Reese Witherspoon Says Women Should Run Away From Any Man Threatened By Their Ambition

Ambition. For many of us, it’s a word that is positive, affirming, and a driving force in our lives. For others, it can be a very offensive idea, especially when spoken about in regard to women. When men display ambition, it is seen as normal, the “default”. But for women, it can be seen as something akin to a curse or taboo. Thankfully we are seeing a number of unapologetically ambitious and successful women speaking out about this issue, encouraging women to push back against the negative connotations.

One of these women is award-winning actress and producer Reese Witherspoon, who didn’t mince words in a recent op-ed for Glamour Magazine. She began by mentioning her speech at the Glamour Women of the Year gala in 2015, where she declared “I believe ambition is not a dirty word.” With the success of her production company Pacific Standard Productions which has seen two films, ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Wild’ garner awards and nominations, and her TV series ‘Big Little Lies’ receive overwhelming critical and audience praise, there is no stopping this ambition badass.

“I worked for a long time on my speech for Women of the Year. At the time, I was reading a lot of articles about how people find ambition in women to be a negative trait. There was a Columbia University study that concluded that a woman with ambitious traits seemed selfish and less worthy of being hired than a man with the same traits, which made me wonder, What the heck is wrong with being ambitious? I have been ambitious all my life…Ambition is simply a drive inside of you—it’s having a curiosity or a new idea and the desire to pursue it. I asked the audience a question that night in Carnegie Hall: What if all women were encouraged to be a bit more ambitious?” she wrote.

She then goes on to list the ways ambitious women have appeared over the past couple of years in film, specifically ‘Wonder Woman’ and Felicity Jones in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’. But aside from entertainment which seems to be enjoying a female empowerment wave, in other areas of society women are experiencing major barriers.

“I get defeated when I see news that major corporations are paying top male executives significantly more than top female executives, or that women are marching for the same rights they were marching for 45 years ago. It definitely feels backward for women to be fighting for fundamental health care. I mean…really?” she says, alluding to the way Republicans in Congress have been continually trying to defund Planned Parenthood and repeal Obamacare and leave women without maternity care.

There are also aspects of her own career Reese refers to, recalling how in the earlier films she did, she would be surrounding by virtually an all-male crew. But now that she is in a position to create films and TV shows herself, she is excited by the number of women who are taking up space both in front of and behind the camera.

“Fast-forward to today, and I have never been on the job with so many women, ever. Women ran the sets of the next two movies I’m appearing in. On ‘Home Again’ I was lucky enough to work with Nancy Meyers—one of the most successful female writers, directors, and producers of our time… The second film is ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, which was written by Jennifer Lee, who wrote Frozen, and directed by Ava DuVernay,” she said.

Although she acknowledges the major disparity that still exists on many fronts for women in the film and TV industry, she is adamant about using her position of power and privilege to push for change. And even though she is easily one of the most recognizable actresses in the world, even she had to fight for her stories and productions to be made by major studios and networks.

“Some people are realizing that projects with female leads are big-time moneymaking commodities, but I’ve also had studio heads say to me, ‘We don’t want to make biopics about women,’ or more simply, ‘We’re not interested in female-driven material’,” she recalled.

But the major box office success of a number of female-driven projects, her own included, as well as the female-driven ratings juggernauts on TV and streaming services, means ambitious women are a win on all fronts.

“People want to see dynamic women onscreen. Big Little Lies featured five actresses who were 25 to 50 years old, and 8.5 million people on average watched each episode. We had a pretty gender-balanced audience too, proving men are interested in women’s lives. I could not be prouder of the response we got from the audience,” she said.

Women face an unfair double standard that men in Hollywood don’t. If a female-driven or directed film flops, it is panned based on gender. Not so with a male-centric film flop.

“There is a lot of pressure to generate a huge profit. When any movie with a group of women starring in it doesn’t make heaps of money, the studio takeaway is that those types of films ‘aren’t working.’ But the truth is not every movie works. It happens. If the director is a woman, she gets personally penalized too. It is definitely easier for a male director with a few flops under his belt to get another job directing; that’s not the case for women” she said.

A lot of these gendered problems in the workplace and in society begin in the home and in our personal relationships. Reese mentioned a recent study which found women are more likely to shy away from being overly ambitious if it means it will attract a man.

“When I saw the recent Harvard study that found that single female M.B.A. students downplayed their career ambitions in front of male classmates for fear of possibly hurting their marriage prospects, I thought, UGH. Run away from a man who can’t handle your ambition. Run. So many men think ambition is awesome and sexy!”


She ends her piece by encouraging women to continue supporting each other. If the majority of women are on the same page when it comes to ambition and drive, what or who is going to stop them?

“So back to my question at Carnegie Hall…what would happen if we encouraged all women to be a little more ambitious? I think the world would change.,” she concluded.

Don’t ever let anyone knock you down for chasing after your ambitions and working hard. Read Reese’s full essay by clicking here.



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