Celebs Who Have Spoken Out Publicly About Sexism In Hollywood

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Speaking out when you see injustice takes a lot of courage, no matter who you are. Chances are you're already deeply aware of the wide, though slowly narrowing, wage gap between men and women in the United States (especially women of color). But lower pay for equal work is just one of the ways that widespread and longstanding sexism rears its ugly mug in the entertainment industry. 

From ditzy, stereotypical roles, to over-sexualization, to being passed over for positions of power, to yes, lower pay, women in film just don't experience Hollywood the same way men do. These stars were brave enough to speak out against sexism when they saw it in their profession. Maybe they can inspire you to do the same! Read on to get pumped up about ending sexism, one role model at a time. 

Gillian Anderson

In addition to her well documented struggle with producers to claim equal pay with her X-Files co-star, David Duchovny, Anderson has long been an outspoken supporter of female-empowerment causes, even co-authoring an amazing book called We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere.

Anderson took to her popular Twitter account recently to share a Washington Post article lamenting the fact that the long-awaited X-Files reboot from the Fox network only hired male writers. In addition to tweeting out a link to the article and the feminist hashtag #TheFutureisFemale, Anderson tweeted, "And 2 out of 207 eps directed by women. I too look forward to the day when the numbers are different."

Viola Davis

While white actresses in Hollywood are struggling to be seen as having equal value to male actors, women of color in Hollywood are struggling just to be seen as just as valuable as white actresses. 

In an interview with Mashable, Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis expressed the very real sentiment that sexism may be alive and well in the movie and tv industries, but the landscape is even harder for women of color. She told interviewers, "I believe in equal pay, first of all. ...[but] the struggle for us as women of color is just to be seen the same as our white female counterparts. Forget the men! We're not even in that realm yet." 

She went on to elaborate with a real life example. "It's like talking to someone who lives in poverty! 'You don't want that Bentley?' They're like 'Shoot, I'm just trying to get bus fare money.'" Davis' comments remind us that every form of inequality is deep and complicated, and really make you stand up and listen, don't they?

Salma Hayek

Known for her starring role as Frida Kahlo in a biopic about the artist, Salma Hayek is not afraid to speak out about women's empowerment. She was honored at Variety's Power of Women luncheon in 2015, for her work with the Chime for Change organization which Hayek co-founded with both Beyoncé and the Gucci brand. Chime for Change seeks to "convene, unite and strengthen the voices speaking out for girls and women around the world," and Hayek is clearly willing to add her voice to the movement.

Access Hollywood published several of her remarks at the luncheon, including a condemnation of the wage gap in Hollywood and elsewhere. "This is a problem that is in every single industry," she said. "If you have the same capacities and you are doing the same job, it is criminal not to pay the same salary."

Even beyond inequalities in pay, Hayek railed against the way women have been depicted in major films, saying, "We're not the women [who] just wanna see the movie about how our prince is going to come and rescue us anymore. These romantic comedies are not working anymore... This is the true heart of equality." The actress and activist went on to say, "not only when we can make as much, but we can speak as loud and we can really have the freedom to be ourselves instead of trying to survive or fit in." Let's hope her words herald a changing era in Hollywood where women's voices can be heard.

Jennifer Lawrence

When the infamous Sony hacks leaked salary information for the stars of American Hustle, and the world found out that producers were paying the male stars nine percent of back end royalties each, while the female stars (Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams) were only being paid seven percent, Lawrence took matters into her own hands. She wrote a scathing essay called "Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co‑Stars?" for her friend Lena Dunham's feminist magazine, Lenny Letter.

In addition to disavowing the sexism of the Hollywood wage gap, Lawrence talked about the way women are constantly under pressure to be sweet people-pleasers, which she thinks affects the way women are able to function in business. "I'm over trying to find the 'adorable' way to state my opinion and still be likable," the actress wrote.

Bradley Cooper

After news broke that Bradley Cooper had been paid more than Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle, and Lawrence penned her essay against the pervasive sexism in Hollywood, Cooper voiced his support for the actress' cause in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. "There's a double standard in the whole world, yeah, for sure," Bradley said, speaking of the way men and women are treated.

"I love strong women...That's a very attractive thing," Cooper told ET. While the actor's words are very supportive, don't you sort of wish he didn't mention a woman's "attractiveness" in his message of support? I do. 

Sandra Bullock

Celebrated actress Sandra Bullock is known for her starring roles in movies as varied as 2001's Miss Congeniality to her 2013 thriller, Gravity. And she wants the public to know that she's not okay with any of the ways sexism manifests itself in the Hollywood scene. As part of a cover story for Variety on gender wage inequality, Bullock expressed her belief that the lower pay women receive is only one part of the sexism women in Hollywood experience.

