Reese Witherspoon is an inspiration to women everywhere, but the media has still treated her in sexist ways
Reese Witherspoon, aside from being an absolute icon, is someone so many women look up to. She rose to stardom by bringing Elle Woods to life in Legally Blonde, a feminist anthem of a movie that still more than holds up 20 years later. She’s also dedicated much of her career to combatting sexism in the entertainment industry, including starting her own women-led production company. That’s why it’s so heartbreaking to hear how much of that work was inspired by the terrible sexism that Witherspoon faced herself.
Over the weekend, Witherspoon joined the We Are Supported By podcast to talk about one experience in particular that left her in tears. She described a caricature of herself and several other women from the entertainment industry who had become entrepreneurs, printed in TIME magazine in 2015.
“I had started a clothing business. Gwyneth [Paltrow] was really growing Goop. Blake Lively had a business, Jessica Alba had a business, and they did a caricature cartoon of all of us,” she said. “We were in ballgowns, and they stuck our heads on, and Jessica was holding an iron, and I was holding a vacuum cleaner. The whole thing was so offensive that I burst into tears.”
And the fact that this happened only six years ago? Ugh, it’s just proof of how far we still have to go to combat the sexism women, famous or not, face all the time. Witherspoon said that TIME magazine eventually apologized to her, but the incident still sticks with her, and no wonder.
“I’m not even talking about 10 years ago. I’m talking about 2015, when we decided, okay, we’re going to be entrepreneurial, take a swing, invest our own money, our own time, our own reputation, and try to do something that George Clooney has done, Robert De Niro has done — and we’re getting lampooned for it,” she added. “That message to little girls is: ‘If you’ve had success in one area, you can’t have success in another.'”
As heartbreaking as this story is, it provided fuel for Witherspoon to be so successful with her production company, Hello Sunshine.
“Starting to value women as creators, being able to tell their own stories in their own voices, I found my purpose,” she said. “I didn’t know what my purpose was — and your purpose changes too. You get older, and your purpose keeps changing. You have to keep iterating. You have to keep progressing.”
Witherspoon added, “You have to look at new media and go, ‘Wait, is there a place for me to stand in a position of leadership here?’ Because I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I actually know a lot of stuff, and I really want to be helpful to the next generation of women, to my own generation of women who haven’t been well-served by our business.”