Reese Witherspoon Inspires in Impassioned Speech Referencing Sexism in Hollywood



Reese Witherspoon talks the talk. But she also walks the walk.

Perhaps most well known for her role as ditzy-but-bright Harvard law student in Legally Blonde, Reese Witherspoon has recently spoken out about sexism in Hollywood, and how she has tried to combat it throughout her 25-year career as a female actor. Witherspoon gave an empowering, inspiring speech at Glamour’s annual Women of the Year Awards, and it’s giving us serious Elle Woods flashbacks.

Witherspoon began her speech with a lighthearted quip about women in Hollywood: that younger actresses are often playing the roles written for older women. She referenced an Amy Schumer biopic, telling Amy, “I hope Amy Schumer and all the other nominees that when you consider making your biopic, you’ll give me the rights first, which would be great. Although Amy, I’ll have to play your grandmother in the movie (by Hollywood standards), and you’ll probably have to play your own mother.”

Witherspoon continued to chronicle the way she has been typecast and “pigeonholed” in her career because she transitioned to comedy from drama, and once directors learned she “could be funny,” they couldn’t see her as anything else—as if a woman can’t be multitalented as a comedic and a dramatic actor.

“I did comedies, they didn’t think I was serious. I did dramas, they didn’t think I was funny. And I got older and they didn’t think I could still be viable.”

Witherspoon then spoke at length about viability, and the fact that in Hollywood, once a woman reaches a certain age, she’s considered too old to be interesting any more. And hey, that age is usually like, 32. The hell?

Witherspoon then spoke about the lengths she has taken during her career to combat that thinking entirely, and how successful it’s been. Truly, she is inspiring not only because of these words, but also because of her actions.

“I’ve made movies all my life, for 25 years, since I was 14 years old. It was time to turn to myself and say, “OK, Reese, what are we going to do now?” The answer was very clear. My mother, who is here tonight, a very strong, smart Southern woman, said to me, “If you want something done, honey, do it yourself.”

So, I started my own production company, Pacific Standard Films, with the mission to tell stories about women.”

And tell stories about women she did. In its first year, her production company made both Gone Girl and Wild, in which Reese also starred. Both films were hugely successful, rising “to over half a billion dollars world wide and we got three Academy Award nominations for women in acting performances. So that is year one.”

It’s clear that Reese isn’t stopping anytime soon. She outlined her plans to adapt five more female-driven films based on books in the next few years, with two set for production next year.

Witherspoon’s words struck a chord with many women who work in fields that are male-dominated, which is most of them. Reese called attention to the disparity of her industry in funny ways, like referencing a line of dialogue that’s often spoken by women in movies, a line of dialogue that’s inaccurate, offensive, and which she finds all the time in the scripts she’s given:

I dread reading scripts that have no women involved in their creation because inevitably I get to that part where the girl turns to the guy, and she says, “What do we do now?!” Do you know any woman in any crisis situation who has absolutely no idea what to do? I mean, don’t they tell people in crisis, even children, “If you’re in trouble, talk to a woman.” It’s ridiculous that a woman wouldn’t know what to do.

Seriously, I’m not kidding. Go back and watch any movie, and you’ll see this line over and over. I love to ask questions, but it’s my most hated question.

Witherspoon also spoke about how ambition is seen as a negative trait in women, but as a positive in men, echoing some of the statements Jennifer Lawrence recently made in her viral Lenny Letter. Like Lawrence, Witherspoon has made it her mission to fight sexism in Hollywood and thus create for viewers—male and female alike—stories about complicated, multidimensional, interesting and real women. Stories that tell the truth.

Like Elle Woods, Witherspoon said, “I don’t like to be underestimated.”

Lisa Lo Paro
Lisa is a freelance writer and bibliophile living on the outskirts of New York City. She likes 2 a.m. with a good book, takes cream in her coffee and heavily filters her photos. Check out her blog The Most Happy, her Instagram, and Twitter.

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