Reese Witherspoon revealed during a speech to introduce honoree Laura Dern at Elle’s Women In Hollywood event last night that she has experiences multiple instances of harassment and sexual assault during her career in Hollywood — including an assault by a male director when she was 16 years old.
The admission come as women in Hollywood and elsewhere are coming forward with their experiences in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Witherspoon, with her daughter Ava Phillippe in the room, said Monday the revelations about the mega-producer’s decades of alleged sexual abuse and harassment forced her and other women to “to remember and relive a lot of ugly truths.”
That included Jennifer Lawrence, who during her speech at the event Monday recalled producers on one of her films who asked her to lose weight. “And, during this time, a female producer had me do a nude lineup with about five women who were much, much thinner than me,” Lawrence said. “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.”
Witherspoon also told her story.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Witherspoon added that in the recent days she has spoken with many women who have had similar experiences, saying that the fact they went public with their own stories made them brave.
“I feel very encouraged by this group of people tonight who have created a community of people who are champions now of a new attitude toward harassment in our industry and every industry that’s going to address the abuse of power in this business and every business and I feel really, really encouraged that there will be a new normal.”
She added: “For the young women sitting in this room, life is going to be different for you because we have you, we have your back. And that makes me feel better because, gosh, it’s about time. I just also want to say as a course of action because sometimes people, they talk about things but I was really thinking last night, what can we do, what can do we do? And I just want to say, there’s a lot of people here who negotiate quite frequently with different companies and heads of companies, and I think maybe during your next negotiation, this is a really prudent time to ask important questions like, who are your top female executives? Do those women have green-light power? How many women are on the board of your company? How many women are in a key position of decision-making at your company? Asking questions like that, I found, it seems so obvious, but people don’t ask those questions.
“If we can raise consciousness and really help create change, that’s what’s going to change this industry and change society. So I’m so sad that I have to talk about these issues, but it would be, I would be remiss not to.”
Said Lawrence to conclude her speech: “We’re all here for each other. Together, now, we will stop this kind of behavior from happening. We will stop normalizing these horrific situations. We will change this narrative and make a difference for all of those individuals pursuing their dreams.”