Serena Williams, Jennifer Lawrence and 22 More Stars Share Powerful Stories About Sexism in Hollywood
Actresses shed light on the misogynistic abuse they've encountered in the industry
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, twenty-four seasoned Hollywood stars share stories of the sexism they’ve endured.
“And I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. And for me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never took a game from a man because they said ‘thief.’ For me it blows my mind. But I’m going to continue to fight for women and to fight for us to have equal [rights].
“Like Cornet should be able to take her shirt off without getting a fine. This is outrageous. I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that want to express themselves and they want to be a strong woman, and they’re going to be allowed to do that because of today.
“Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”
— at a 2018 US Open Press Conference
“There’s definitely a double standard because it seems like men are in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s, they have children and no one raises an eyebrow. I am maybe the oldest mother in America and people say maybe you won’t be alive in 20 years, is that the right responsibility to have for the little girl.
“Men are always safe, no matter what they do they are always safe; they can have kids, they can change wives I don’t know how many times. If you’re Brigitte Nielsen — you’ve been married a couple of times, you have a couple of kids, you make some mistakes — everybody’s out to get you. If you’re a man it’s like nothing ever happened.”
— on Good Morning Britain
“This has been a really hard week for women in Hollywood, for women all over the world, and a lot of situations and a lot of industries 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 find it really hard to sleep, hard to think, hard to communicate a lot of the feelings that I’ve been having about anxiety, about being honest, the guilt for not speaking up earlier.
“[I feel] true disgust at the director who assaulted me when I was 16 years old and anger at the agents and the producers who made me feel that silence was a condition of my employment. And I wish that I could tell you 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.”
— at ELLE’s Women in Hollywood Awards
“When I was much younger and starting out, I was told by producers of a film to lose 15 pounds in two weeks. One girl before me had already been fired for not losing enough weight fast enough. And, during this time, a female producer had me do a nude line-up with about five women who were much, much, thinner than me. We are stood side-by-side with only paste-ons on covering our privates. After that degrading and humiliating line-up, the female producer told me I should use the naked photos of myself as inspiration for my diet.
“I asked to speak to a producer about the unrealistic diet regime and he responded by telling me he didn’t know why everyone thought I was so fat, he thought I was perfectly ‘f—able.’
“I couldn’t have gotten a producer or a director or a studio head fired. I let myself be treated a certain way because I felt like I had to for my career. I was young and walking that fine line of sticking up for myself without being called difficult, which they did call me, but I believe the word they used was ‘nightmare.’ ”
— at ELLE’s Women in Hollywood Awards
Kathie Lee Gifford
“Early, early, early on in my career out in Los Angeles, a producer called me — I knew he was — and he said, ‘I just saw you on something, I think you’re going to have a big career, I’d like to meet with you and talk about managing you.’ I was like excited, you know? And I went, ‘Okay.’ I said, ‘I’ll come to your office.’ [He said], ‘Well, that’s under construction. I’m working from home right now, so would you mind coming to my house?’ I had no reason to think not. I didn’t know the man personally, I just knew of him.
“I get to the house, and the exact same thing happened to me [that happened to Lauren Sivan]. Exact same thing. And I learned from that. Boy, I felt grateful I got out of there without being raped. You know, that’s what you feel like. ‘All right, it was just that. I can live through that.’ But you’re so demeaned, you feel so dirty. And more than anything, you know what you feel? Stupid. I just thought, ‘Kathie, you idiot. Never go to somebody’s house.’ That can happen in somebody’s office, too. I think I must have been 21 years old.”
— on Today
“The one thing I heard on every single film — and I’m telling you there isn’t an exception — whenever I’m up for a role, really no matter how big or small, the answer that I always get from anyone who’s casting me, it’s, ‘We have to cast the guy first.’ Every single one, there is no exception. Unless I’m producing it.
“It’s important to say, ‘Let’s look at this in an equal way. Let’s look at who to cast or who to bring on or who to collaborate with because they’re great or because they’re right for it.’ For me it was really about being more involved. I’ve never been a very good passenger. I like to try to move the dial and be proactive and be aggressive and to effect change. That’s just in my DNA. So the fact that I’m able to participate in that in my industry, I feel really grateful.”
