Winona Ryder has had a whirlwind of a career. From being one of the most accomplished, ubiquitous actresses in the 90s to getting unofficially ousted from the industry in the early 2000s to leading a blockbuster television show in the 2010s, the woman has seen it all.
Her journey over the years has shown us that public perception in Hollywood is a fickle game. And it’s all the worse for women, who continually have to keep up with certain expectations and stereotypes at any given time.
On top of the pressure of ‘being perfect’, these women are given punishments, legal or otherwise, that are far harsher and more far-reaching than those meted out to men.
Winona Ryder may have committed a crime when her career was at a peak, but she suffered as a result for years. Whereas we have seen multiple male actors and directors get away unscathed for activities that were not just illegal or immoral but straight-up violent and abusive.
The double-standards are not unique to Hollywood per se, but the ‘MeToo’ movement that blew up a couple of years ago has shifted the spotlight to this industry in particular. Winona Ryder may be enjoying global success as the star of Stranger Things, but the woman knows all too well about how easy it is to get your career derailed.
Winona was arrested for shoplifting and vandalism
At the height of her career, a thirty-year-old Winona Ryder made the grave error of shoplifting $5,500 worth of designer clothes and accessories from a departmental store in New York. She was arrested on December 21, 2001, and then later convicted for three charges: shoplifting, grand theft, and vandalism.
Seeing how Winona Ryder was considering one of the finest female actresses in the scene at the time, this sent shockwaves through the headlines. She herself has admitted that the attention that arrest received was the most embarrassing part; it was so bad that reports of her arrest beat out stories about the supposed capture of Osama Bin Laden, someone who was linked to the 9/11 bombings that occurred just three months earlier.
The actress was also accused of being on unprescribed drugs for the duration of her trial. A year after her theft, she was sentenced to three years of probation, 480 hours of community service, $3,700 in fines, and over $6000 in restitution payments to the departmental store. She was also told to attend psychological and drug counseling.
She was effectively exiled from Hollywood
She may have done the needful to repent for her crime, but the damage had already been done. For the next four years, Winona went into acting hiatus. She lost out roles because companies wouldn’t insure her, as revealed by Woody Allen who wanted to cast her in a film. And the roles that Winona did take on after the hiatus was hardly a return to form; in fact, they were minor compared to the high-profile roles the actress had been doing before her arrest.
Not all of it should be pinned on the industry either. Winona herself has admitted that she didn’t want to be in the spotlight while her trial was happening.
I never said a word. I didn’t release a statement. I didn’t do anything. I just waited for it to be over.Winona Ryder to Vogue
But one can’t help but compare her situation to that faced by many men in Hollywood. She is hardly the first, last or only celebrity to have committed a crime. However, she might be one of the few ones that got caught committing one and then had to pay for it in other ways than what the courts had ordered.
Charlie Sheen, Hugh Grant, Matthew McConaughey, Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn are just some of the men that have gotten arrested for committing crimes. These crimes include driving under the influence, possessing marijuana, taking part in public brawls, and even beating on their spouse. However, you’d notice that all of these men went on to have long, illustrious, and lucrative careers in the industry.
However, Winona was basically sent to the shadows. Speaking about her conviction, Winona has since said that she didn’t have a tremendous sense of guilt because she hadn’t hurt anyone. Had she caused physical harm to someone, then “it would have been an entirely different experience,” she said.
By the time the actress tried to rear a comeback, roles were scarce for women in her age group. This is already a problem in Hollywood in that it’s always slim pickings for complex, dynamic roles for women, but the issue accelerates for women older than forty.
Her challenges with mental health also speak to double standards
The big comeback did finally work out after years of waiting. In 2016, Winona played Joyce on Stranger Things. As a show that was initially launched by her star power, it has basically taken over the internet and beyond.
What’s special about the role is that it’s also about a woman who is too often misjudged and thought to be paranoid and ‘crazy’ for her strong feelings and actions. In the show’s plot, her so-called ‘crazy’ musings turn out to be absolutely genuine, but it takes other characters far too long to right their wrongs.
In real life, Winona has been open about her experiences with anxiety and depression. In fact, she believes that one of the medications she had been taking played a part in her shoplifting encounters. She recalled that she was being seen by a “quack doctor” at the time who’d been giving her a lot of doses that left her in a state of confusion.
Winona also believes that women are criticized much more for mental health challenges.
I’m so sick of people shaming women for being sensitive or vulnerable. It’s so bizarre to me… I wish I could unknow this, but there is a perception of me that I’m supersensitive and fragile. And I am supersensitive, and I don’t think that that’s a bad thing. To do what I do, I have to remain open.Winona Ryder to The Cut
Winona has proved that there is much value that comes out of being honest about your experiences. After initially opening up about depression in 1999, she’s had so many women come up to her and tell her that it meant so much to them that she took the time to speak about these issues so close to her heart.
Double standards exist on both ends, but it’s undeniably difficult for women to speak out about certain things, as they fear being judged or labelled as untrue or over-the-top. Mental health is one of those controversial topics, and the fact that a 90s It Girl was able to get frank about feeling shame and having a hard time made a world of difference for many women.
Self-judgment has its limits
As women, we’re all too prone to judge ourselves for something or the other. Winona Ryder made a serious mistake and she paid the price for it, but the way she was treated by Hollywood speaks of injustice through and through. People should be given a chance to rehabilitate and get their house in order; not banished from an industry that’s essentially their livelihood.
However, Winona didn’t give up. She planned her comeback, and though it took some time, she achieved it in flying colors. And the whole way through — she didn’t take self-judgment too far. At the end of the day, she took account of the nature of her crime and realized that there was only so much of guilt she could still harbor for her own actions.
As women, we need to keep check of the judgment we place on ourselves. If we begin believing every little thing people say about us, then we’re not going to be able to have a healthy amount of self-esteem. We need to accept our mistakes, right our wrongs, and then move on.
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