The Wage Gap According to J Law
Film star Jennifer Lawrence took to the blogosphere last week to ask one simple question: “Why do I make less than my male co-stars?” The internet didn’t break like it did when Ellen posted that selfie from last year’s Academy Awards on Twitter, or like when Rebecca Black’s “Friday” hit YouTube, but Lawrence’s post in Lena Dunham’s newsletter, Lenny, has received a great deal of attention on the web. The wage gap has been a hot topic this year, and Lawrence just did her part to keep the fire burning.
In her post, Lawrence expresses her frustration over the fact that she makes so much less than her male co-stars, which was something that she did not realize until the Sony hack happened and she was able to see the numbers online. Her anger is not directed at those who are responsible for the amounts written on her paychecks, but at herself. Why? Because she chose not to fight for what she deserved. She explains, “ 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.’” Once the payroll came to light online though, Lawrence realized that her behavior might have something to do with her gender. She says, “…I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’” Here, Lawrence makes an important observation, that perhaps society has conditioned women to behave a certain way in these types of situations. Later, Lawrence explains what happens when she finally did stand up for herself:
“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.”
In recounting her own experience, Lawrence hits on a new piece in this wage gap puzzle. This issue is not just about women needing to be paid the same amount as men for the same work, it is also about creating a social shift that allows women to demand that equal pay without fear of being labeled “difficult” or “spoiled.” That fear, as Lawrence illustrates in her post, is holding women back.
Most of us know that this discussion about the wage gap is not new. Women started to fight for better and equal pay almost as soon as they’d finished fighting for the right to work, period. Elizabeth Brandeis Raushenbush (1896-1984) spent her career defending the constitutionality of protective legislation as the best way to ensure pay standards for men and women, to regulate child labor, and to protect the unemployed. She also conducted important research that exposed businesses that underpaid women and child workers. Elizabeth’s tireless efforts to regulate working conditions through legislation helped countless individuals, and her belief that legislation should aim to equalize the rights of employers and workers alike is still one that strongly resonates today. What does this have to do with Jennifer Lawrence and the still-present wage gap? Elizabeth did not see labor issues as localized or random; she saw them as symptomatic of a widespread, systemic issue, and one that could only be helped by far-reaching regulatory legislation. Similarly, J-Law sensed that her fear of being labeled a spoiled brat was not just her own personal problem, but rather reflective of a society that encourages men to be predatory and direct while condemning women for the exact same behaviors.
In addressing this ongoing problem, Elizabeth and J-Law can both help us. Elizabeth and her work remind us that in order for women to be guaranteed equal pay, not only does there need to be strong legislation in place that demands it, there also needs to be people who will fight to ensure that the legislation is enforced. On the social and cultural side of this issue, J-Law reminds us that women and men alike need to fight against the social paradigm that makes it difficult for women to demand equal pay. Women need to be more assertive, yes, but perhaps more importantly, our society as a whole needs to accept that women have as much right as men to demand what they deserve.
How to cite this page
Klebe, Larisa. "The Wage Gap According to J Law ." 21 October 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 20, 2018) <https://jwa.org/blog/wage-gap-according-to-j-law>.