Hello, and welcome to today’s episode of Financial Fluency. Today I want to talk about the Hollywood wage gap and why it matters to the rest of us.
I recently posted something on my Facebook business page, an article about Gillian Anderson being offered half the salary of David Duchovny for the X Files reboot. This man got onto my site, I think it was that he was an X Files fan, and he really came down hard on me for saying that there was any kind of wage gap at all, much less a wage gap in Hollywood.
According to him
- It’s all about star power
- It’s all about box office
- It’s all about making good decisions on which roles to take in which movies
and that when you really look at it, there is no wage gap in Hollywood or anywhere else.
I thought that was interesting, and I read all of his comments. I left them there for a while until he started swearing at me, and then I decided to delete and block him, but it got me thinking, let’s do some more research, let’s look at what the Hollywood wage gap does mean in Hollywood and for the rest of us.
How Does That Trickle Down into the Rest of the World?
I think of Hollywood as the closest thing the US has to royalty. We don’t have our own aristocracy, but the people in Hollywood, the movie stars, they kind of claim it. They’ve been encroached on a little in the last decade or so by the reality stars, which we think of as watching ourselves, but let’s be honest, most of that is scripted anyway.
The real stars, the big stars, the Hollywood stars, they’re kind of in their own realm in terms of our culture. We look to them for a lot of things, they have a lot of influence and when they speak, people print it and repeat it and Tweet it and put it all over the place.
When they go out, people chase them down and try to take pictures of their babies when they’re trying to hide them, it’s a little crazy how we feel about our Hollywood stars.
I kind of think of it as a bit of an extreme microcosm for the rest of the world.
Hollywood for Women
To start with, it’s really hard to get into for women. I’m sure it’s hard to get into for men too, but for women there are these really difficult standards of beauty to even get into a lot of auditions for any kind of part on any size of screen.
First of all, you usually have to be thin, young and beautiful, but not just thin, you have to be really thin, but also fit with big boobs and often a big butt too, you have to be shaped in a certain way that may require some surgery to achieve for the average person.
You also have to be young, but not just young, sometimes you have to be so young that you miss out on things like high school.
You don’t just have to be beautiful, you have to be the epitome of beauty and that often requires painful orthodontics and surgical procedures to take a normal pretty girl into the Hollywood beauty level.
Beyond that, unless you are Meryl Streep or Dame Judi Dench, most actresses have a very short shelf life and your career can stop really short. Some women do make it to the Driving Miss Daisy age and are able to continue having some significant roles, but a lot of women take significant ‘time out’. It’s really not the lean in or opt out situation now.
And Don’t Even Think of Having a Baby
For one thing, if women get pregnant in Hollywood – I want to do more research on this –I’m wondering how often a real, actual pregnant woman has ever appeared in a film. So often they just take a skinny girl and pop a prosthetic belly on her and call her pregnant in a movie. I kind of feel like Demi Moore in The Seventh Seal may have really been pregnant because they did have the scene that showed her in the bathtub, and it looked like she really was pregnant.
If so, I think that’s awesome because I feel like most women in Hollywood disappear when they’re pregnant. They show up in tabloids of course, because everyone want to see how much weight is she putting on, then as soon as she has the baby, everyone wants to see, ooh, what does her post-baby body look like? If she doesn’t get the weight off immediately, her career could be very adversely affected.
If you decide to actually take some time off to bond with your child, you might miss a career changing opportunity. Just because you were pregnant and had a baby at the wrong moment in your career. You may have just given up that Oscar winning part in a film with the best line you’d ever get to say in your entire life, so there’s a lot of risk to being a woman, and to ageing and to having babies.
I’ve never really heard of a man having to stop filming a movie in order to have a baby. I mean, I hope most husbands will at least go and visit their wife in the hospital, but if they’re on a tight filming schedule, who knows, they might miss it entirely?
