While it’s been well over a decade since actress Reese Witherspoon split from her former husband, Ryan Phillippe, after eight years together, their marriage as a whole is hard to forget. Cemented by their roles in the 1999 cult classic Cruel Intentions, the coupling of Witherspoon and Phillipe throughout the late 90s and the better part of the aughts has almost become a halcyon-inducing piece of millennial childhood nostalgia.
Despite their former status as a Hollywood golden couple, their relationship (and subsequent 1999 marriage) was not without its awkward moments. Unfortunately for both, one such moment happened to be immortalized due to the scene in which it took place: on stage while presenting an Oscar at the 2002 Academy Awards. Now, nearly two decades later, it remains crystalized in the memories of many — at least enough for it to come up during an interview with Witherspoon herself.
So what exactly happened at the Oscars, all those many years ago? And what does Reese Witherspoon think of it now? Read on after the jump to find out.
Ryan Phillippe's strange comment at the 2002 Oscars left Reese Witherspoon 'flummoxed'
During a Dec. 25, 2020 guest appearance made by Reese Witherspoon on the podcast The HFPA in Conversation, interviewer and host Margaret Gardiner mentioned the aforementioned incident during the broadcast of the 2002 Academy Award ceremonies, in which Witherspoon and her then-husband, Ryan Phillipe, presented the award on stage for Best Make-Up. During the telecast, Phillipe remarked that his wife should be the first one to announce the name of the winner for the category because, as he put it, “You [Reese Witherspoon] make more money than I do.” (Ironically, Phillipe was the first out of the two to speak while presenting the award, and was, by virtue of holding the envelope with the name of the winner inside, the one designated to read it aloud.)
“You’re reminding me of that!” Witherspoon told Gardiner, in response to Phillippe’s purportedly impromptu remark. “I forgot that ever happened. But you’re right, he did say that, and no, it wasn’t scripted, and didn’t tell me he was going to say that before it happened on air. So I was a little bit flummoxed in the moment, too.”
While Phillippe’s awkward joke might’ve been taken as innocuous at the time, in hindsight in ties into activist work Witherspoon herself has spearheaded in the interceding years — and incidentally, with a focus on how, and how much, people within the entertainment industry are paid.
Reese Witherspoon now fights to close the gender pay gap
While he might’ve done it unknowingly at the time, Ryan Phillippe’s comment onstage at the 2002 Academy Awards wasn’t only the focal point of an awkward moment — it promoted the falsehood that women and men in Hollywood not only receive the same pay, but that some women, like his then-wife Reese Witherspoon, can easily make more money than their male counterparts. Years later, Witherspoon has dedicated her life to closing the gender pay gap.
Months after allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against disgraced Hollywood producer and convict Harvey Weinstein from multiple women came to light, Witherspoon, along with multiple famous women in Hollywood like Shonda Rimes and Jennifer Lawrence, launched the organization TIME’S UP. In a January 2018 announcement of the formation of the anti-harassment feminist movement, The New York Times listed the many initiatives of TIME’S UP, all aimed towards creating gender parity within the realm of Hollywood, one of which was to close the chasm-like gender pay gap that still exists. According to an analysis published by Forbes in August 2017, the average salary for the highest-paid male actors in Hollywood was $57.4 million; the average for the highest-paid actresses, in comparison, was $21.8 million.
As one of Hollywood’s most highest-earning talents herself as an actress, producer, and entrepreneur, Witherspoon was quick to point out what that 2002 moment now represents.
Reese Witherspoon is fighting to change gender norms
As one of TIME’S UP’s most vocal and visible members, Reese Witherspoon has frequently spoken about the ways in which gender pay equity, or lack thereof, are part of a bigger problem.
“We live in a world where we’re told we’re worthless in marketplaces where we make less, so there’s this inherent idea that we are worth less,” Witherspoon stated during a March 2018 interview with Marie Claire. “Not worthless – worth less. And that needs to be considered when we work on creating corporate culture reflective of society, or just the way we talk to women.”
Speaking specifically to the remark Phillippe made in 2002 during her December 2020 guest appearance on The HFPA in Conversation podcast, Witherspoon noted that it also represented another facet of the patriarchy: shaming women for success. “There’s so few women that make a lot of money that sometimes they’re shamed for it, and sometimes they are expected to give more and do more and be more to others in the same position that, say, a male movie star would not be expected to,” Witherspoon explained. “But I do think gender norms have changed quite a bit since that moment in 2000 or something.”
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