The pay gap in Hollywood – and the rest of the world

The Sony hack just keeps hurting, with revelations about the pay gap between male and female actors leading one leading lady to demand a raise:

After leaked emails in the Sony hack showed unequal pay between male and female actors, Charlize Theron insisted she get the same pay as her male co-star Chris Hemsworth for “The Huntsman.”

She succeeded, netting a $10 million increase that puts her on par with Hemsworth.

It seems pretty straightforward: in case after case, women were being paid less than their male co-stars. Even, to be blunt, male co-stars who no one was going to see that film for:

For their work in the movie “American Hustle,” male actors Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and the director David O. Russell all got 9 percent of back-end profits, while Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, the movie’s two female leads, were each getting 7 percent. (Lawrence was originally going to get 5 percent but her pay had been raised.)

But not everyone see this as a problem. One of the top comments when I read that article said,

Charlize Theron was free to negotiate whatever she wanted to be paid as part of the movie. The fact that her co-star was a better negotiator doesn’t mean anything sinister is at play.

This is one of the major myths of wage-setting in general, and the gender pay gap in particular. The biggest hole in the argument is this: most people do not have detailed information on (a) pay rates in their industry, (b) pay rates in their workplace, (c) the financial status of their employer. The idea that every worker – from a checkout operator to an A-List actor – has a perfect idea of what they should be able to negotiate for from their employer is a fantasy.

When Charlize Theron was offered X, and Chris Hemsworth was offered X+10, they obviously didn’t compare notes and go “okay, that pay gap’s totally fine.” They didn’t have an industry-wide collective agreement setting out pay rates for their roles.

The only reason Charlize Theron knew she was getting paid less is because of the Sony hack.

Look at the other examples in that article. For American Hustle, the  (male) director and male co-stars got 9%, while Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence got 7% each. Surely it’s a coincidence all the guys were on the same, higher payrate? They obviously just negotiated better.

Do we really believe that the studio itself saw no problem in paying Jennifer Lawrence – one of the biggest, most-beloved stars of cinema at the moment – less than Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper?

Are we really going to pretend that Jennifer Lawrence just “didn’t negotiate” as well?

There are many factors to the gender pay gap, including the fact that jobs which are traditionally women-dominated are paid less than jobs which are traditionally men-dominated, despite involving just as much skill, qualification, and hard work.

But there is also just sexism, and the Sony hack has highlighted this.

I’m not suggesting that studio executives sat in smoke-filled rooms twirling their moustaches, saying “Muahahahaha, we’re going to pay Charlize Theron less than Chris Hemsworth because she’s a lady!” (Though that hacked email calling Angelina Jolie a “spoiled brat” means we shouldn’t 100% discount the possibility.)

It’s far more insidious than that. Sony probably offered Theron less money, and agreed to pay Hemsworth more, because it just seemed natural to do so. It’s just automatic to treat a male co-star of a movie as The Star and a female co-star as The Supporting Actress.

If actors’ pay was about qualifications or pull, we might look at the fact that Charlize Theron is a critically-acclaimed performer whose list of award nominations is can’t be captured in one screenshot on my monitor and includes an Oscar. And Chris Hemsworth is a hunky bit of man-flesh who’s mainly been nominated for Teen Choice Awards for starring in comic-book adaptations. Which might suggest that if there’s going to be a $10 million pay gap, it should go in the other direction.

But that would be weird.

And that’s why there’s a gender pay gap in Hollywood.

Rape culture and Jane Austen

Another study has shown what many feminists and progressive activists have known for a while: that for a lot of very normal people, there’s a lot of confusion about what “rape” really is.

The survey found 31.7 percent of men said they would act on “intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse” if they could get away with it, but just 13.6 percent said they had “intentions to rape a woman” if there weren’t any consequences.

The authors of this study note the difference relies on whether or not they described what constitutes sexual assault, versus whether they simply called it rape. For this study, the researchers defined rape as “intercourse by use of force or threat of force against a victim’s wishes.”

When combined with what the study’s authors described as “callous sexual attitudes,” the results suggest a man with a hostile attitude toward women may view “forced intercourse as an achievement,” and a woman saying “no” could be “perceived as a token resistance consistent with stereotypical gender norms.”

This part of what’s called “rape culture”, a term almost instinctively pooh-poohed by some people who consider it completely ridiculous to suggest our culture has a persistent, entrenched set of attitudes which mean some sexual violence is taken less seriously; which assumes women (especially women of colour, trans women and other marginalized groups) don’t really mean “no” and don’t need to say “yes”; which assumes that the fault for rape lies with the survivors of rape, not the perpetrators; which says some assaults aren’t even assaults at all.

And, sadly, that these attitudes go well beyond sexual violence, feeding a whole system of attitudes and narratives which keep women oppressed.

The funny thing is how much that last paragraph above reminded me of a classic piece of English literature …

“I am not now to learn,” replied Mr. Collins, with a formal wave of the hand, “that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.”

“Upon my word, sir,” cried Elizabeth, “your hope is rather an extraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal. You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who would make you so. Nay, were your friend Lady Catherine to know me, I am persuaded she would find me in every respect ill qualified for the situation.”

“Were it certain that Lady Catherine would think so,” said Mr. Collins very gravely — “but I cannot imagine that her ladyship would at all disapprove of you. And you may be certain that when I have the honour of seeing her again, I shall speak in the highest terms of your modesty, economy, and other amiable qualifications.”

“Indeed, Mr. Collins, all praise of me will be unnecessary. You must give me leave to judge for myself, and pay me the compliment of believing what I say. I wish you very happy and very rich, and by refusing your hand, do all in my power to prevent your being otherwise. In making me the offer, you must have satisfied the delicacy of your feelings with regard to my family, and may take possession of Longbourn estate whenever it falls, without any self-reproach. This matter may be considered, therefore, as finally settled.” And rising as she thus spoke, she would have quitted the room, had not Mr. Collins thus addressed her —

“When I do myself the honour of speaking to you next on this subject, I shall hope to receive a more favourable answer than you have now given me; though I am far from accusing you of cruelty at present, because I know it to be the established custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character.”

“Really, Mr. Collins,” cried Elizabeth with some warmth, “you puzzle me exceedingly. If what I have hitherto said can appear to you in the form of encouragement, I know not how to express my refusal in such a way as may convince you of its being one.”

– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1813.

To appreciate the full creepiness check out David Bamber’s wonderfully slimy performance.