Arts, Movies, Column

Why Jennifer Lawrence’s Gender Gap Essay Matters

After Emma Watson’s United Nations Women “HeForShe” speech at the Headquarters for the UN in New York City last September, it comes as no surprise that actresses are starting to speak out on gender inequalities in the entertainment industry. Last week, Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence penned an essay called “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?” in Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s newsletter, Lenny Letters, criticizing Hollywood’s gender wage gap.

In her essay, Lawrence decried the pay disparities between wages afforded to male and female actors. Back when the Sony hack exposed the company’s personal information and emails, the leaked documents revealed that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams were paid significantly less than their American Hustle co-stars Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner. While Cooper negotiated 9 percent of the proceeds of the film, Lawrence and Adams were only given 7 percent of the film’s earnings.

Lawrence stated that she was done trying to find the “adorable” way to voice her opinions, pointing out that worrying about “likeability” prevented her from being treated fairly in Hollywood.

“I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled,’” Lawrence wrote. “At the time that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’”

Lawrence’s essay went beyond criticizing pay discrepancies in the entertainment industry, framing a larger dialogue around sexist social codes in the way that women and men are expected to behave in the professional world. While working women don’t get the salary they deserve by being too “nice,” they are also called out for being too “difficult” when they speak their minds. Pointing out sexist double standards, Lawrence wondered if her inability to negotiate equal pay stemmed from her personality, her youth, or the fact that she was a woman.

“All I hear and see all day are men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the same exact manner, and you would have thought I had said something offensive,” she said.

Meanwhile, actresses have come out in support of Lawrence, proving the ubiquitous nature of being undervalued as a woman in Hollywood. Jessica Chastain told Huffington Post that she made under $7 million, compared to her male co-star Matt Damon, who made $25 million for The Martian. Sienna Miller said in an interview with E! News that she once walked away from a play that offered her half of what her male co-star was being paid.  

In an industry where only 12 percent of the leading roles in 2014’s top-earning films were female, according to a San Diego State University study, Lawrence’s equal pay essay reflects a deeper systemic issue that reaches beyond just the confines of Hollywood. The frequently touted statistic that women only make 78 cents for every white man’s dollar only applies to white women—women of color make even less than that. A report by the American Association of University Women revealed that black women make 63 cents compared to a dollar earned by a white male, Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders make 62 cents, Native American women earn 59 cents, and Hispanic women earn 54 cents.

The ethnic and gender pay gaps continue to affect every region of the United States and women of color in different sectors of the workforce. Lawrence’s essay on the pay inequalities in the entertainment industry serves as a poignant (albeit unrelatable in terms of actual wages earned) reflection of the institutionalized sexism and racism plaguing the wage gap today. Beyond gendered pay disparities, Lawrence raises a relevant question of why women are often socially conditioned to feel hesitant about negotiating fair wages out of fear of appearing “unlikeable” or “offensive” while their male co-workers have no problems vying for higher salaries.

Featured Image by Getty Images

October 18, 2015