Reese Witherspoon Has a Message for Young Women

You may have heard of Reese Witherspoon, who has won Academy Awards, Golden Globes, MTV Movie Awards and People’s Choice Awards. She starred in the world-famous films Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama, as well as the critically-acclaimed miniseries "Big Little Lies." 

Image via REX Shutterstock

Recently, Witherspoon wrote an essay for Glamour Magazine, which I have quoted here, for young women in Hollywood about ambition. The essay was a response to her speech at the 2015 Glamour Women of the Year gala. In 2015, her speech focused mainly on women and how ambition is a "dirty word.”  Two years later, Witherspoon now says that women should not be afraid of ambition and should make their own opportunities.

In the essay, Witherspoon talks about how, in the early years of her career, she would audition for movies with only one female role. Then, when she landed the part, she would be the only actress with a speaking part. She went on to describe how there were very few, if any, women on the crew.

She stated, “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." Today, that still is true. In 2016, just under 30% of women are accounted for the crew, creators, directors, and more. In 2008, that number was 16%. Slowly, but surely, women are taking over Hollywood films. 

Witherspoon reflected on her early days and compared those days to her more recent years saying, “TV and streaming together are definitely changing the game for female roles...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.” This is such a change than what it used to be. In the 1950's, no one would imagine that 38% of major characters are women. 

Reese also goes on to say how her A Wrinkle In Time co-star, Mindy Kaling, has exposed her to the unique issues faced by minority women in Hollywood. Kaling told Witherspoon that she had never completed a project that she didn't create for herself. Witherspoon says, “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.” It's true, in 2016 alone, 76% of women in the major films were white females.  

“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.” This is so true, Ms. Witherspoon. As women, if we see something that is wrong, we all should stand up and make a change. It's 2017 and women are still not equally represented. 

Witherspoon also gives young women some boy advice, saying, “Run away from a man who can’t handle your ambition...So many men think ambition is sexy.” If a man cannot handle your ambition, leave him. If Reese Witherspoon thinks you should, then you definitely should. Girls should never hold back for a man. Even Michelle Obama says that no man is worth losing your education or ambition. Get your degree and do not settle until you have accomplished your dreams. You are the only one who you can make your dreams a reality! 

She reflects in one of her final paragraphs, “One of my girlfriends asked me the other day, 'Is there anything that you wish you could change about yourself?' I thought about it, and I said, 'Sometimes I wish I could turn off my ambition. Every Monday I have a new idea of what I want to accomplish, or how I want to effect change, and I get run down.' When I have those days when I’m exhausted, I go to bed early, and I find that my mission to change things is what gets me up again the next morning.” If Reese Witherspoon has these days, then you know its normal. It is okay to have down days. You can have days when you are overwhelmed and want to accomplish everything, but it is important to know you are not alone. 

Reese ends the essay on a more serious note saying, “What would happen if we encouraged all women to be a little more ambitious? I think the world would change.”

Ms. Witherspoon, I could not agree more.

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