Ever since the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal broke, Hollywood has been undergoing what seems to be a major change. Many male celebrities have been accused of sexual misconduct – some have outright admitted to it, in fact – and lost their jobs as a result. Now, female actresses are frequently asked about the pushback, and whether they’ve ever been sexually harassed. When Sharon Stone was questioned about the subject, her answer was unusual – but it probably shouldn’t have been surprising.
Ever since her early years, Sharon Stone has been considered an extremely good-looking woman. While at university she competed in beauty pageants, and a judge told her that she should quit her education and strike out as a model. And it was advice that she ended up following. At the age of 19, she was signed on to the Ford Modeling Agency in 1977.
But what Stone really wanted to do was pursue acting. So she did. “I packed my bags, moved back to New York, and stood in line to be an extra in a Woody Allen movie,” she recollected in the 2009 book When They Were 22: 100 Famous People at the Turning Point in Their Lives. The movie was Stardust Memories, and Stone’s role was “pretty girl on train.”
Woody Allen, the man Stone credits with giving her her big break, has also been alleged to be a sexual predator. In fact, his own adoptive daughter has accused him of sexual assault. Dylan Farrow has claimed repeatedly since the 1990s that Allen molested her as a child. But Stone, who has worked with Allen several times, has never addressed that issue.
Stone’s first major role, and the one that catapulted her to stardom, was that of Catherine Tramell in Paul Verhoeven’s 1992 thriller Basic Instinct. One moment – a shot in which a particular part of Stone’s anatomy could be seen – made the actress into an overnight sex symbol. But she later said that she was extremely unhappy about the scene in question.
Appearing on The Talk in 2014, Stone stated that she initially believed that the scene was only going to consist of “innuendo.” However, Verhoeven then asked Stone to take off her underwear, which she reluctantly did. But, she said, the director promised Stone that her private parts wouldn’t be seen in the shot.
Stone watched the scene on the monitor afterwards, in fact. But because the image was so small and grainy, she couldn’t tell what was actually on display. And Stone only saw the final scene for the first time when she watched it in a theater. “When the film ended, I went into the booth and slapped [Verhoeven],” she told the hosts of The Talk. “I was like, ‘You could have shown me this by myself.’”
However, Stone did admit that she nonetheless thought that the scene was important to the film. “If I have gotten that [shot] even by accident, I would have had the courtesy of showing it to my actor,” she said. “But I would have kept it in the movie.” Verhoeven has always claimed that Stone wasn’t, in fact, kept in the dark about the amount of nudity on display.
Stone has stated that prior to Basic Instinct, she didn’t consider herself to have sex appeal. “Having people ask me about being a sex symbol makes my day because for the first part of my career, I just couldn’t get a career because no one thought I was sexy,” she told the Daily Mirror in 2015. When she was told that Hugh Hefner wanted her for Playboy, Stone said, she just laughed.
And yet from the early ’90s onwards a lot of Stone’s roles were sexually charged. Moreover, some commentators have claimed that the reason it took so long for allegations against powerful men like Weinstein to come out was, in part, because the objectification of women was so deeply embedded in Hollywood.
In January 2018 a multitude of actors wore black to the Golden Globes as a symbol of protest against sexual harassment. Some of them invited anti-sexism activists as their guests as well. Their message was “Time’s Up,” and a lot of women had very personal reasons for wanting to participate. In the months since the Weinstein scandal had broken, many actresses had come forward with stories of harassment or outright assault.
Sharon Stone chose to wear black to the ceremony as well. Her dress was daring, but her message was clear. On the red carpet she was full of praise for the Time’s Up campaign and the women who had organized it. Her young son Roan, whom she had brought along as her guest, was likewise pleased to be there supporting the movement.
But it was an interview that Stone gave to CBS the following week that really drew attention to her. She was asked about her new show Mosiac, and the conversation turned to #MeToo. The interviewer, Lee Cowan, asked Stone if she had ever felt “uncomfortable” in the course of her acting work. Stone’s reaction? A long, drawn-out laugh.
Cowan reacted with uncertainty to Stone’s strange response. But then she clarified what she was laughing about. “I’ve been in this business for 40 years, Lee,” she told him. “Can you imagine the business I stepped into 40 years ago? Looking like I look? From nowhere, Pennsylvania? I didn’t come here with any protection. I’ve seen it all.”
Stone’s laugh quickly became a viral moment on the internet. People considered it to not only be darkly funny, but also incredibly relatable. Her reaction was, it seemed, exactly the sort of reaction that many women longed to give when asked about sexual harassment. Others, though, pointed out how upsetting it was that Stone clearly had so many stories to tell.
Some focused on what Stone had said in the first part of her interview, where she talked about Mosiac. “We were raised to accommodate men, particularly in my generation,” she said. “And women so often lose their own identify to the identity of the men that they’re with. They even change the way they dress and what they do to fit the men that they’re with.”
“We’re starting to acknowledge our own gifts as women and not think that we have to behave as men in order to be empowered or powerful or valuable,” Stone added. And there was more to come. A couple of weeks later, Stone shared further thoughts about the Weinstein scandal and its aftermath. This time, she aimed specifically at Weinstein.
Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, she said that she hoped Weinstein eventually ended up behind bars. “For people who behave outrageously, you just have to tell them they’re awful,” stated Stone. “But there are other people who are coarse and mean and violent and abusive and assaulting, and these people need to go to jail.” However, she refused to say if Weinstein had ever accosted her.
One of the most telling statements she made to the Mail was this: “[Harassment] doesn’t start when you get to Hollywood. It starts when you’re little. Don’t feel sorry for me. Feel sorry for the generations of women who came before us who no one stood up for at all. Women like my grandmother, who was beaten by her husband almost every day. I stand up for them.”
Of course, to many people Stone is “the generation of women who came before us.” She’s 59 years old now, after all. And as great a viral moment as her sudden laughter was, it’s also representative of a lot of bad things. But as the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements continue to build momentum, there does at least seem to be some hope on the horizon.