Four Hollywood Actresses Who Have Defied Sexist Stereotypes

“Beauty is only skin deep”, an old saying goes. Looks are one of the first things on which we base our first impression of a human we haven’t met before, and beauty – the currently accepted standard, of course – can really help make a good one from the start. However the media and society in general likes to box people in, especially female celebrities, according to their looks.

We’re all familiar with the logic – that models are somehow “dumb” or “uneducated”, and the tough ladies of Girls with Guns should be considered brutal and aggressive. When it comes to actresses being misjudged or stereotyped, it often happens because of their on-screen characters. Here are 4 well-known women who have successfully fought against the tropes and built an identity beyond the big screen.

Reese Witherspoon

After playing a string of roles where she was typecast for her baby-doll looks and blonde hair, Reese Witherspoon‘s career took a powerful turn when she won an Oscar for her portrayal of June Carter Cash in 2005’s ‘Walk The Line’. She may have been known for her ‘Legally Blonde’ roles, but these days Reese Witherspoon is an award-winning producer after launching her production company Pacific Standard Productions.

Frustrated from the lack of in-depth roles available for women even of her caliber and celebrity power at the box office, she realized she had to make her own opportunities if she was ever going to progress past the industry typecasting. Her company produced ‘Wild’ and ‘Gone Girl’, as well as the acclaimed HBO mini series ‘Big Little Lies’. Reese is also the founder of a lifestyle website called Draper James, which is a curated portal of homewares, clothing, beauty brands and more.

Sharon Stone

Former fashion model and screen actor Sharon Stone was cast in many stereotypical roles in her life. She was pushed into international stardom by her role in Paul Verhoeven’s “Basic Instinct”, where she played a promiscuous alleged serial killer. Unfortunately for her, the infamous “flashing scene” has marked her entire career from then on. She has told the press afterward that she had no idea just how revealing the scene would be – and after she saw how “disrespectful and shocking” the scene was, she slapped the director on the face.

Sharon Stone was considered academically gifted as a child, going to second grade at the age of five. Later, she won a scholarship to the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania at age 15. At Edinboro, she studied creative writing and fine arts.

Marilyn Monroe

Stereotypes are all around us today – and they were even more prevalent in the 1950s when the career of Marilyn Monroe – born Norma Jeane Mortenson – was at its top. She has struggled throughout her career to break out of her being typecast as a “dumb blonde”, which led to her parting ways with Fox and Universal and establish her own production company.

One of her few dramatic roles was the drama Bus Stop, where she deliberately sang and danced in a mediocre fashion, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination. Later, after the antipodal filming of “Some Like It Hot”, she won another Golden Globe, and Variety called her “a comedienne with that combination of sex appeal and timing that just can’t be beat”.

Academic Sarah Churchwell once said about her that “the biggest myth is that she was dumb. The second is that she was fragile. The third is that she couldn’t act. She was far from dumb, although she was not formally educated, and she was very sensitive about that. But she was very smart indeed – and very tough. She had to be both to beat the Hollywood studio system in the 1950s.”

Heather Graham

American actress Heather Graham is often cast in roles portraying women with a vast sex appeal. She was repeatedly included on lists of “the sexiest women” by many publications and accepted roles with an expressed sexual charge, like that of porn stars Rollergirl (‘Boogie Nights’) and Sharonna (‘The Guru’), stripper Jade (‘The Hangover’ and ‘The Hangover, Part III’) or that of prostitute Mary Kelly in ‘From Hell’.

When asked about how she feels about these roles, she replied that “our culture sends out mixed messages to women about sex. Are women supposed to be sexually alive people, or are we supposed to be ‘good’ mothers who would never do those things?” and that she likes the fact some of her roles maybe help people open their minds about the way they think about sexuality.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but with the current movement of women in Hollywood speaking out against sexual assault and harassment, and the rising tide of actresses moving into directing, producing and writing, it’s time to retire sexist stereotypes and tropes both on-screen and off.

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