Love Interest Only
Also let’s say you want to be an actress and you go to Hollywood. You go young, you’re fit, you’re thin, you’re beautiful and you’re all ready for it. Often you start out as just being eye candy, a love interest, maybe a sexy villainess, if you’re lucky, because that has a little bit more oomph to it, but there are very few actresses that ever get the chance to accept an Oscar worthy speaking role in a film.
The Bechdal Test – is this test that you can put films through to see if there are any speaking lines for a woman that don’t involve her being a love interest for a man.
There are several criteria here in order to pass the test, and I believe one of them is having a woman having a conversation with a man that is nothing to do with romance, and women doing things besides shopping. A lot of films don’t pass that test and are very male-focused, the female characters don’t get very many lines and they don’t get very good lines.
It’s not that easy to suddenly come out of nowhere and become a Jennifer Lawrence or a Patricia Arquette or a Reece Witherspoon or a Sandra Bullock. These women who have climbed these heights to where now, when they finally say
I’m being paid unfairly, we are all being paid unfairly, we have all always been paid unfairly.
They can make those demands now, they can command an audience, they can be heard, but that’s the very, very elite few out of Hollywood.
A lot of women can’t get there, a lot of women knew that before, Bette Davis knew that, tons of women knew that, that they were being treated unfairly and paid unfairly, but there wasn’t much they could do about it back then, they just didn’t have the clout in Hollywood to demand more, they didn’t have what it took to demand to be paid equally.
Basically if you’re a woman in Hollywood, it’s hard to become a female movie star and you have to deal with a lot of sexist crap to get there. While you’re trying to hone your craft, find a few decent female roles that exist, if you have a baby and you gain some weight, you may have lost that once in a lifetime opportunity, it may change the trajectory of your whole career.
If you make it through all of that crap and actually have a decent career where you maybe have won some awards, some accolades, maybe even an Oscar if you have box office draw, you can negotiate a decent salary, give or take a few million dollars.
Still even at that level, even when you are Jennifer Lawrence, who has more star power and more box office draw than some of her costars in American Hustle, even then for the elite of the elite, it is still the standard to be paid less than your male costars who have less star power than you do.
That’s the reality of what all of these things have shown us, the women coming forward and speaking out against unequal pay in Hollywood.
What’s a Few Million?
When I said Jennifer Lawrence got three million and her costar got six million, the troll on my Facebook page said, she got three million dollars, cry me a river, oh, boohoo, she’s a millionaire, who cares?
Yes, she has plenty of money, but that’s not the point. How many men get paid half of what their female costar gets paid? How many men have to stop and even think about that? How many men have to worry that a woman is being paid more than them?
So What? What Does It Mean For Us?
What that means for the rest of us, how that trickles down into reality for those of us at these much lower levels of fame and glory and riches, is that could mean working in some retail job, some factory, some Walmart somewhere here in America, there could be a white man making 30 thousand dollars a year for his job to support his family while the Hispanic woman next to him maybe makes 15 thousand dollars for working exactly the same job.
We see all these statistics saying that women make 70 cents on the dollar. That’s white women, white women to white men. White women make 70 cents on the dollar to white men. If you’re Hispanic, African American, if you are gay, transsexual, all of these things take you down a few ticks.
A Hispanic woman supporting two or three children, if she’s the primary breadwinner for her family and she’s making 15 thousand dollars while that white man next to her is making 30 thousand dollars to support his two or three kids, that puts her family in poverty and his family not in poverty, that’s the difference it can make.
So sure, the difference between three million and six million, what’s the big deal, it’s not like she’s starving.
- The difference between 15 and 30 thousand dollars a year, that’s a really big deal.
- That’s not being able to pay for gas to put in your car and feed your children.
- That’s not being to pay for healthcare.
- That’s needing welfare assistance to feed your children and put diapers on your baby.
