Yesterday saw the publication of an essay by actor Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games, American Hustle, X-Men) on the wage gap in the film industry. Titled ‘Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co‑Stars?’, the piece was featured in Lenny Letter (or Lenny), an online newsletter headed by fellow actor Lena Dunham (Girls).
The piece is striking. Even before considering the positions and opinions it offers, the most notable feature is the voice of the essay. To call the piece conversational would risk being an understatement. Baring voice filled pauses and re-phasing, Lawrence reads like she sounds. For many, it will likely register as more genuine than the professional, euphemism stuffed prose often used in addressing similar topics.
Although it would be fair to say that Lawrence is not an expert on gender issues, it would be redundant in light of the fact she plainly has no pretensions of being one. She acknowledges that her experience of the phenomenon “aren’t exactly relatable” (most of us aren’t Oscar winning actors, after all). Furthermore, the issues she raises, such as the cultural conditioning that girls/ women undergo so as not to seem ‘threatening’, are not new to the discourse. Still, Lawrence once again offers no more than the experience of how such issues have affected her.
That said, the feature is refreshing for the unadorned and unapologetic way it presents its case:
“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.”
For many women the experience she recounts may be all too familiar.
With the essay’s release, there will with boring inevitability be those who suggest she wrote the piece with a view to seeking attention for herself and curry favour more generally. However, while it must be admitted that the content of the piece will win her further admiration, the suggestion is ridiculous at face value. As mentioned above, Lawrence demonstrates a self-awareness that her experience will not speak to that of most women – at least not directly. With “two franchises” in her filmography, it is safe to say Lawrence has sufficient attention to begin with. Also, she is seldom heard of unless she is promoting a movie. It would therefore seem more likely that we have a person in the public eye using their popularity to draw attention to what they judge to be a worthy cause. If that is the case it begs the question: what’s the problem?
Writing for Variety, Maane Khatchatourian notes that in penning the piece “Lawrence joins the likes of actors Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Geena Davis, Liv Tyler, Helen Mirren, Sandra Bullock, Patricia Arquette and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who are also denouncing the sexism in the industry.”
In all, it is difficult not to regard this as a thoroughly worthwhile attempt to highlight and undercut long-standing, systemic prejudice. Granted the manifestation is less pernicious compared to other low-paid jobs. However, the principle is perverse no matter where we find it. Here’s hoping the attention drawn by Lawrence will prove helpful.
What do you make of Lawrence? What do you make of her essay? What do you make of the wage gap generally? Tell us in the comments!