I love change. I always have, and it’s gratifying to watch the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements create waves, promote dialogue and actually lead to positive action for actresses in Hollywood.
Things aren’t settled by any means. There’s a long road ahead until we have parity on multiple fronts, but by in large the women of Hollywood are rockin’ it right now. They’ve created real momentum, but I can’t help but wonder: What about the women outside the entertainment industry?
Actresses, especially the big name, well known and well loved ones, already have a built-in media engine to help propel any cause they adopt forward. They have hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers on social media. They have bodies of work that have integrated their faces and voices into the public consciousness via popular movies and TV shows. They let us into their worlds via interviews on multiple platforms, and we have the ability to re-watch and re-read those at our leisure. Because of this high level of exposure, it’s not uncommon to feel like we know them.
Of course, we don’t, but we certainly know about them. We’re often privy to intensely intimate details about their lives and their beliefs, and it’s that familiarity that has the power to move the needle on excruciatingly tough conversations about sexual harassment and equal pay.
Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lawrence, Oprah and others of their ilk who’ve been so vocal about the inequities they face compared to their male peers, can get the masses on their side because we loved them in Legally Blonde, The Hunger Games and The Oprah Winfrey Show. The same is true for Salma Hayek, Lupita Nyong’o and so many others who shared their personal stories of ick about predators like Harvey Weinstein. How dare that person abuse or cheat Patsey from 12 Years a Slave?
These women prompt us to spend money. We happily buy tickets to their movies and shell out our hard-earned coins for the products they endorse. We’re happy to sign up for subscriptions for Hulu and other streaming services that will promptly deliver their shows to the device of our choosing. That equals power.
But what about the women who don’t have that name recognition, that familiarity or those rich, working media platforms behind them? I’m thinking about the office and food service workers, the women in corporate America, for instance, who are facing the very same issues? To me, their pay discrepancies seem worse because while it’s ass hat ridiculous that a female lead in a film will get $625,000 while her male co-star gets $5M, when it’s $40,000 for a single female with child vs. $90,000 for a single male with child the stakes are higher.
I just hope the solidarity and sisterhood currently permeating Hollywood extends to the sisters working off the big or small screen. And I’d include in that latter group the makeup artists, producers, directors and other production ladies who aren’t getting the right pay for the same work as their male counterparts.
It’s an altogether different animal, pursuing equal pay in a corporate environment versus in the entertainment industry. Not because the women are any less vulnerable to being fired or blacklisted – reputations are fragile and easily influenced by more powerful people in most industries – but the repercussions or potential backlash is more severe for a woman who gets paid a fairly small sum every two weeks, vs. a woman who gets multi-million dollar checks.
Plus, a mid-level manager or even an executive in a corporate work setting often won’t have the same media leverage or platform reach to enlist the public in their fight. Sally Joe manager can’t create a poo storm of public outrage and sympathy the same way Actress Michelle Williams can, for instance. That makes her fight that much harder.
Sally’s salary is so small, it’s easy for the public to dismiss or ignore her, even though it’s more critical to her livelihood. Whereas Mark Wahlberg, Williams’ costar in – no pun intended – All the Money in the World – was essentially shamed into donating $1.5M to the cause lest he look like a perpetrator of the status quo. The same scenario probably wouldn’t play out the same way for Sally and her male peer.
Actresses like Ellen Pompeo are using the increased scrutiny from the media wave highlighting her industry to bargain for the bigger paychecks they should have been getting all along. But I don’t see her equivalent raising the alarm in corporate America, and that’s troubling.
According to Forbes’, Pompeo “reportedly signed a new deal in late 2017 that will see her earn $575,000 an episode plus additional benefits. The contract will result in a $20 million-plus annual payday and make her the top-paid actress in a TV drama.” I wonder what would happen if Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg or PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi created the same furor for their sisters in corporate America? It might have an effect, and it might not. But it would at least kick things off. Ramping up the disdain in public opinion and raise enough eyebrows and the threat of consumer defection will prompt companies to act in order to protect their brands and bottom lines from being damaged.
It’s a tough problem anyway you look at it. But I hope that the changes afoot in Hollywood – fueled by media fire – find a way to trickle down to the rest of us women who don’t make our living in front of the camera.