As Lena Dunham speaks out about being raped, we get inspired by some of Hollywood's bravest women
Never let it be said that Hollywood has no good role models. We’re not talking about the women with the glossiest hair or the most beautiful wardrobes – we’re talking about the actresses and film-makers who have inspired us with their bravery, whether they’ve tackled frightening experiences head-on, or used their resources to become champions of women’s rights. Read on for some of the most inspirational women in Hollywood today.
At Variety’s Power of Women lunch this weekend, Lena Dunham took the stage to talk about her experience of sexual assault. “When I was raped, I felt powerless,” she said. “I felt my value had been determined by someone else, someone who sent me the message that my body was not my own and my choices were meaningless. It took years to recognize my personal worth was not tied to my assault. The voices telling me I deserved this were phantoms, they were liars.”
Dunham was speaking out in order to pave the way for other women who have experienced assault. “As a feminist and as a sexual assault survivor, my ultimate goal is to use my experience, my platform, and yes, my privilege, to reverse stigma and give voice to other survivors,” she added.
Last month, Angelina Jolie published her latest article for The New York Times. Gracefully worded and astonishingly honest, it revealed that after a double mastectomy in 2013, she has now had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to reduce her risk of cancer.
In the USA alone, there are estimated to be 40,290 deaths from breast cancer and 14,180 from ovarian cancer this year – and when so many women are battling the same worries, it’s hugely cathartic to hear one of the world’s most famous faces speak out about her own experience. Jolie revealed last year that it has helped her too: “I feel very, very close – much closer – to other women, and women who are going through the same thing … The reason that I wrote it was to try to communicate and help and connect with other women and other families going through the same thing. And … I was very very moved by all the support and kindness from so many people.”
When nude photographs of actresses including Jennifer Lawrence were leaked online last year, the furore was hard to avoid. But what we’ll forever remember and treasure from that incident was Lawrence’s fierce and feminist last word on the matter. “Just because I’m a public figure, just because I’m an actress, does not mean that I asked for this,” she said. “It does not mean that it comes with the territory. It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting. … It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime. It is a sexual violation. It’s disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change.”
In a world where revenge porn is a widespread problem and consent is under greater threat than ever, Lawrence’s unequivocal condemnation means everything.
Patricia Arquette won an Oscar for her performance in Boyhood – but she won our eternal respect when she used that platform to deliver a message about equality. In front of 37.3 million viewers, she declared “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
Her speech came just weeks after leaked emails revealed that the male stars of American Hustle were paid more than their female co-stars. Something needed to be said publicly – and as Oscar acceptance speeches go, it definitely means more than thanking your agent.
Black Friday 2021
Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. She founded the organisation in 2007 because she was horrified by how many of the TV shows watched by her daughter had few or no female characters. In that time it has gathered the largest body of research on gender in entertainment – and aims to increase the presence of female characters in media and reducing stereotyping, with a particular focus on entertainment targeted at children under 12. There’s still a lot of work to do, but it’s good to know one of Hollywood’s finest brains is on the task.