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We Don’t Have A Wage Gap Problem, But Hollywood And The White House Do


Last night at the Oscars, the lovely Patricia Arquette won a Best Supporting Actress nod for her role in Boyhood. There’s something delightful and quirky about all members of the Arquette clan, and Patricia is no exception. For instance, she came to the fanciest party in Hollywood with the same hairdo I wear around my house all day.

This led some fashion critics to snark, “No Oscar nominee should be walking the red carpet with hair that looks like she’s in the middle of cleaning her oven.” But I disagree, it’s about time those of us who do absolutely nothing to our hair — even when the occasion really demands it — are recognized.

Anyway, she read her written acceptance speech, which got interesting about a minute into it when she said, “To every women who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time … to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

This is the totally predictable thing that then happened:


The notion that Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez — literally some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world — should be cheering on yet another wealthy person about their struggle with low wages is hilarious. And I laughed, as all people with a basic understanding of economics and a healthy regard for celebrity did.

Easy, super-cheap politics

We live in a time when people think they’re courageous for saying things that everyone agrees with. Equal rights for women are far less controversial than kittens these days, so calling for them isn’t really a cause for dramatic hooting and hollering. To be honest, though, I imagine that Streep’s performance there is the same one she gives upon being told what one of her personal chefs concocts for breakfast each morning.

Back in 1978, Vanessa Redgrave won an Oscar and used the occasion to rail against, among other things, Zionist hoodlums. I mean, say what you want about her support for, um, the Palestine Liberation Organization, but that’s not a viewpoint that literally everyone attending the Oscar ceremony will trip over themselves to applaud. By comparison, a call for equality that no one in the viewing audience, much less the assembled groupthinkers, could disagree with is not exactly cutting edge.

Side note: After Redgrave’s dramatic and highly political speech, screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky gave the most epic slapdown in response.

You can watch the relevant portion here. He said:

Before I get onto the writing award, there’s a little matter I’d like to tidy up, at least if I expect to live with myself tomorrow morning. I would like to say — personal opinion of course — that I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards (sustained applause) for the propagation of their own personal political propaganda. (applause) I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation, and a simple “thank you” would have sufficed.

So I’m not entirely sure you need to make a political proclamation, even if those who share your politics will encourage you to do so. Also, it’s a shame that Hollywood doesn’t have more Paddy Chayefskys to get regular people’s back.

OK fine. But don’t women make less for the same work as men?

The White House has made “the wage gap” a central talking point in its War on Women messaging against Republicans. They have repeatedly claimed that women make a fraction of what men do for the exact same work. This is most definitely not true. It’s been debunked so many times that it’s almost silly.

You can read Slate‘s “The Gender Wage Gap Lie — You know that ‘women make 77 cents to every man’s dollar’ line you’ve heard a hundred times? It’s not true.” Or check out the Wall Street Journal‘s piece “The ’77 Cents on the Dollar’ Myth About Women’s Pay: Once education, marital status and occupations are considered, the ‘gender wage gap’ all but disappears.” Or any of the other myriad similar pieces.

Still, check out the economic ignorance your tax dollars were perpetuating last night. Thanks, Obama!


And of course reporter types and media outlets just ate it all up.
The only way to continue to use the statistic that women are paid 77 or 78 cents on the dollar for the same work as men is if you believe all work should be paid exactly the same, no matter the skills or education required, the hours worked, the risk involved, the experience accumulated, or any of the other factors that go into wage determination. This so-called gap is calculated simply by comparing the average amount of money men make and comparing it to the average amount of money women make.

If that’s your standard — which is a joke of a standard, but let’s leave that aside — the White House suffers from a deeply alarming pay gap. And a pay gap that hasn’t gotten better since Obama took office.

We have two possible scenarios here. Either the White House — the headquarters of Mr. Equal Pay himself — suffers from a whopping pay gap of 13.3 percent, practicing unconscionable sexism by paying its female staffers an average of five figures ($10,100) less than the male staffers, or the White House is guilty of deception about pay gaps.

It’s actually the latter, but it’s not like our media will press them on the matter. Either way, it would be nice if political types stopped shaming those of us who think there is more to life than work for pay. Some of us have chosen different career paths because we value vocations that pay in ways that are not monetary. We’re kind of sick of being made to feel bad for wanting to be homemakers, spend more time with our children or simply have more flexible schedules than we would otherwise be able to in a different career.

But you know who does have a wage gap problem? Hollywood

It’s sort of hard to feel bad for a group of women who made more money this year than you will in 20, but if there is one industry that is super sexist (and racist, not that Arquette mentioned that), it’s Hollywood. This is an industry riddled with problems.

Charlize Theron apparently found out from those hacked Sony emails that she was being paid $10 million less than her less experienced male co-star named Chris Hemsworth.

Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams — whose talent and box office draw are worth a pretty penny — were just flat out given two percentage points less of the back end of American Hustle than each of the dudes in the film.

And those are only the most famous and beautiful and talented women in Hollywood we happened to hear about in recent months. Most pay disparities are pretty well hidden. But what about the other ways Hollywood demonstrates how sexist it is against women trying to break into screenwriting, directing, producing, and all of the other positions? It’s so much worse.

Only 9 percent of the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2012 were directed by women, according to a study by The Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, based at San Diego University. For other behind-the-scenes roles, women make up only 18 percent. And that has only increased 1 percent since 1998!

The same disparity is seen in sales of scripts. Researcher Susana Orozco who went through every single spec script sales from 1991 and 2012 and found that between 1991 and 2000, women wrote 14 percent of spec scripts sold. By the last few years she studied up to 2012, only 9 percent of the scripts sold were written by women!

Hollywood likes to style itself as liberal and progressive and oh-so-much better than those conservatives in fly-over country. But I’d put the hiring, promotion and pay practices of most any small business owner in the country over the general sexism of Hollywood.

So cheer all you want, Meryl and J-Lo and all the other Hollywood types. But maybe turn your political zeal inward and fix your own house.