Reese Witherspoon spoke out about sexism in the entertainment industry at Monday night’s Elle Women in Hollywood Awards, adding her story — that she was assaulted by a director at age 16 — to a growing narrative of actresses who have faced sexual misconduct at the hands of men in Hollywood.
Witherspoon grew emotional as she took the podium, admitting that she had not slept the night before in anticipation of her speech.
“We live a lot of ugly truths. I have my own experiences that come back to me very vividly and I find it very hard to believe and hard to communicate a lot of the feelings that I’ve been having,” Witherspoon said. “The anxiety about being honest, the guilt about not speaking up earlier, or taking action. True disgust at the director who assaulted me when I was 16 years old, anger that I felt at the agents and producers who made me feel that silence was a condition of my employment…”
As her teenage daughter, Ava, applauded her from the crowd, Witherspoon revealed that the women that have come forward over the past week have inspired her to really open up on the subject and is encouraging others to do the same.
“The things that we were always told, to sweep under the rug and not talk about, it’s made me want to speak up. And speak up loudly,” she said, noting that she’s felt less alone this week than she has in her entire career.
“I’ve talked to so many actresses and writers, particularly women, who have had similar experiences, and many of them have bravely gone public with their stories. And that’s very encouraging to me and to everyone in the world because you can only heal by telling the truth.”
Witherspoon told the younger women in the room that she and her colleagues have their back and is committing to doing her part to raise consciousness and create change.
Witherspoon was just one of the many presenters and award recipients who touched upon the current dialogue happening in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein situation. And she was just one of many who used their time at the podium to admit to being victims of inappropriate male activity in the past.
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