Reese Witherspoon says 'bad things happened' to her as a teen in Hollywood

Actress and producer Reese Witherspoon, who’s by now been in the entertainment business for the better part of three decades, has seen considerable progress in the way of gender already... even though there’s a way to go.

“I can remember being in pictures in which I was the only woman on the set and there would be 150 men,” Witherspoon says in the April 2020 issue of Vanity Fair. “Maybe there would be a couple of women in wardrobe. I remember when I was a kid I would find them and cling to them.”

Reese Witherspoon appears in the April 2020 issue of Vanity Fair. (Photo: Jackie Nickerson/Vanity Fair)
Reese Witherspoon appears in the April 2020 issue of Vanity Fair. (Photo: Jackie Nickerson/Vanity Fair)

The star and producer of Hulu’s upcoming series Little Fires Everywhere said, as she has in the past, that she experienced abuse. In October 2017, Witherspoon revealed that, when she was 16, she had been assaulted by an unnamed director.

“Bad things happened to me. I was assaulted, harassed. It wasn’t isolated,” Witherspoon said. “I recently had a journalist ask me about it. She said, ‘Well, why didn’t you speak up sooner?’ And I thought, that’s so interesting to talk to someone who experienced those things and then judge them for the way they decide to speak about them. You tell your story in your own time when you’re ready. But the shame that she tried to put on me was unreal, and then she wrote about how selfish I was for not bringing it up sooner.”

(While Witherspoon didn’t name the publication in question, she had a tense exchange with a reporter for The Guardian in November.)

For what it’s worth, Witherspoon said there were a few things that kept her from speaking up earlier. One of them is that it dated back long before an organized Me Too movement.

“There wasn’t a public reckoning 25 years ago when this stuff happened to me,” Witherspoon continued. “There wasn’t a forum to speak about it either. Social media has created a new way for people to express themselves that I didn’t have. That’s the great strength in power and numbers. I think we have a lot of judgment and that’s unfortunate because we’re all tenderfooted in these new times. We’re trying to find our identity.”

Reese Witherspoon appears in the April 2020 issue of Vanity Fair. (Photo: Jackie Nickerson/Vanity Fair)
Reese Witherspoon appears in the April 2020 issue of Vanity Fair. (Photo: Jackie Nickerson/Vanity Fair)

Author Ann Patchett is the one who interviewed the Draper James mogul for Vanity Fair, and she put this question to Witherspoon: “How is it that so many women discussing their own experience with harassment in articles are photographed draped backward over a sofa with no top on under their jacket? Is it fair to say that sends a mixed signal?”

Witherspoon answered, giving credit to her 20-year-old daughter Ava, whose dad is Witherspoon’s ex-husband Ryan Phillippe: “I can tell you what my daughter would say. Why should a woman have to sublimate her own sexuality, because that’s not her responsibility, the way she’s viewed, right? Her sexuality shouldn’t be diminished because she’s having a conversation about consent. You should be able to be sexual, to display your sexuality, because consent is consent, no matter what.”

When Patchett pointed out that Witherspoon isn’t one to wear racy looks in magazines, the Oscar winner explained.

“I always had a thing about exploiting sexuality. When I came up in the business, there were all these men’s magazines we were told to cater to,” she said. “I was never in Maxim. I was never picked as a GQ girl, and I’m OK with that because that’s not how I wanted to be viewed. That’s not how I see myself. I always say, ‘Funny doesn’t sag.’ I always just wanted to be funny, you know? And you can’t be rendered obsolete if you just keep being funny. Guess what gets rendered obsolete? Your boobs go south, your face goes south, your ass goes south, but you can always be funny. And those are my idols, my heroes — Goldie, Holly Hunter, Diane Keaton, Nancy Meyers — smart and funny.”

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