It seems like I’m writing about gender wage gaps often. And I guess the easy answer to that is that I give a shit about it, seeing as how I identify as a woman. But sometimes even I get annoyed at the drama some writers generate with their commentary on the subject. I fully acknowledge that there is a certainly a level of hypocrisy in that, especially as I’m sure many find my writings to be whiny. And I’m a huge proponent of lifting up and supporting other women in their endeavors.
And yet I found this Mary Sue piece ripping into Gavin Polone tiresome. I have zero problems with the Hollywood Reporter giving him column space to express his opinion on the Hollywood gender pay gap. His credentials are rather impressive, considering his involvement in Gilmore Girls, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Panic Room, and others. Why would he not be provided a space to discuss something pertinent and relevant? I understand that there are some protests against men discussing issues that primarily affect women, but the fact of the matter is that feminism will get nowhere without the acknowledgment and support of men.
Do I agree with Polone? No. But everyone is allowed space to express their opinions. I find his piece shallow and crude; it’s basically a long-winded bar rant, where that annoying drunk guy tells you an issue doesn’t exist because he has these friends who say it doesn’t exist. He’s never experienced it firsthand, but been told this from unnamed sources, so that’s the truth. As Teresa Jusino in Mary Sue points out, his “sources” are hardly a scientific study, and the fact that Polone changed the names of the three women he interviewed to provide them safety in anonymity speaks volumes.
Perception still plays a huge role in someone’s career, and whether there is truth to the rumors or not, reputations precede an individual. Women are routinely judged more harshly, whether in the workplace or society in general (especially in Hollywood). Polone’s sources obviously understand that, should their real names be made public, they would then have negative repercussions in their careers. But- Mary Sue piece included in this- you don’t get to just say something without providing evidence. So let’s get into it. Of course, there are no specific Hollywood pay gap studies, so we’ll have to settle for ‘regular’ population research, but I think it’s safe to draw some inferences from this data. I’ll get into why Hollywood matters in a bit.
Polone’s main argument is that women in Hollywood are the main cause of their own pay gap. His ‘experience’ is that they are unwilling to fight for more money, they’re unwilling to walk away from low-ball salary offers. Unfortunately, Polone fails to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that women are judged for fighting and attempting to negotiate higher salaries- that’s something Jusino hit right on the head. Even though Polone doesn’t offer anything remotely scientific in his statements, neither does Jusino. Cmon girl, we need to be better than those we’re criticizing.
The Financial Times offers some great summaries of a study performed by the International Labour Organization from the United Nations. Yes, women, in general, are less likely to negotiate higher salaries. At managerial levels, women are paid an average of $93,000 less; chief executive level, women are earning almost $1 million less. Take that to the women earning entertainment pay cheques, and you have Natalie Portman being paid three times less than her male co-star Ashton Kutcher for her lead role in ‘No Strings Attached.' She even went so far as to say that women in Hollywood were making 30 cents for every dollar a man is paid. Or Jennifer Lawrence learning how much less of the film’s profits for ‘American Hustle’ she was making than her male co-stars. Movie stars such as Sandra Bullock and Jessica Chastain have also spoken out against this discrepancy, with Chastain publicly refusing roles for being offered too little.
And that is a systematic problem. Women are routinely offered a lower base salary than men, and then they are penalized when they try to negotiate. Researchers at Harvard found that when women attempted to negotiate higher salaries and conditions, they were not only shut down sooner but later viewed during the crucial hiring process as “not team players.” On the other hand, men who negotiated were later perceived as “bold leaders” by the interviewers. Jennifer Lawrence admitted as much during her candid interviews post-Sony hack, where she lamented that she “failed as a negotiator,” going on to say:
“I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled,’” Lawrence wrote in an open letter. She continues, writing about the warped perception men have of women’s opinions:
“A few weeks ago at work, I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-buillshit way; no aggression, just blunt. The man I was working with (actually, he was working for me) said, ‘Whoa! We’re all on the same team here!’ As if I was yelling at him. I was so shocked because nothing that I said was personal, offensive, or, to be honest, wrong. All I hear and see all day is men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the same exact manner, and you would have thought I had said something offensive.”
I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, it is offensive. What Polone lacks in his perspective is that his opinion is a tired refrain: to close the wage gap, women need to be more aggressive and stand up for themselves. But as soon as women try to, men get uncomfortable, and everything becomes hostile or negative. It’s hardly the equal ground upon which he seems to think everyone is working.
Equality is, of course, the end goal of all this discussion. It’s why I have such a problem with all these positive articles covering Emma Stone’s recent public revelation about her coworkers taking a pay-cut for her.
“In my career so far, I’ve needed my male co-stars to take a pay cut so that I may have parity with them,” Stone told Out Magazine. “And that’s something they do for me because they feel it’s what’s right and fair...If my male co-star, who has a higher quote than me but believes we are equal, takes a pay cut so that I can match him, that changes my quote in the future and changes my life.”
Kudos to her co-stars. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled there are men in Hollywood who are actually putting their money where their mouths are, but this is absolutely the wrong way to go about this. Feminism and gender equality are not about taking away from men so women can have more. Why are we fighting over crumbs? The fact that a woman was offered less rests solely on the employer. In Hollywood, that lies with the studios. It’s admirable that male co-stars are willing to offer their own paycheques to eliminate the pay discrepancies, but if anything that just benefits the studios! They’re still spending a lesser amount to get the celebrities they want. Explanations need to be given as to why this practice is still happening in the first place- if you’re not a straight, white man, you’re going to have to fight hard.
“I go more to the blanket issue that women, in general, are making four-fifths at best,” Stone said. Billie Jean King, former professional tennis player, and another interviewee, interjected: “White women. If you’re African-American or Hispanic it goes down, and then Asian-Americans make 90 cents to the dollar.”
Race discrepancies have been in the headlines recently as well, with well-known actors Daniel Dae Kim and Grace park going public with their CBS fight for salary equality with their white co-stars in Hawaii Five-O. The actors, who have been characters in the show since its premiere seven seasons ago, had the exact same number of show credits as their other two costars, but were offered 10-15% less (along with no back-end show profit deals like their co-stars). It’s an experience many women have in their everyday lives. When employers were given identical resumes save for female-sounding and male-sounding names, the male candidates were scrutinized less closely. The combo study run by researchers from Harvard University, Carnegie Mellon University, and Cambridge found that female resumes received comments like, “I’d want proof that she actually got this grant,” and “Did she do this on her own?”
The fact that women in Hollywood are still facing this discrimination is incredibly irritating. Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t to say that they are more deserving of equality than everyone else. But these are women who have countless public platforms, power, and the finances to take a real stand. I could rant until my face is blue and write until I get carpal tunnel, but I only have just over 1,000 followers on one social media platform. With one tweet, one article, one vlog, these women could reach millions and share their experiences about the wage gap. Although I’ve noted some women who have already spoken out against gender discrimination, the fact that very little has changed speaks volumes and frankly, makes me a bit discouraged. It’s as though it truly is still a man’s world; that these glamorous women should be thankful just to be allowed in; that they need to just accept what is offered because it’s a privilege just to live that lifestyle, and therefore their fight for equality makes them seem ungrateful and unlikeable- which translates to unemployable. If these powerful women are still fighting this same fight, what hope is there for the everyday woman?
And that’s really what irks me the most about think pieces like Polone’s. He can sit there and theorize all he wants, but until he makes changes that bring about equality, then there’s nothing left for him to say.