Girl Meets World star Rowan Blanchard is so much more than the TV offspring of one of the most beloved teen-sitcom couples of all time. The 14-year old star has also made a name for herself as an activist for gender equality, speaking at the U.N. Women’s Annual Conference, publishing an essay about intersectional feminism, and recently partnering with Instagram for its #MyStory initiative, which celebrates women telling their own authentic stories on Instagram.
EW caught up with the 14-year-old actress and activist at Instagram’s #MyStory event, which Rowan co-hosted. Wearing a white shift dress dotted with ladybugs and taking bites of pizza in between answers, Rowan is still every bit the teenager even as she speaks thoughtfully about the impact that social media can have on global issues as well as the pressure of being the daughter of Cory and Topanga.
“I just knew that I had a lot of responsibility to carry,” Rowan says about her initial casting. “But now, [season 2] is Riley and Auggie and Maya — this is all their stories. That’s what my favorite thing about season 2 was; it was more about the exploration of the four core characters.”
While Girl Meets World has shifted its focus from Riley and her parents to Riley and her friends, Rowan says the show’s connection to its TGIF predecessor is one of her favorite things about it. “I feel like that’s so cool, the fact that we’re able to create this bridge between people my age and people who are in their 30s,” she says. “It gives me chills! Because they grew up watching Boy Meets World with their parents, and now they’re watching it with their kids. That just makes me feel so happy.”
Appropriately for October, Rowan names the season 5 Scream homage (“And Then There Was Shawn”) as her favorite of later Boy Meets World episodes; of the antics of younger Cory and Shawn, she loves season 1’s “Cory’s Alternative Friends,” in which Cory accidentally straightens his hair and Topanga makes her first appearance.
Before Rowan learned not to look herself up on the Internet, she found a lot of mean comments about her casting in Girl Meets World. “People would just say really horrible things when the show hadn’t even come out yet,” she recalls. “I don’t understand how it makes a person feel better, to get the kind of comments that I get. I mean, I understand that it must come from a place of …” she trails off. “No, I don’t understand.”
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That’s the unfortunate flip side of social media, a platform that Rowan otherwise embraces wholeheartedly. Her feminist essay was first posted on Tumblr, and the organizers of the #MyStory initiative invited her to co-host the event because of her powerful online presence: “She really has used her Instagram platform to talk about a more equal world, and to be the voice of the next generation and inspire other young girls to tell their stories,” Instagram COO Marne Levine says.
“I think it’s important for girls to recognize feminist issues because it directly affects them,” Rowan says with urgency, her eyes wide. Her own commitment to women’s issues arises from a “sisterhood” she has found through feminism, the realization of which she identifies as “a point where it made me feel like I have the power to change the world by speaking my voice” — and she wants to use the stage she has to help other young girls feel that belonging to a greater community and empower them to use their voices to effect change as well.
“You’re told, when you’re a kid, like, ‘You can change the world,’ ” she says, “but it’s a difficult thing to speak out.”
Hollywood provides proof enough of that difficulty. Though actresses like Jennifer Lawrence, who recently penned an essay criticizing Hollywood’s gender pay gap, are speaking out about sexism in the industry more than ever, the dismal diversity statistics mostly stay the same — and their comments are not always met with praise.
“I think every female actress knew it, and they all knew that it was happening, but nobody wanted to say anything because they were just like, ‘Okay, you know what, I still got paid; it wasn’t as much, but I still got paid,’ ” Rowan says. “Society was telling them if that if you speak out you’re going to be labeled, like, this feminist crazy person, difficult, difficult to work with — and that, in itself, is very sexist. All these female actresses are literally labeled difficult to work with because, God forbid, they have an opinion.”
“I’m definitely happy that people are speaking out and people are recognizing that they have the power to change things,” she clarifies. “But at the same time, it’s frustrating that, immediately, Jennifer Lawrence is labeled as annoying. Like, ‘Oh, she’s complaining. She’s complaining too much.’ It’s difficult, but people have to keep on doing it in order to break these barriers.”
At just 14 years old, Rowan has already had quite a head start on barrier-breaking. World, Meet Girl: She’s here to change things.
Watch the video below for more from Blanchard: