The conversation is changing. With each passing week, more and more female stars have shared their experiences with rampant Hollywood sexism, from horrifying stories about giving “blowjob eyes” at auditions to tales of pay inequality and pushing for more female-led stories. While the sheer scale of the stories is upsetting — it seems like every actress has their own tale to tell — that these stars feel comfortable speaking out on the subject is heartening, one step closer to an industry that doesn’t have this kind of discrimination seemingly baked into its everyday operations.
While there have certainly been misfires along the way — actress and director Elizabeth Banks was recently taken to task for (incorrectly) calling out Steven Spielberg for never directing films with female leads, and “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke compared sexism to racism in an ill-concieved statement to Rolling Stone — the recent uptick in discussion is proof that the, while change might not be happening quickly, the more we talk about, the more we can learn and grow.
Here are 11 stars who have recently shared their stories, with plenty of lessons to take away from each.
1. Zoe Kazan
Earlier this week, “The Big Sick” star spoke to The Guardian about her experiences with sexism in the industry. The long-time actress and writer got honest about her experiences, and how they differ from the experiences of her longtime partner, actor Paul Dano.
“There’s so much sexual harassment on set,” she told the outlet. “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 Paul 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.”
She added, “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…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.”
2. Elisabeth Moss
“The Handmaid’s Tale” actress has been particularly vocal over the last few months when it comes to her latest project, a Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s seminal novel that imagines a future where women have been stripped of their rights. In a recent interview with Metro, Moss opened up about two examples of sexism she’s seen during her career, including both pay inequality and a lack of interest in stories deemed “too female” by executive brass.
“My one big thing is women don’t make as much as men. I’m sure, I know, I’m 100 per cent positive I’ve been a victim of that,” she told the outlet. “The other thing I have experienced is in pitching something that is female led. I have been told something is too female by executives. It was everything, the fact it was a female lead, a female protagonist, was led by a woman, made it too female, which I was shocked by.
But the tide might be turning, and Moss added, “This was recent, in the last couple of years, and it’s shocking to me to hear that, that is almost illegal to say. It wasn’t said to my face, I would dare a male executive to say that to my face now.”
3. Lena Headey
In a recent interview with Net-A-Porter Magazine, conducted by her “Game of Thrones” co-star Maisie Williams, the British actress got honest about her early experiences in the industry.
“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***?,'” she said. “I’ve never played the game of going in [to auditions] and flirting; I’ve never done it.”
Headey also added that, while she believes it’s entirely possible that her reticence to flirt her way into a gig probably prevented her from getting certain parts, “I’m very happy I didn’t.”
4. Emma Stone
The Oscar winner and “Battle of the Sexes” star recently told Out Magazine that a number of her male co-stars have taken lower salaries in order to match her own. “In my career so far, I’ve needed my male co-stars to take a pay cut so that I may have parity with them,” she said.
Stone didn’t name names, but she did add, “That’s something they do for me because they feel it’s what’s right and fair. That’s something that’s also not discussed, necessarily—that our getting equal pay is going to require people to selflessly say, ‘That’s what’s fair.’ If my male co-star, who has a higher quote than me but believes we are equal, takes a pay cut so that I can match him, that changes my quote in the future and changes my life.”
5. Kate Miller
The mixed media artist and performer, who goes by the name RosePetalPistol when working, recently penned a new essay for Refinery 29 about her experience juggling her own professional notoriety with a personal attachment — she happens to be actor T.J. Miller’s wife, and she’s sick of being constantly referred to as such.
“Last month, an ironic (and since updated) New York Post headline about my art installation went viral: ‘T.J. Miller’s wife is making a name for herself in New York,'” Miller wrote for the outlet. “While I know that it was meant it to be flattering — and I was flattered by the coverage — not everyone on Twitter took it that way. Suddenly tens of thousands of retweets, likes, and comments turned into hundreds of thousands. Many people didn’t appreciate the irony and saw it as an opportunity to start a meaningful dialogue about feminism.”
Miller was understandably heartened by the response, and her essay addresses some of the other issues raised by her experience with, not just the Post headline, but other outlets that freely refer to her only as “T.J. Miller’s wife,” and how she marries her feminist beliefs with taking on his last name.
She added, “I never felt qualified to speak about this as an authority. But I was wrong. I am qualified because I am a woman; I have the experience of being a wife; and I’ve had many experiences throughout my life where I’ve been pushed aside (often literally) like so many others, and defined by society only in relationship to my significant other.”
6. Gillian Anderson
As “The X-Files” gears up for yet another revival season, the beloved sci-fi series recently made waves when its long-running pattern of inequality behind the camera was revealed. Last month, the Season 11 writers’ room was announced, it includes only men — Darin Morgan, Glen Morgan, James Wong, Gabe Rotter, Benjamin Van Allen and Brad Follmer — which prompted backlash from both the industry at large and and from its own star Anderson.
In a series of tweets, Anderson quoted a story about the all-male writers’ room, while also adding that only two of the series’ 207 episodes have been directed by women. Anderson herself directed one of those episodes, and she’s eager for further change to take hold on the series. “I took look forward to the day when the numbers are different,” she wrote.
7. Michelle Rodriguez
“Fast and Furious” franchise star Rodriguez also took to her own social media to call out the series for its lack of love for its female stars, going so far as to hint that she might leave the billion dollar series if they don’t shape up when it comes to its leading ladies and their storylines.
In a post from earlier this month, Rodriguez wrote, “I hope they decide to show some love to the women of the franchise on the next one. Or I just might have to say goodbye to a loved franchise. It’s been a good ride & Im grateful for the opportunity the fans & studio have provided over the years.”
Rodriguez wasn’t wrong about the franchise’s lack of love for its female stars, including supporting characters like Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot), and Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky), who seem to mainly exist to round out the storylines of the films’ male characters, often as love interests who occasionally come along for the ride, and her post drew some necessary attention to a long-simmering issue that the franchise will likely need to address.
8. Rose McGowan
The outspoken actress and director can always be counted on to sound off on the industry’s more insidious side. Just last October, she wrote a personal and very powerful open letter to Hollywood and to the “woman and men in the entertainment,” urging them to not work with offenders and to “take a stand” against sexual assault — and a recently released excerpt from her upcoming autobiography delivers that message in still more succinct terms.
Over at i-D, McGowan shared part of her book, due out in January, which explains why she views shaving her head as the ultimate feminist battle cry after years of maintaining the kind of locks that Hollywood deemed most attractive.
“I was literally told I had to have long hair otherwise the men doing the hiring in Hollywood wouldn’t want to fuck me and if they didn’t want to fuck me, they wouldn’t hire me,” McGowan wrote. “I was told this by my female agent, which is tragic on many levels. So, so evil and so, so sad. Evil because I took the information from an older woman who was the mouthpiece for what Hollywood wants, and she was right. Sad because it wasn’t just the message that gets filtered down to women and girls, I got the direct message.”
She added, “All of the suggestive messaging/imaging that we as women get from TV, film, media and advertising tells us to have long hair so we too can be sexy, but we on the other side of the camera get it told to us directly, like a hotline phone call directly from what ‘the man’ wants. Well, fuck Hollywood. Fuck the messaging. Fuck the propaganda. Fuck the stereotypes.”
And that’s just a taste of what McGowan will be serving up in “Brave.”
9. Emmy Rossum
Recent Rossum stories have offered up both horrifying accounts of Hollywood’s expectations of its female stars, and a hell of a lot of hope when it comes to issues like pay equality. Last year, the actress made waves for holding out for more pay on her Showtime hit “Shameless,” a decision that ultimately paid out (literally). Still, Rossum’s battle was partially possible because her costar, William H. Macy, made it a point to support her endeavor. Without Macy batting on her side, it’s unclear if Showtime would have ponied up more cash for the star of their show.
Elsewhere, Rossum sounded off during a recent Hollywood Reporter roundtable about her experience with overt sexism in the industry.
“I’ve never been in a situation where somebody asked me to do something really obviously physical in exchange for [a job], like a pay-to-play kind of situation,” Rossum said. “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 [‘Shameless’]. But the director wants you to come into his office in a bikini. There’s no audition. That’s all you have to do.'”
And, no, the project didn’t require the chosen actress to wear a bikini at any point during the film itself. Rossum didn’t do it.
10. Alison Brie
The “GLOW” star recently made waves when she opened up a particularly skeezy audition she went on early in her career that relied way more on how she looked than how she read her lines.
Of sexism in the industry, particularly during the audition process, Brie admitted to E! News, “It has not changed that much. The audition process has not changed that much. 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?’”
Though Brie later clarified that she wore her bikini under her shirt and was not asked to go totally topless, her earlier comments about how the process has not changed still deserve attention.
11. Jessica Chastain
Shutterstock / Denis Makarenko
While this year’s Cannes Film Festival featured a number of exciting offerings from female directors and female stars — including a historic win for Sofia Coppola’s work on “The Beguiled” — even the festival’s own competition jury felt the need to take some of their choices to task, and at an official press conference no less. Chastain, who has long been outspoken about her problems with the sexism of Hollywood, sounded off on the subject back in May after the jury handed out their honors.
“I do believe that if you have more female storytellers, you also have more authentic female characters,” she said. “The one thing I really took away from this experience is how the world views women. From the female characters that I saw represented. And it was quite disturbing to me, to be honest. There are some exceptions, I will say. But for the most part I was surprised with the representation of female characters on screen in these films.”
Later, the actress shared her take on a pair of competition films she did enjoy, including “Okja” and “The Beguiled.” She wrote on Twitter, “The Beguiled takes a typical male fantasy and changes it up. The power is with the women in this remake” and “Okja!!! As a vegan its impossible for me to be objective about this film. I [love] it. Had me in tears.”