Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lawrence, America Ferrera Share Sexual Harassment and Assault Stories
In the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s downfall, the complicit silence around sexual harassment and assault that pervades in the film industry and our culture is slowly being broken. After multiple allegations against the former studio mogul were unveiled in numerous exposés and interviews with various actresses, including Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie, Rose McGowan, Leá Seydoux, Cara Delevingne, and more, women in the entertainment industry have begun to share their stories. The latest actresses to speak publicly about personal experiences with sexual harassment in Hollywood are Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lawrence, and America Ferrera.
During Elle‘s Women in Hollywood event on Monday night, Witherspoon, who was being honored alongside seven other women, revealed that she was sexually assaulted by a director at 16 years old. “This has been a really hard week for women in Hollywood, for women all over the world, for men in a lot of situations and a lot of industries that are forced to remember and relive a lot of ugly truths,” Witherspoon said when she took the stage to introduce her Big Little Lies costar Laura Dern, according to the magazine’s website. Witherspoon went on to describe the time an unnamed director assaulted her, and the guilt she’s felt for not speaking out sooner.
I have my own experiences that have come back to me very vividly, and I found it really hard to sleep, hard to think, hard to communicate. A lot of the feelings I’ve been having about anxiety, about being honest, the guilt for not speaking up earlier or taking action. True disgust at the director who assaulted me when I was 16 years old and anger that I felt at the agents and the producers who made me feel that silence was a condition of my employment. And I wish I could tell you that that was an isolated incident in my career, but sadly, it wasn’t. I’ve had multiple experiences of harassment and sexual assault, and I don’t speak about them very often, but after hearing all the stories these past few days and hearing these brave women speak up tonight, the things that we’re kind of told to sweep under the rug and not talk about, it’s made me want to speak up and speak up loudly because I felt less alone this week than I’ve ever felt in my entire career.
Last week, Lawrence condemned Weinstein’s “gross actions,” and in light of recent events, last night she spoke about numerous incidents of harassment that have happened to her. During a speech at the Elle event, Lawrence talked about a “degrading and humiliating“ experience in a nude lineup and a time she auditioned for a role and was asked to lose weight.
One girl before me had already been fired for not losing enough weight fast enough. And, during this time, a female producer had me do a nude lineup with about five women who were much, much thinner than me. And we all stood side-by-side with only paste-ons covering our privates. After that degrading and humiliating lineup, the female producer told me I should use the naked photos of myself as inspiration for my diet.
It only gets more upsetting and gross from there. When Lawrence went to another producer on the project to speak about the diet, “he responded by telling me he didn’t know why everyone thought I was so fat. He thought I was perfectly ‘f—able.’” She went on to say that she felt “trapped” in the situation and felt like she had to endure such treatment for the sake of her career. It was only once she landed the lead in The Hunger Games movies that she reached a level of status in the industry that gave her “the power to say no.”
Another well-known actress came forward with a story of sexual assault. America Ferrera took to Instagram on Monday night to reveal she was sexually assaulted at nine years old:
On Tuesday, Margot Robbie wrote an open letter to Hollywood for Elle.com in the style of The Breakfast Club essay. Robbie wrote about the difficulties of being a woman in the entertainment industry and how she wished we could bring the heroism of superhero movies into the real world:
That those heroes we admire in movies would defend us against the villains in government, in the workplace, in the entertainment industry, and even in the most basic human interactions. There are women in and out of Hollywood that have proven this week that they are those real heroes.
Witherspoon, Lawrence, and Ferrera are just the latest women to come forward with personal and painful stories, but the flood gates have only just started to open.
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