It’s a big deal, and I think that it’s worth looking at. Tweet that
What I like about the Hollywood wage gap is that it’s bringing attention to something that the Hispanic woman making 15 thousand dollars isn’t going to feel safe standing up and complaining about. She’s not going to go and tell her boss that she wants to be paid the same as the guy next to her. She’s afraid she’ll lose her job. That’s the whole thing with the Lily Ledbetter case and so many cases where it comes up when women realize they’re being paid far less than a male coworker who’s doing basically the same job.
Women are afraid of losing their jobs, they’re afraid of not being able to feed their children. I’m not saying men aren’t too, all of this is a problem for everyone, but it’s the fact that it’s so across the board. Just thinking back to the troll on my Facebook page too, he was so angry at me for making this an issue about sexism. He felt that it absolutely wasn’t, he even made the comment that if all you people could just stop complaining and unite with us, then everything would be fine.
It was very much this idea that ‘you people’, and I thought of who he meant by ‘you people’, and to me he meant us women, us people who are not straight white men, basically, that we really shouldn’t complain because it makes things harder for him and it makes him uncomfortable. It makes him realize that there are problems, there are inequities, and the truth is, women have only been earning money for a short time, relative to how long men have been in charge of money, of earning, of supporting families.
A Bit of History
Women came into the workforce in mass after World War Two, and not to say women didn’t work before that, certainly they did, in agricultural societies, in all kinds of ways, women have always worked, but we did not get paid. We were unpaid labor, often basically slave labor, let’s be honest about it. The way women were bought and traded and the whole history that has gone on with women in the world economically as well as African Americans, as well as native Americans, as well as all different ethnicities, and people who basically are not the predominant controlling ruling class.
I’ve given a lot of thought to the arguments of my troll, and him thinking that Jennifer Lawrence should not complain that she only made half of what a costar made. I totally disagree.
If women in the spotlight, women who actually have the power to complain and to say, this isn’t right, and to have people listen and print it and talk about and argue about it, if they aren’t doing it, who will? Who’s going to come out and say, this isn’t right? Who’s going to say that the ERA needs to be passed? Thank god for Meryl Streep coming out and saying, it is time, we need to pass the ERA.
If you don’t know what the ERA is, it’s the Equal Rights Amendment that would actually give women true equal protection under the Constitution, because we don’t have it. All men are created equal, but women are not in there, still to this day.
So I’ve got up on my feminist high horse a little today, I may have ruffled a few feathers, but I think this stuff’s important. It’s important for us to talk about how we got where we are, why women have a difficult time with money:
- With their personal finances
- With negotiating salaries
- With making more
- With wanting to make more
- With the guilt and the shame around wanting more
It’s time for us to talk about these things, and to really think about them and look into it.
I hope you enjoyed this episode. It was a bit of a rant more than a guide or tips on anything, but I felt like it was important to talk about.
I think that what goes in Hollywood, in some ways it seems so far away from the rest of us in real life, but at the same time it is kind of a reflection, an extreme reflection, to be sure, but it’s a reflection of what our culture values. It’s what we pay for, it’s what we want to watch. Hollywood is really our tastes. Hollywood responds to box office money. If we pay to see something, then that’s what they give us more of. More on voting with your purse here.
If we want more women in strong roles, we need to go see films that have women in strong roles. We need to show them that those films can be successful. Women need to go to the movies more to influence Hollywood. I know that sounds like a crazy thing for me to be saying, women, get out, go to the movies, go watch films that have strong female characters that make a difference and that make sense to us and that touch us. The stories we tell each other, why is Hollywood so successful?
It’s telling us stories, it’s sharing our things. It’s such a deep human need for us to tell and to hear stories. We want to know about each other, we want connection. Movies give us connection in a way that we don’t always find in our own personal lives, and sure, it’s manufactured, sure, it’s tugging on the heartstrings, but it shows us what we value, and we pay for what we value.
Let’s not let men be the only ones who influence what Hollywood thinks America and the world wants to see in our movies.
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