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Culture > Entertainment

Reese Witherspoon Wrote a Must-Read Essay on Ambition & Women in Hollywood

Can we just agree that Reese Witherspoon is someone we should all aspire to be more like? Apart from starring in fun classics like Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama, the actress is a total boss, running her own production company and releasing female-dominated projects such as Wild, Gone Girl and Big Little Lies. Now, she has stepped forward with a call for even more women chasing their ambitions to include their stories in Hollywood.

In a recent essay she wrote for Glamour, Witherspoon addressed her experiences in Hollywood as an ambitious woman, recalling movie sets on which she was one of the only women present. Discussing her jobs 15 years ago, she wrote, “I would arrive on set to realize I was the only girl with a speaking part…I was literally surrounded by 150 men. I remember thinking it was odd that women made up half the population but such small percentages of roles in Hollywood, on and off the screen.”

Witherspoon compared those early days to her recent years, which brought her work on the upcoming female-directed films A Wrinkle in Time and Home Again. “TV and streaming together are definitely changing the game for female roles,” she pointed out. “Today 38 percent of major characters on TV are women…With the gates opening for women’s stories, you just feel like so much is going to come out of this time for women.”

Witherspoon also shared how she’s been exposed to minority women’s own industry struggles thanks to her Wrinkle in Time costar Mindy Kaling. When Kaling told her that she’d never done a project she didn’t create for herself, Witherspoon “thought, ‘Wow…I used to have parts that just showed up for me. I can’t imagine how hard it is to write your own parts and simultaneously have to change people’s perceptions of what a woman of color is in today’s society.’”

The essay focusing on ambition and women in media came as a response to a 2015 speech Witherspoon gave at Glamour’s Women of the Year gala. Back then, Witherspoon said that she didn’t see ambition as a dirty word. Now, she’s focusing on why women shouldn’t be afraid of ambition and create their own opportunities.

“You can complain about these things,” she said in the essay. “You can get stuck in the emotion of it—and sometimes I do, and I get really angry…But my mother always said to me, ‘If you want something done, do it yourself’…All we can do to create change is work hard.”

The essay is packed with wise words from Witherspoon that are totally applicable to any kind of career field. Other advice in the piece includes “running away” from men who don’t like women’s ambition and, most importantly, learning to help people admire ambition in men and women. Um, can we make this essay mandatory reading?

If you’d like to take anything away from this work, I think it has to be one Witherspoon’s closing remarks about ambition. “We have to do our part to change the idea that a woman with passion and ambition is out only for herself.”

Props to Witherspoon for always being a wise, classy lady helping women shine in film and TV!

Kristen Perrone is a Siena College Class of 2018 alumna. She studied English during her time at Siena.