Have you been make to feel guilty about being ambitious your whole life? I remember when I accepted a position at E! News after the birth of my daughter and my own Mother and Grandmother- who love me deeply- made me feel like the worst Mother on earth for accepting it and not staying at home. Interestingly, my husband supported me whole-heartedly.

If you’ve ever felt the world try to extinguish that fire within you, you’ve got to read this interview with Reese Witherspoon.

Reese Witherspoon is taking over all the screens, dominating TV with Emmy darling Big Little Lies and movie theaters with the new comedy Home Again. Since she’s one of Hollywood’s most beloved actresses and now an influential producer, we asked Witherspoon to give us a pep talk on the power of female ambition. Hint: She’s for it. In Glamour’s October issue, on stands September 5, Witherspoon delivers a heartfelt and candid essay in which she warns us to “run away” from men who can’t deal with ambitious women, encourages us to surround ourselves with people who can (women especially), and reminds white women to recognize their privilege—while revealing that comparing notes with Mindy Kaling reminded her how important that is.

 Witherspoon on how widespread misogyny is today…

“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? If our representatives value women’s health in this country as much as they claim they do, how can they even contemplate denying women access to cervical or breast cancer screenings? You can’t help our kids, our country, or our future if you don’t take care of women. That feels pretty simple to me.” 

Witherspoon on recognizing her privilege as a white woman…

“Another thing I think about a lot is how it feels to be a minority woman in America, so rarely seeing yourself onscreen, and it’s unconscionable. When I asked Mindy Kaling, ‘Don’t you ever get exhausted by always having to create your own roles?’ she said, ‘Reese, I’ve never had anything that I didn’t create for myself.’ I thought, Wow, I feel like a jerk for asking that; I used to have parts that just showed up for me. I can’t imagine how hard it is to write your own parts and simultaneously have to change people’s perceptions of what a woman of color is in today’s society.” 

Witherspoon on the lack of gender diversity in Hollywood 15 years ago…

“There were always a lot of women waiting in the green room for their shot at the one part there was for a girl in any given movie. Because that’s all there was—one part. As I got some of those parts, I would arrive on set to realize I was the only girl with a speaking part. There were also no women in the crew. Maybe a girl or two in the wardrobe department, but no one in any other department. I was literally surrounded by 150 men. I remember thinking it was odd that women made up half the population but such small percentages of roles in Hollywood, on and off the screen.”

Witherspoon on the still-present misogyny in film development…

“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.’ (My first go-round as a producer with Gone Girl? Every studio passed but one. When the book hit number one on the best seller lists, it was a different story.)” 

Witherspoon on the women-run projects she’s worked on lately…

“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, who has made some of my favorite movies…and her daughter, Hallie Meyers-Shyer, the 30-year-old first-time filmmaker who wrote and directed the movie.

“The second film is A Wrinkle in Time, which was written by Jennifer Lee, who wrote Frozen, and directed by Ava DuVernay, who directed the award-winning films Selma and 13th. Ava is making history as the first African American woman to direct a movie with a budget of over $100 million, and she is creating a world where an African American girl, Storm Reid, is the hero of a huge supernatural story about good versus evil.”

Witherspoon on the extreme scrutiny unfairly placed on women directors…

“…The truth is not every movie works. It happens. If the director is a woman, she gets personally penalized too. It’s 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.”

Witherspoon’s plan to create more roles for women (in front of and behind the camera)…

“I started a production company five years ago to create more roles for women onscreen and behind the scenes. Today I have something like 23 projects in the works driven by great female characters of different ages and races.

“I think it’s worth noting, I self-funded my production company for years. I think there’s this fallacy that because I’ve been an actor, people are going to hand me stuff. Nobody hands me anything. I’ll wake up earlier; I’ll stay up later. I will put my money where my mouth is. I have to read faster, and I respond quicker than other producers. I have to call and call and call executives until they say yes to my projects.”

Witherspoon’s advice for what you can do to create change…

“All we can do to create change is work hard. That’s my advice: Just do what you do well. If you’re a producer, you’ve got to produce. If you’re a writer, you’ve got to write. If you’re in corporate America, keep working hard to bust through the glass ceiling. If you want our voices to be represented in government—and I think we’re all getting behind that idea now—encourage women to run and help them with their campaigns. If you’re one of those people who has that little voice in the back of her mind saying, “Maybe I could do [fill in the blank],’” don’t tell it to be quiet. Give it a little room to grow, and try to find an environment it can grow in.”

On how to cultivate the best environment for you, your ideas, and other women to grow…

In the workplace…

“There’s no point in toiling away and wasting your ambition on people who don’t value your strengths.”

In a relationship…

“Run away from a man who can’t handle your ambition. Run. So many men think ambition is awesome and sexy!”

In your family…

“We have to do our part to change the idea that a woman with passion and ambition is only out for herself. So talk to your kids about ambition as a positive trait in men and women.”

You can read the whole story on Glamour.com

Photo credit: Emma Summerton

 

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