How Women in Hollywood Are Finally Taking a Stand Against Sexism

When Ashley Judd was making Paramount’s “Kiss the Girls” in the late ’90s, she was being pursued by a mogul from a rival studio, whom she believed wanted to cast her in a film. But suddenly she found herself falling into a dark trap.
“I was sexually harassed by one of the industry’s most famous, admired-slash-reviled bosses,” the actress says, revealing a story she’s never before publicly disclosed. The man, who Judd declined to name, invited her to dinner. When she arrived at his hotel, she was told to meet him upstairs in his room. “It was so disgusting,” she says. “He physically lured me by saying, ‘Help me pick out what I’m going to wear.’” The advances continued to escalate. “The ultimate thing when I was weaseling out of everything else was, ‘Will you watch me shower?’ ” Her voice cracks. “And by the way, I’ve never been offered a movie by that studio. Ever.”

Judd says the gravity of the situation didn’t hit her until later. “I did not recognize at the time what was happening to me,” she recalls. “It took years before I could retrospectively evaluate that incident, and realize that there was something incredibly wrong and illegal about it.” She’s speaking up now because she hopes her story can give strength to other women in similar circumstances. “I think that talking about it is essential to the process of becoming aware, accepting that this is reality, and then ultimately taking action,” Judd says.

For years, women in Hollywood have quietly endured sexist work environments, wage disparity, lack of job opportunity both in front of and behind the camera, and other wrongful behavior. But 2015 has marked a turning point. Hardly a week goes by in which a prominent actress or director doesn’t make headlines by blasting Hollywood for treating women as second-class citizens.

The push for equal work opportunities has gone hand in hand with an increasing outcry over sexual assault, both on college campuses and elsewhere, involving major figures such as Bill Cosby and radio host Jian Ghomeshi. The issue reached new heights when New York magazine ran a July cover story titled “I’m No Longer Afraid: 35 Women Tell Their Stories About Being Assaulted by Bill Cosby, and the Culture That Wouldn’t Listen.”

The conversation about how women are treated in Hollywood is reaching a fever pitch amid a national spotlight on feminist issues, fueled in part by presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina, as well as author Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” campaign. Indeed, there’s a new wave of feminism bubbling up whereby more women are speaking out publicly against long-endured injustices.

Even Pope Francis, on his just-concluded visit to America, preached about the importance of treating women fairly in religion, insisting it was time the church valued their “immense contribution,” and suggesting that places of worship could not afford to remain mired in old ways.

The movement among those working in entertainment counts among its members such high-profile individuals as Emma Watson (who launched the U.N.’s He for She campaign for gender equality), Meryl Streep (who created a fund for women screenwriters over the age of 40), Lena Dunham (who interviewed Clinton for her newsletter, and asked her whether she considers herself a feminist), Patricia Arquette (who used her Oscar speech to stump for wage equality) and Jessica Chastain (who spotlights issues of creative equity).

“It’s our responsibility as artists to bring up the lack of diversity in the industry,” says Chastain, offering a viewpoint that is increasingly becoming conventional wisdom among young actors. “I don’t think it applies just to women — it applies to everyone. I know for me, the last few years, seeing how few female protagonists were in the best picture nominations made me realize that our stories are being erased.”

It used to be that from time to time, women in Hollywood would complain about the paucity of opportunities, but now there’s a collective bullhorn effect. At the recent Toronto Film Festival, Sandra Bullock (“Our Brand Is Crisis”) talked out about how her latest role was originally written for a man, and Emily Blunt (“Sicario”) revealed how financiers pressured filmmakers in an attempt to change her character to a guy.

At Cannes in May, Salma Hayek Pinault spoke about Hollywood’s lack of investment in stories targeted to women: “It’s not that we are mad or that we were scared,” the actress tells Variety. “My theory is there’s now an opening for us because we represent such strong economic power,” she says, citing that women are not only their household’s decision-makers, they frequently have become the breadwinners.

Read more at Variety

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