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Time For Change: 12 Powerful Stories of Hollywood Sexism


Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty

More and more women in the entertainment industry are opening up about the misogyny they face every day.

And as some of the most sought-after talents in Hollywood come forward with tales of bias and chauvinism, it’s clearer than ever that sexist attitudes are the norm in the industry.

Below, twelve seasoned Hollywood stars share stories of the shameful sexism they’ve endured.

Debra Messing
“I’d never been on a film before. I was doing a love scene with Keanu Reeves. We started filming and the very famous director screamed ‘Cut’ and said, ‘How quickly can we get a plastic surgeon in here? Her nose is ruining my movie.'”

“It was a shock. I was so confident coming out of graduate school with my masters in acting. I’d studied in London and I was so well-equipped with skill sets, and then to walk on set and have that happen — I was reduced to an un-Hollywood nose.”
— to at the MAKERS conference

Ariel Winter
“[Receiving backlash on outfit choices is] called being a woman in the industry. It’s complete sexism. It’s really degrading, annoying and sad that this is what the media puts out, it’s disgusting to me.

“At this stage, you get sort of jaded after a certain period of time. I feel like I’ve been in the industry for so long that I have gotten to that point where people’s comments and the exposure doesn’t bother me as much.

“It still bothers people when you get negative feedback for something, but it doesn’t hit me as hard as it would somebody just entering the industry … I’ve gone through a whole bunch of things, both in my personal life and my professional life and they’ve all contributed to where I am now and made me stronger.”
to Rogue magazine

Zoe Saldana
“[A producer told me] ‘I hired you to look good in your underwear holding a gun.'”

“I was told walking into this project that they really wanted me for the part, and that any input or ideas I had, to please share them. That’s what I was doing, and this producer was so bothered by the fact that he had to disrupt his vacation to call me and tell me to stop being a difficult bitch. I thought, ‘Wow, it’s real. It really happens.'”
to Allure

Lea Michele
“Prior to getting cast on Glee … I had a lot of people telling me I wasn’t pretty enough and that I needed to change my appearance. At the age of 15, my manager told me to get a nose job. She’s no longer my manager for many reasons.”
– to The Hollywood Reporter

Kate Beckinsale
“I don’t think I fitted the type of actress Michael Bay the director had met before. I think he was baffled by me because my boobs weren’t bigger than my head, and I wasn’t blonde.”

“When we were promoting [Pearl Harbor], Michael was asked why he had chosen Ben [Affleck] and Josh [Hartnett], and he said, ‘I have worked with Ben before and I love him, and Josh is so manly and a wonderful actor.’ Then when he was asked about me, he’d say, ‘Kate wasn’t so attractive that she would alienate the female audience.'”

“He kept saying it everywhere we went, and we went to a lot of places.”
on The Graham Norton Show

Ilana Glazer
“We go through stuff and we’re like, ‘It’s because we’re women.’ And it’s also subtle sexism because we’re young. Especially, like, crew guys. Recently this guy was calling us ladybugs, love-bugs. I’m like, ‘We have a show, and you’re helping run the promo.'”
to The Hollywood Reporter

Maggie Gyllenhaal
“There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time. I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh.”
– to The Wrap

Lena Dunham
“I heard a guy on my show say into his microphone: ‘I hate this job. I can’t wait to be back on a show where there’s a man at the helm.’ Later, that same guy came up to me at
lunch and said, ‘You’re really enjoying that buffet, aren’t you?'”
– to The Hollywood Reporter

Naomi Watts
“The big part of that success to me is choice – in every profession … Speaking of choices, it was just the other day my agent called me and I was thrilled, delighted to hear I had been offered my full quote for the first time in nearly five years restored to the tax bracket of my mid-30s! Then I read the script … It was probably the most chauvinistic, exploitive, badly written, steaming pile of crap. Nonetheless, I would be given back all my studio muscle provided I used it to beat another woman senseless and get so turned on by that thrashing that I would have to have urgent sex with my 60-year-old male costar whose buttocks were to be played by a gymnast. I’m still deciding whether or not I should take that job.”
– accepting the Elle Women in Hollywood award

Jennifer Lopez
“I got a moniker of being ‘the diva,’ which I never felt I deserved – which I don’t deserve – because I’ve always been a hard worker, on time, doing what I’m supposed to do, and getting that label because you reach a certain amount of success …”

“Or even sometimes I felt crippled to voice my opinion, especially because certain directors and the boys’ club that they form can make you feel like, ‘Oh, I can’t say anything.’ I was always fascinated by how I could see [a man] being late or being belligerent to a crew and it being totally acceptable; meanwhile, I’d show up 15 minutes late and be berated. And you watch this happen over and over and over again. Like, we’re not allowed to have certain opinions or even be passionate about something, or they’ll be like, ‘God, she’s really difficult.’ It’s like, ‘Am I? Am I difficult because I care?'”
to The Hollywood Reporter

Maisie Williams
“There are a lot of roles that come in that are ‘the girlfriend’ or ‘the hot piece’ in a movie or TV series. That’s something I’ve seen first-hand and read all the time. It will say ‘Derek: Intelligent, good with kids, funny, really good at this’ and then it will say ‘Sandra: Hot in a sort of cute way’ – and that’s all you get. That’s the way your character is described, so going into an audition, you are channeling ‘hot,’ which isn’t like a person, that’s not who a person is. That’s what I see and that’s what needs to change … I just hope that if we stop playing those characters, they’ll stop being written.”
– to The Evening Standard

Mila Kunis
“‘You’ll never work in this town again.’ A cliché to be sure, but also what a producer threatened when I refused to pose semi-naked on the cover of a men’s magazine to promote our film. I was no longer willing to subject myself to a naïve compromise that I had previously been willing to. ‘I will never work in this town again?’ I was livid, I felt objectified, and for the first time in my career I said ‘no.’ And guess what? The world didn’t end. The film made a lot of money and I did work in this town again, and again, and again. What this producer may never realize is that he spoke aloud the exact fear every woman feels when confronted with gender bias in the workplace.” 

“It’s what we are conditioned to believe — that if we speak up, our livelihoods will be threatened; that standing our ground will lead to our demise. We don’t want to be kicked out of the sandbox for being a ‘bitch.’ So we compromise our integrity for the sake of maintaining the status quo and hope that change is coming.

“I’m done compromising; even more so, I’m done with being compromised. So from this point forward, when I am confronted with one of these comments, subtle or overt, I will address them head on; I will stop in the moment and do my best to educate. I cannot guarantee that my objections will be taken to heart, but at least now I am part of creating an environment where there is the opportunity for growth. And if my comments fall on deaf ears, I will choose to walk away.”

— in an open letter on A Plus