Jessica Chastain Says a Male Director Once Told Her to Talk Less About “Women Stuff”

Men in Hollywood apparently still don’t even want to hear about the problem.

Jessica Chastain
Photograph by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott. W Magazine, March 2017.

While actresses like Jessica Chastain are trying to stop the misogyny, pay disparity, and boys’-club attitude that women in Hollywood face, it seems some prominent men in the entertainment industry don’t even want to name—let alone talk about—the problem.

Chastain, who in addition to frequent advocacy has founded her own production company called Freckle Films, voiced her frustrations with the slow pace of progress in an interview with American Way. “I just don’t know why it’s not changing… I’m doing my part to make the change, so why isn’t everyone else?” she says.

Chastain goes on, revealing that even admitting Hollywood has a gender problem remains taboo for some of its insiders. She recalls a specific instance with a male director, one with whom Chastain considers herself close, who expressed his worry about Chastain’s habit of constantly speaking out on the subject. Per Chastain: “I had one male director say to me that I talk too much about all of this ‘women stuff.’ This is a person I love, and maybe he was concerned I would hurt my career.”

Though that concern may have seemed a little more genuine had the male director in question used a phrase less dismissive than “women stuff,” Chastain insists the conversation isn’t about calling out anyone in particular. Instead, her fight is to make Hollywood more inclusive for everyone, a mission that also has the benefit of making a better product. She explains: “I’m not attacking anyone. I’m trying to create more inclusiveness, compassion, and empathy—which in turn makes better movies, better art.”

Chastain echoed similar sentiments in an interview published earlier this month in W, in which she advocated for women mentoring other women, and trying to get away from being a sex symbol.

“In our society, women are valued for their sexual attraction,” she said. “I’d like to get away from the sex symbol idea of what beauty is. Actually, that’s probably the farthest thing from beauty, because it’s makeup and hair, it’s pouty lips—it’s not real.”

Chastain also talked about certain types of roles that just never seem to be available to women but are open to male actors in large supply.

“If you put a male actor in a role in which he can’t hold down a relationship because he’s so focused on his job, he goes with prostitutes, he’s fighting for the good of all against the good of the few,” she said. “Okay, we’ve seen those characters before. The renegade, the loner—that’s the male lead, right? But for some reason, women aren’t supposed to be that. We’re not supposed to be ambitious, we’re not supposed to be ‘overprepared.’ ”

Of course, starting conversations about the issues women in Hollywood face is just one step towards changing the way things are done. There are also more systematic reforms to be undertaken, from eliminating the pay gap to making room for more female directors so that women creatives are welcomed and involved from the get-go. But as Chastain’s anecdote proves, redundant though it may seem, the basic act of visibility remains a struggle.

Watch Jessica Chastain behind the scenes at a W photoshoot: