Last week, actress Alyssa Milano went to Washington to fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, part of a renewed effort to finally update the Constitution to explicitly include women.
It seems absurd but the Constitution does not specifically grant women equal rights under the law, setting the U.S. apart from 131 other nations that explicitly guarantee gender equality in their constitutions. The ERA, first proposed nearly a century ago, came very close to passing in the 1970s and then disappeared from view until recently.
Milano, 46, has been busy these past few years. She was working on the Netflix show ”Insatiable” in October 2017 when she tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” helping kick off a massive social movement. (Milano didn’t invent the hashtag; social activist Tarana Burke used the phrase “Me Too” as early as 2006.)
Last year, Milano rallied with the survivors of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting and sat just behind Brett Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearings. Her presence there was immortalized by “Saturday Night Live,” which included a cardboard cutout of Milano in a sketch about the hearing that featured Matt Damon as the red-faced Supreme Court nominee.
Milano spoke with HuffPost by phone about women’s rights, the future of Me Too and how she teaches her kids, Bella, 4, and Milo, 7, about consent.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
What’s different about now versus the last time, when the ERA didn’t pass?
Sadly, I don’t think there’s a lot different. We’re still fighting to get one state. [Activists are pushing for Virginia to become the 38th state to ratify the amendment.] I’d hoped in my heart that this would be such a no-brainer. It should be commonsense to say, yes, we should enshrine women in the Constitution, but unfortunately we’re still having to fight that battle.
What would be better or different with the ERA in effect?
Just the perception of being equal ― and having the weight of the Constitution behind you gives a perception of equality. Real tangible things: equal pay for equal work; [prohibitions on] maternity discrimination, lactation discrimination, the “pink tax.” Being taken seriously as far as women’s health care. Not being overlooked when you are reporting domestic violence.
Thinking about gender equality ― you’ve just been to the Capitol. Who is further behind: Hollywood or Washington?
Washington. There is still a lot hidden about sexual misconduct in Washington. I think there’s more corruption because of coverups. I think there’s no transparency.
If you look at Hollywood right now, it’s pretty transparent. People know they’re under the microscope. We are talking about it. Everyone is fully and totally aware of the problem.
Where do you think Me Too is right now? The New York Times just ran a story about powerful men now afraid to mentor women.
The movement’s not going anywhere. There’s too many women who’ve been hurt and we’ve all found our voice.
Unless you’re a man who feels like they’re going to commit an abuse of power, I wouldn’t worry about [mentoring women].
Are you making room for women of color and men in the movement?
Always. If we don’t fix our problems with people who are marginalized and people that are most at risk, people that really feel like they can’t speak up, I don’t think this movement will succeed.
What are your thoughts on Rose McGowan and how she went from being a Me Too avatar to having a more complicated role? [McGowan, who co-starred with Milano on the TV show “Charmed,” has publicly called Milano “a lie.”]
I think that what has happened to Rose in the past has been so traumatizing that she’s dealing the best that she can. She’s always been very strong in who she is. I can’t even go there as far as what that trauma must’ve been like and to have to relive it in such a public way.
Personally, the fact she attacked me in the process, I think, is super fucked up, but I can look at her and say that this is a person hurting and hope she finds the strength and love she needs to heal.
What did you think of that “Saturday Night Live” sendup of you at the Kavanaugh hearings?
I loved it so much. That was such a hard week. Right from the Kavanaugh hearing, I went to Parkland to be with the community. I was sitting in bed in Florida and my phone kept blowing up. Once I saw it on the internet, I died. It was awesome. I asked [“SNL”] if I could have [the cardboard cutout], but they said they were gonna keep it to use again.
You should just go on “SNL.”
Let’s say you had the power of premonition, like your character on “Charmed.” Tell me what the future for women looks like.
I see the ERA being ratified and passed within two years and Me Too continuing to heal survivors. And Tarana Burke continuing to do amazing work.
Did you march in the Women’s March last month?
I did not. I marched around my kitchen with my daughter. That was my marching.
Do your kids know about Me Too?
Not directly. Indirectly, yes, we’ve been having a lot of conversations about consent ― not in a sexual way, just asking permission to, you know, hold Bella’s hand or give Bella a hug. “Did you ask consent? Do you have consent to play with that toy?” I think we teach these lessons too late. We teach when they’re hormonal and prepubescent. We should set the foundation when they’re little.
Over the summer I dropped Bella off at camp and they were going swimming. She didn’t want to and I said, “You don’t have to do anything with your body you don’t want to do.” The other day, my son asked her to go dirt-biking and she said no, “I don’t have to do anything with my body I don’t want to do.”
I was like, it’s so easy.