Last night was Elle’s Women in Hollywood event, where Reese Witherspoon introduced her Big Little Lies costar Laura Dern to the stage. Before she did, though, Witherspoon opened up about her own experiences with sexual harassment and assault from film directors in the wake of the explosive allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
She began by recounting the beginning of her career in film, and her feelings of “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.”
Witherspoon went on to give a hopeful note to the terrible news that has emerged from actresses all over the world in the wake of the Weinstein scandal. After hearing so many brave people come forward with their stories of abuse, Witherspoon stated, “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.”
She concluded with a call to arms of sorts, asking people to do their part to bring a new normal to the industry in terms of its attitude toward sexual harrassment.
Read the full speech below.
“I didn’t sleep at all last night. This is going to be a real emotional rollercoaster because, before we get started honoring one of my very favorite people in the whole world, I just want to say, this has been a really hard week for women in Hollywood, for women all over the world, for men in a lot of situations and a lot of industries that are forced to remember and relive a lot of ugly truths.
“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. 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.
“And I’ve just spoken to so many actresses and writers, and particularly women who’ve had similar experiences, and many of them have bravely gone public with their stories. And that truth is very encouraging to me and to everyone out there in the world because you can only heal by telling the truth. Very smart, wise women have told me that in the past three days, and 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.
“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 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.”