— on PEOPLE Now
“There’s so much sexual harassment on set. And there’s no HR department, right? We don’t have a redress. We have our union, but no one ever resorts to that, because you don’t want to get a reputation for being difficult. I’ve told [boyfriend Paul Dano] about stuff that has happened on set and it’s almost as if he can’t take it in. It’s too upsetting. And he’s never had to deal with that once.
“I have a lot of girlfriends who are amazing actors, and many times we’ve talked about having to go into a room and give ‘blowjob eyes.’ You know, be flirty with a director or a producer. It’s the sense that your sexuality is somehow baked into this situation. Or there’ll be auditions where they’ll say, ‘Wear something body-conscious’ and then you’re aware that they’re checking out your body. You leave the situation feeling not good about what just happened, but you don’t really have the language for why. You feel like, if you said something, it would reflect badly on you.
“Like, I had a producer ask me on set once if I spat or swallowed. At work. He’d say, ‘Oh, it’s a joke, ha ha.’ But he was also paying my check and then watching me from the monitor as I made out with another actor – so when he tells me I look good, it feels different. I was in my mid-20s at the time. I was not powerful, I did not feel I could say anything…That has got better as I’ve got older, partially, I think, because I’m better at knowing how to shut that down. But it makes you feel guilty, and bad, as if it’s somehow your fault – that you’re somehow giving that person the signal that it’s OK to treat you that way. And none of that is stuff that Paul has to deal with.”
— to The Guardian
“I was talking about this with another actress, and I said, ‘Do you find that you have to say the same things seven times, whereas a man says it once and everyone listens?’ Male counterparts can say the same thing [I just did] and everyone’s like, ‘Oh, that’s a great idea,’ and I’m like, ‘I just said that 19 times but you chose not to listen or take it on board.’
“I’m happier now I’m older, playing women who aren’t expected to be beautiful. That pressure has gone for me. [Male] actors can be ‘interesting,’ but there’s a real pressure on women to be beautiful and skinny. When I was in my twenties, and doing a lot of audition tapes in the States, a casting director told me: ‘The men take these tapes home and watch them and say, ‘Who would you f—?’ I’ve never played the game
of going in [to auditions] and flirting; I’ve never done it.”
— in an interview with Game of Thrones costar Maisie Williams for The Edit
“But even as recently as a year ago, my agent called me and was like, ‘I’m so embarrassed to make this call, but there’s a big movie and they’re going to offer it to you. They really love your work on the show. But the director wants you to come into his office in a bikini. There’s no audition. That’s all you have to do.’
“He wanted to know if I was fat now. That was basically the question. And I actually had this moment like, ‘Well, how good is the part?’ For a second, I was like, ‘Would I do it? Send me the script. Maybe the character is in a bikini in the movie.’ [She’s] not in a bikini in the movie.
” ‘We really love your work, but we just want to see how tight your ass is.’ Are you f—ing kidding me? Last time I checked, I’m not a f—ing model.”
— during an actress roundtable for The Hollywood Reporter
- Elizabeth Banks
- “The first agent I ever met in this industry told me to get a boob job. I was so grateful that I didn’t have enough money at the time to follow his advice. I also did not sign with him despite that.”
- — during her Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards acceptance speech
“The audition process has not changed that much [since the 1980s]… Early in my career, I auditioned for three lines on an episode of Entourage that I had to go on in a bikini! Or like shorts and the tiniest shorts. And they were like, ‘Okay, can you take your top off now?'”
“[As a woman] I’ve gone through auditions for Marvel movies and auditioned a million times for roles with three lines and you are begging for them. And I’d be glad to get them! It’s brutal, it just is.”
— during an ATX Television Festival panel
“I was 19. I went up for the ‘meet,’ and it was so scary. [Al Capp] took off his business clothes and came in in, like, a dressing gown. I got the picture, and I thought, ‘I’m in trouble. Where’s the door?’
“I went, ‘Wait a minute. He knows what he’s talking about.’ I said, ‘Okay, so I’ll do it, like, more quiet, more real.’ Then he wanted me to show my legs, and I said, ‘You know, Mr. Capp, I don’t know. I don’t think so,’ and then I sat down and he wanted me to give him a kiss, and I went, ‘I don’t do this. I’m sorry.’
“I was crying and I didn’t have any money to go back to the [1964 New York] World’s Fair, where I was dancing, and so he threw me $20 for a taxicab. It wasn’t a good day.”
— to PEOPLE
“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 Elle.com at the MAKERS conference
“[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
“[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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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“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
“‘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