Column – Gordon Campbell
Care to know what Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence thinks about the gender wage gap? No? Well, I suppose she is only (a) a successful entertainer and (b) a 25 year old woman, so… what would she know about politics? Whereas men who succeed in business …
Gordon Campbell on the gender pay gap
Care to know what Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence thinks about the gender wage gap? No? Well, I suppose she is only (a) a successful entertainer and (b) a 25 year old woman, so… what would she know about politics? Whereas men who succeed in business are routinely treated, by definition, as being experts on politics. Because doing things for private gain qualifies you as an expert on how things should be done for the public good. Moreover, a penis tends to lend gravitas to any argument.
Lawrence was commenting on the fact (revealed by North Korean/Chinese hackers) that she was paid considerably less for her work on the film American Hustle than her male co-stars. Given the vast sums involved, she wasn’t asking for sympathy. Yet the reasons for the discrepancy struck her as being all too common. Women, she pointed out, face a cultural imperative to be liked, and likeable.
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.” 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.” This could be a young-person thing. It could be a personality thing. I’m sure it’s both. But this is an element of my personality that I’ve been working against for years, and based on the statistics, I don’t think I’m the only woman with this issue. Are we socially conditioned to behave this way? We’ve only been able to vote for what, 90 years? … Could there still be a lingering habit of trying to express our opinions in a certain way that doesn’t “offend” or “scare” men?
That point had occurred to her recently, in the wake of a workplace experience:
A few weeks ago at work, I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-bullshit 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 are men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the same exact manner, and you would have thought I had said something offensive.
Usually, Lawrence added, men don’t need to strategise to get their voices heard:
I’m over trying to find the “adorable” way to state my opinion and still be likeable! Fuck that. I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It’s just heard. Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves. If anything, I’m sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share. Again, this might have NOTHING to do with my vagina, but I wasn’t completely wrong when another leaked Sony email revealed a producer referring to a fellow lead actress in a negotiation as a “spoiled brat.” For some reason, I just can’t picture someone saying that about a man.
Subsequently, the Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri used Lawrence’s observations to rewrite famous sayings as if they would need to be uttered by a woman-in-a-meeting. Ronald Reagan’s demand: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” would become:” “I’m sorry, Mikhail, if I could? Didn’t mean to cut you off there. Can we agree that this wall maybe isn’t quite doing what it should be doing? Just looking at everything everyone’s been saying, it seems like we could consider removing it. Possibly. I don’t know, what does the room feel?”
Similarly, the famous anti-slavery rallying cry “l will be heard!” would become: “Sorry to interrupt. No, go on, Dave. Finish what you had to say.” You get the picture. Currently, the gender pay gap in New Zealand is running at 9.3 per cent overall. Reportedly, the gap exists with a woman’s first job, and widens thereafter.
Research undertaken by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in 2010 showed a 6 percent gender pay gap for graduate starting salaries, which increased to a substantial gap of 17 percent after five years.
The wage gap – as Jennifer Lawrence suggests – is perpetuated by attitudes towards women in public and in private life. By virtue of their gender, men commonly receive economic compensation and political representation that is not based on ability – and ironically, since men tend to live in denial about the extent of their own privilege, they will often then righteously rail against gender quotas on the grounds that selection should be based on merit….! In a recent article about the low level of representation by women in Irish politics, Michele O’Donnell listed the five “Cs” responsible: confidence, culture, candidate selection, cash and childcare.
Ireland has a sexist culture; we expect people in positions of leadership to be male; this culture chips away at women’s confidence in their ability to lead; when women do step up, the boys’ club is less likely to put them forward as candidates; according to the 2009 census, women have on average only two-thirds the income of men, and politics is an expensive game; and finally, Irish women spend three times as much of their day doing household and care work as men do.
In New Zealand recently, there have been signs of progress on the gender pay gap front. The landmark victory in court last year by aged care worker Kristine Bartlett has led to a government taskforce being set up to report on issues to do with pay equity.
Midwives have just launched a major ‘fair pay’ claim. Last week, the primary teachers union launched legal action because, it claimed, women teachers face an up to $10 an hour wage gap compared to similarly skilled male colleagues.
Finally, the era of being apologetic about gender pay injustice is coming to an end. And to mark these developments, here’s a song about the world of work a live version by Valerie June of one of the best tracks from her last album.