Wage Gap on the Red Carpet
By Caitlin Antonios
The equal pay debate seems to be at the center of Hollywood contracts these days. With more female celebrities speaking up about the wage gap, the issue has become more prominent in recent legislature. Despite the benefits of celebrities discussing the equal pay problem, they cannot be at the forefront of this debate. Instead, it should be women working 9 to 5 jobs that are spearheading this demand for equal pay.
In Jennifer Lawrence’s short, but thought-provoking Lenny Letter essay, titled “Why do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars,” she outlines her personal experience in discovering the wage gap. Lawrence explains that when the Sony leak revealed the wage gap between her and her male co-stars, she was angry at herself for not being an aggressive negotiator in favor of being well liked. She speculates that it is most likely a combination of her age and her personality that causes her to worry about other people’s perceptions of her as a “spoiled brat.” She ends the essay saying that she’s done worrying about what people think, and instead will be more proactive in demanding equal payment.
More recently, Robin Wright, star of the Netflix hit “House of Cards,” also spoke about having to use statistics that her character was more popular than her male co-star to receive equal pay per episode — threatening that if she didn’t receive equal pay, she would go public with the story. At a charity event, Wright outlined her recommendations to “shame [employers] and guilt them into [giving equal pay]” by doing research, being firm, and undoing years of social constructs that teach women to submit and give up.
The question, however, shouldn’t be how should women negotiate for equal pay, but why they should have to negotiate at all.
While their voices certainly stir up much-needed discussion, celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Robin Wright cannot be the trailblazers in this fight for equal pay. Not only are they difficult to relate to when their figures are in the millions, they also have many advantages that most working women don’t.
Firstly, Robin Wright and Jennifer Lawrence both had the advantage of knowing what their male co-stars were making. Most working women are usually negotiating blind and therefore cannot come into an agreement with any leverage. Because of the immense resources at Lawrence and Wright’s disposal, they were at a tremendous advantage.
Secondly, these women could never work another day in their lives and not have to worry about putting food on the table. To be clear, of course Hollywood actresses should be paid equal to their male co-stars because it’s not really about the salary at all. But it is difficult to affect change when these women are already living a privileged lifestyle. It is not about whether they “need” the money, but instead about why employers don’t believe they have a right to it.
Next, they’re celebrities that have influence. They can threaten to quit a job or go to the press and it will actually negatively affect their employers. By contrast, a woman with 200 friends on Facebook doesn’t have as much of an influence by threatening to quit and, most of the time, don’t have that option financially even if they wanted to quit.
Lastly, these women are both white actresses, which is a privilege that cannot be ignored. Women of color can’t even get paid the same as white women let alone try to start fighting to be paid as much as men. Their experiences are and will be drastically different than even women of color actresses.
Although Wright and Lawrence have publicly reminded a wider audience of the gender wage gap, their situations and experiences are hard to relate to. Hollywood and its female celebrities are a platform where the wage gap issue has played out publicly but it is women in “everyday” jobs that need to begin taking their empowerment into their own hands for a positive change to be made.