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Reese Witherspoon and Real-Life Role Models

Reese Witherspoon was a staple of my adolescence. (If you can’t quote Legally Blonde from start to finish, did you really have a childhood?) However, as much as I truly adored Elle Woods, I understood even at a young age that her character wasn’t realistic, and that the movie itself was simply another girly comedy. Yes, Legally Blonde is a story of an underestimated sorority girl who makes it to Harvard Law, but one wrapped in pink and glitter, who often upholds the projected societal archetypes for “ideal woman.”

This is perhaps why I found Reese Witherspoon’s speech at Glamour’s 2015 Women of the Year Awards so impactful. Witherspoon was presented with an award for her effort in creating roles for “strong” women within the entertainment industry.

Witherspoon’s speech was not only inspiring and motivational, but alarmingly accurate. She describes the vast lack of empowered female roles within film, and the dreaded question each female role seems to ask their male counterpart: “What do we do now?!”

“Do you know any woman in any crisis situation who has absolutely no idea what to do?”

 As a former child star, now wildly successful actress, Witherspoon has had vast experience in the film industry. After years of reading scripts depicting the same helpless female role, Witherspoon took the risk of investing her own money to create a production company focused on the creation of films that star complex and powerful women. Pacific Standard Films was founded in 2012, and since has created many lauded films and series including Wild and Big Little Lies.

“Like Elle Woods, I do not like to be underestimated.”

Witherspoon and her production team negotiated HBO to pick up Big Little Lies, a series focused on a group of complex mothers in Carmel, California. If you haven’t seen it yet (and seriously… you should), the series examines jealousy, resent, and abuse without typifying the female characters. Each woman portrayed is complex, intelligent, fierce, and unapologetically opinionated.

The success of Big Little Lies not only highlights the lack of series which portray the realities of adulthood, marriage, and family, but the need for complicated, multidimensional women. Big Little Lies and Reese Witherspoon’s call to action highlights not only the incredible lack of multidimensional female roles in Hollywood, but the crucial need for them. Big Little Lies manages to tackle the social complexity of portraying the stereotypical female role, the wife, and then adding infinite complexity.

Representation is paramount, and the impact and influence that Hollywood and the entertainment industry holds is significant. Young women are encouraged to aspire to be what they see on the screen. Toxic and one dimensional female “role models” promote insecurity and a lack of individualized self-expression. Girls should grow up knowing that there is more than a Barbie-shaped space to fill.

Recent series, such as Big Little Lies, How To Get Away With Murder, Orange is the New Black, Scandal, The Crown, and Game of Thrones (to name only a few) all feature strong and complex women of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. This recent trend in both female actors demand for better roles and the success of series that feature them, prove that women of all ages everywhere are dying to be represented accurately.

Perhaps this new social trend will greater shift societal perceptions of what a “real” woman is, rather than should be.

Josephine is a fourth year at the University of California Davis, where she is studying Sociology. In her free time, she enjoys picnics at the Davis Farmers Market and watching Friends. She is planning on pursuing a career in writing and hopes to be actively involved in the political realm after graduating. 
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