national role model

She first spoke about sexual harassment. She said her earliest memory of harassment was at the age of seven, and when she told adults no one listened or took action. Judd then referenced her assault by Harvey Weinstein that occurred in 1996 at a breakfast meeting. She reminded the audience that she had been open and vocal about the assault as soon as it happened, but due to the lack of resources and mechanisms, the world wasn’t ready to take action until now.

“We have the non binary, non dualistic look at all of the horrible abuse he perpetrated and in that alchemy we can say thank you God that that is over and time’s up,” Judd said. “Time is up. And we can look at the egregiousness of it and look at the hypocrisy within our own industry and suddenly we have transformation from the inside out that has become a national role model.”

Judd went on to describe the changes Time’s Up is making beyond awareness. Time’s Up is a fund that helps find support for “peers in Hollywood” who may have not had the time, skills or services to process their trauma. The group is partnering with RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) to pilot a support group. Judd is on the board of Time’s Up and plans on bringing in behavior change specialists who help do “physical work that is purgative and gets the trauma and abuse out of the body.” The group also plans to help survivors confront each of their own stories, gender and sexuality equality pledges for entertainment agencies, and plan to do a “broad and precise” analysis of how the industry works.

Her activism began during her adolescence when she spoke up both on her own and others’ behalf. She described her family as “dysfunctional,” and lived alone at home due to her parents’ absence during 10th and 11th grade. Judd spoke about different role models in her life like her neighbor, who took on a motherly role when Judd’s father left her alone at home for a year. She also spoke of her maternal grandmother, with whom she credited with encouraging Judd to go to college.

Judd’s first incident in advocating in regards to sexual assault happened during high school. Her friend was being molested by the school’s gym teacher.

“I told her, if you tell me he does this again I have to go to an adult,” Judd said. “We can do it together, but this has to stop. She told me again and didn’t tell a grown up so I called my godmother, a local pediatrician who was a friend of ours and we put a plan in place.”

Judd then went to her French teacher, who she also had a close relationship with and went to the principal together. Judd’s friend’s family was upset that Judd had reported the issue and ruined the family’s idyllic image.

“That was my first pail of cold water- that doing the right thing isn’t always the popular thing,” Judd said. “But it is worth it.”

Judd began to interact with politics and activism during her undergraduate years at University of Kentucky, where she responded to racist remarks made by the chancellor by organizing campus wide walk-outs, protests of the chancellor’s membership on the Board of Trustees, and partnering with the campus’ African American sororities and fraternities.  

Doing the right thing isn’t always the popular thing

After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in French, Judd signed up for the Peace Corps before backing out to follow her dreams of being an actress in Hollywood. Judd wanted to be an actress since she was a young girl fantasizing about being the character in a book she was reading.

“I wanted to close my eyes and when I opened my eyes, I wanted to see, feel and experience the world as she would in her circumstances,” Judd said. “Of course when I opened my eyes, I was the same girl, in the same field, in the same clothes- but that’s the definition of acting; Living truthfully in imaginary circumstances.”

Judd was also inspired by Jane Fonda who starred in the movie The Dollmaker. Judd identified with Fonda’s “hillbilly” background and enjoyed seeing someone who looked and sounded like her.

In addition to starting auditions, Judd also began working at Planned Parenthood and became involved with a social justice church. While her career was taking off, she began working with Population Services International (PSI) as a global ambassador and help them evaluate their global HIV and AIDS prevention programs. She also worked with Bono and did a bus tour in the midwest to speak to communities about “why the HIV/AIDS emergency in Africa was also an American problem.”

She then told students about her most recent trip with UNFPA Reproductive Rights Agency to see how women friendly spaces are functioning in refugee camps in Koks Bazzaar, Bangladesh. These are places where women can take a nap interrupted by children, where they can receive information on gender equality and why boys and girls need the same amount of nutrition, learning how to spot and prevent sex trafficking with vulnerable refugee children, psychosocial support and trauma processing, the negative effect of child marriage on female reproductive health, coping with drug addiction and preparing for an upcoming monsoon. There are also creative activities such as henna, jewelry making, and singing and dancing.

“I don’t have the words to describe statelessness,” Judd said. “To not belong anywhere, to be unwelcome everywhere- it’s indescribable. My friend, Ajita, had four of her eight children die when their boat capsized: her ten year old, her seven year old girls and her three year old. There was a woman whose  twelve year old son was hit with a bullet and she left him since she thought he was dead, found out he survived, and they were reunited in a woman friendly space. Many reunifications took place in the women-friendly spaces.”

Judd also spoke on the maternity clinics, safe birth kits, and dignity kits that aided in safe in-camp childbirth and menstrual sanitation. She described how overwhelmed she was by how much the refugees wanted to give.

“People who have nothing still have so much to give and it’s part of human dignity to be able to give even in the most meager of circumstances,” Judd said. “My refugee family gave me so much on this trip, physical affection, spiritual blessings- it was so beautiful and so powerful.”

Judd ended her talk by having the audience stand up and shout self-affirmations. She encouraged the audience to read her trip diary on her website for a first-hand account on refugee living in Bangladesh.