"It's a bigger issue than money; that's just a byproduct," Bullock told Variety. "Down the red carpet, I'm going to be asked about my dress and my hair, while the man standing next to me will be asked about his performance and political issues," Bullock went on, expressing her belief that the pay gap will naturally begin to close when women receive the same kinds of general respect as men do.

Kathy Griffin

For the same cover story as Sandra Bullock, comedienne Kathy Griffin also spoke to Variety, saying she has "...never been paid what the guys get. Ever. It's not getting better for me." She echoed this sentiment in an interview with Larry King, expressing her belief that "sexism in [comedy] is alive and well." She went on to explain to King that she often finds herself to be the only female performer represented in a crowd of men chosen for gigs like award show presenting.  


Similarly to Jennifer Lawrence's decision to pen her own essay on sexism in the entertainment industry, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (badass that she is) decided to cut out the middleman too. Bey was able to tell the world her unmitigated thoughts on the injustice of gender prejudice by publishing an essay, "Gender Equality Is a Myth!" in The Shriver Report, as part of a larger report on sexism in the nation.

In this short but poignant think piece (why is Beyoncé so good at everything?) Knowles-Carter stresses that equality between men and women "isn't a reality yet," and that unless men take responsibility for the issue as much as women do, "things will not change." She urges parents toward teaching "boys the rules of equality and respect... [and] girls that they can reach as high as humanly possible." In addition to her dissatisfaction with the pay gap, Knowles-Carter reminds us being able to achieve positions of power the same as men can might be just as important as equal pay.

'Yonce also has a history of penning feminist-leaning lyrics into some of her top hits. You'll remember the progressive power of Destiny's Child's "Independent Women" way back in 2001, for instance. And unless you've been living under a rock, you have already grooved to her fiercely feminist and strong visual album, Lemonade. Can we just thank you for everything you do, Beyoncé?

Meryl Streep

In a 2015 interview with BBC Radio, quoted by The Telegraph, the great Meryl Streep expressed her belief that sexism in Hollywood is perpetuated by the fact that even though there are so many strong, high-profile female performers in Hollywood, a huge percentage of the people in power and making decisions are male. "[The problem] is to do with the distribution of films and how they are financed. It's about who is choosing the films that are put out to the multiplexes," she told interviewers.

When the majority of people in the position to make decisions is male, Streep argued, it's harder to move forward through what she called the "ancient wisdom" that people won't want to see movies about what some might deem "women's issues."

Jessica Alba

Actress-turned-entrepreneur, Jessica Alba has taken fewer roles in Hollywood over the past couple of years, and has instead dedicated much of her professional energy to her organic baby products brand, the Honest Company. Could her switch in career trajectory have something to do with the sexist climate in Hollywood? Maybe. 

Alba told Cosmopolitan UK that she has experience difficulty as a woman in competition with men in the film industry. "Women don't get equal pay," said the high-powered star. "There are not as many women in government positions or business positions. It's just not equal. And until there is equality, you're going to feel that, in any industry. But I was like, girls should have an equal seat at the table." 

Now that Alba is putting her energy into her mega-successful business, she no longer feels the sting of unequal pay. According to Cosmopolitan UK, in 2015 she was worth a staggering £240 million (that's over 300 million U.S. dollars). To put it in perspective, that's even more than Beyoncé's personal worth of about £176million (roughly 225 million U.S. dollars).

Emma Watson

Fans of Emma Watson know that in her young life this Harry Potter actress has frequently been vocal about feminist and human rights issues. One of her pet projects, in fact, is called "HeForShe" and is a unique activism campaign through the United Nations that seeks to "galvanize as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for gender equality." UNWomen.org published a transcript of the speech she gave to mark the launch of the campaign, in which Watson appealed to people of all genders to realize that gender equality is not just a "women's issue."

The actress and self-proclaimed feminist went on to detail that although she considers herself "lucky" for her position of relative privilege, as a female in the film industry she experienced being "sexualized" in the media as early as age 14. She also spoke out against the stigma surrounding the word, "feminist," reminding listeners that "feminism by definition is 'the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes'" and should not be thought of as female chauvinism. Preach it, Emma!

Closing the gap

Sexism is pervasive enough in our society that it might not be realistic to expect it to end completely in our lifetime, but even small changes add up over time to close the gap in equal treatment. Each time someone, female or male, speaks up against prejudice when they see it, more and more people are going to hear it, and slowly, power and cultural structures can begin to change. These awesome celebrities decided to use their positions of power and fame to express an empowering message. What will you use your voice to express?