Gillian Anderson partnered with friend and collaborator Jennifer Nadel—an attorney, journalist, and activist–to brainstorm and write WE: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere, out March 7. Both are American women who now live in London, and they felt compelled to write the book for a number of reasons. “I want societal change,” Nadel told Ms. “I want equality and fairness between genders and globally.”
What emerged from their desire to write this manifesto is a brilliant look at being a woman in the 21st century: unmasking limitations, relinquishing the desire to compare and compete, stating the importance of vulnerability and acceptance, the need for more joy in life, and rewriting your own story–or, as the Hamilton soundtrack would say: who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
Anderson and Nadel chatted with Ms. in February about the book, feminism and—of course—The X-Files.
How would you describe WE in one sentence?
GA: A guide to improve the quality of women’s relationship to themselves and others, and therefore empowering themselves to use what they have learned to help other women and the world at large.
What made you want to write this book with Ms. Anderson?
JN: Gillian has an incredible intuition and a deep and profound ability to see and know the truth. She’s a visionary and this book is about a new vision for us as women. It’s a rallying cry and Gillian was the perfect writing mate. It’s very rare in this world that you have a friend who sees the things that matter in exactly the same way.
How did the idea for this book come about?
GA: It seemed that I was seeing more and more statistics about increasing levels of depression and self-harm in women of all ages as we struggle under societal pressures to be and behave in particular ways – and I suddenly thought, if we are all struggling with these same issues, if we ultimately have the same fears, why are we so often competing against each other? Why can’t we work together to find solutions for what doesn’t work?
Who is your feminist hero?
JN: My feminist hero is an English lawyer called Gareth Pearce. She has done more to transform the English Legal system than any other living lawyer. She has represented prisoners in many of the UK’s most celebrated miscarriages of justice – defending the innocent against the might of the state and the weight of public prejudice. She takes on the hopeless cases that others shun. She works tirelessly and without ego and with extraordinary results and in a very male and patriarchal environment.
How have recent U.S. and U.K. political events impacted the importance of the timing of this book?
GA: It has become more evident than ever that we can only rely on ourselves, that our only recourse is to take things into our own hands because we are not being protected by our “leaders.” In order to do that we need to start with ourselves, heal ourselves so that we can move forward in humility and compassion and reach towards others who are struggling in order to effectively change a system that is not working for anybody.
Did you participate in, or have friends who participated in, the Women’s March on January 21?
JN: I marched in Washington DC while Gillian marched in London. Almost every woman I know—including many who’ve never taken action before marched. It was an instinctive response—to show up and to march. It was an act of faith and one that we will have to keep repeating while these dark days last.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? And do you think it’s important for women to call themselves a “feminist”?
JN: I’m proud to be a feminist. And yes we must be and are all feminists now. When I encounter a woman who doesn’t want to call herself a feminist I usually see an often unconscious desire to please an internalized male judgment of feminists as unfeminine or unloveable or antsy. I also see the word abused and appropriated—by branding experts trying to give a lift to a new product or cynical exploiters who dress self-objectification up as choice. But feminism isn’t a marketing ploy or an adjective with which to femwash misogyny. It’s a response to the inequality which pervades every aspect of our lives here and across the globe—whether we’re aware of it or not.
Forgive me, I promised a friend I would ask you this: Do you have a favorite episode of The X Files? And if so, which one?
GA: I do: “Bad Blood.” It’s funny and light and we make fun or ourselves.
As an American living in London, what kind of differences have you observed in terms of gender roles and norms in the UK versus the U.S.?
JN: On the surface, America seems to be way ahead of the U.K. in terms of gender roles and norms. Chauvinism and sexism are stitched deep into the fabric of the U.K.’s class ridden society. It’s still often the case that women who want to succeed have to ape men completely or rely on looks and sex appeal.
But now when I visit the US I feel my heart break. I see women having to work three jobs to keep a roof over their kids’ heads. I see the crazy levels of grooming that are required for many city-workers. Blow drys, brows, nails. Really? Intelligent, educated women turning themselves into living versions of the airbrushed images which the media continues to bombard us with. What’s happened to us? And how can the U.S. be the only developed nation not to provide paid maternity or parental leave across all its states? It’s unspeakable. In the U.K. a mother can take 52 weeks maternity leave and for 39 of them she will be paid an allowance. The state has a role to play and in the U.K. it is still—just about—allowed to play it.
What advice would you give to women who have a dream, but are afraid to pursue it?
GA: Do it anyway. Now, more than ever, is the time to gather our courage and take action.
Anne McCarthy is a contributing writer to The Telegraph, Second City Network, Bonjour Paris, France Today and more. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Westminster in London and is a graduate of the Writing Program at Second City and the Soho Theatre Writers Lab. She lives in New York City, where she is writing a memoir about life in London.