The Gender Pay Gap and Race
Actress Natalie Portman is the latest White woman celebrity to talk about the gender pay gap in ways that demonstrate tunnel vision on the intersections between racism and gender inequity. From Patricia Arquette’s highly misguided attempt to discuss the wage disparity during her 2015 Oscars speech, to Jennifer Lawrence’s essay calling for equal pay, White actresses have a very skewed view of the inequities faced by “women” in the entertainment industry and in everyday life.
What does the gender pay gap look like when viewed through the intersections of gender, race and other social categories? What do we learn about mainstream feminism’s vision for equal pay, when we become more conscious of Whiteness and the problems with White feminism?Pay gap in Hollywood
Speaking with Marie Claire magazine, Portman described her pay relative to Ashton Kutcher, her co-star in the 2011 film, No Strings Attached:"His [pay fee] was three times higher than mine, so they said he should get three times more. I wasn’t as pissed as I should have been. I mean, we get paid a lot, so it’s hard to complain, but the disparity is crazy. Compared to men, in most professions, women make 80 cents to the dollar. In Hollywood, we are making 30 cents to the dollar."
This pay discrepancy is not fair - both actors carry the film and they work equally as hard. The issue of pay, however, needs to be put into broader perspective. When White actresses talk about pay differences, they talk about "women" as a monolith group. For example, the figures Portman quotes are for White
In 2015, White women earned 82 cents to every dollar earned by a White man, but Latin women earned 58 cents and Black women earned 56 cents. (https://goo.gl/knA3Jy
The fact is that race increases the gender pay gap, not just in Hollywood but in everyday life. White feminism
In 2015, Patricia Arquette similarly made broad-sweeping statements about "women" and pay in Hollywood: "To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights."
She later stated that "women" had fought for the rights of other groups:"It's time for all the women in America and all the men who love women and all the gay people and all the people of colour that we've fought for to fight for us now."
Arquette fails to recognise that by separating "women" from people of colour and "gay people" she is overlooking women of colour and queer women, and the fact that they belong to multiple groups. This is especially problematic, not simply because women of colour and from other underrepresented groups are worse off than White women, but because White feminism has a long history of excluding women of colour. (https://goo.gl/h4peBi
Moreover, women of colour have contributed to social justice for hundreds of years; this is no thanks to White women. (https://goo.gl/rmYaHH
is a term describing feminist practices that ignore, erase and silence race in scholarship and activism. White feminism also undervalues the history, contributions and experiences of women of colour in advancing all women’s rights, such as through civil and human rights movements.
White feminism shows how White women benefit from, and are complicit in, racism and class inequality, through their behaviours and attitudes, or through inaction. This includes ignoring the inequalities between White women and women of colour. (https://goo.gl/bUZCJZ
White women who are feminists do not necessarily practice White feminism.
Then again, White women cannot escape White feminism if they are not consciously thinking about the intersections of gender, race and other disadvantages.Whiteness
At the end of 2015, Jennifer Lawrence wrote an essay where she argued that she'd overlooked pay inequalities because she didn't want to be seen as "difficult": "This could be a young-person thing. It could be a woman 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 women socially conditioned to behave this way? We’ve only been able to vote for what, 90 years?”
This is another example of a White woman who presumes her experience is universal (it's my personality; it's a woman thing). She cites that "women" were given the vote 90 years ago, which is only true for White women. For Black women in the USA, the right to vote was not fully realised until around 50 years ago. Native Americans had to wait even longer than others to be officially allowed the vote, and to this day, access barriers persist for Black people, Native Americans, and undocumented migrants who wish to exercise (or be granted) their right to vote.
These are not minor details. Barriers to basic rights, like voting, reflect broader inequalities, and have an impact on life chances, including pay.Whiteness
is a concept describing how White culture dominates social institutions in “Western” societies to the point where it is so pervasive, so central, so familiar, that it becomes invisible to those who possess it. Whiteness is everywhere, taken for granted, and therefore not questioned by White people on a day-to-day basis. (https://goo.gl/UC5LY7
White women who identify with dominant social groups (heterosexual, able-bodied, middle-class) only confront their sense of difference (or "otherness") in terms of gender. Even then, it is in relation to White men, not to women or men of other racial and social backgrounds. This means that White women are not used to thinking about how their experience of inequality is not as profound as it is for others.
The highest paid White women in Hollywood are paid less than White men but more than people of colour. In 2015, Robert Downey Jr was the highest paid man, earning $80 Million. Jennifer Lawrence was the highest paid actress, earning $52M; while Jackie Chan and Vin Diesel earned $50M and $47M respectively. The only woman of colour to crack the top 18 list was Chinese actress Bingbing Fan with $21M. (https://goo.gl/yw51ht
Gender inequity matters and should be addressed at every opportunity. The fact is that the intersections of gender and race make gender inequity worse.IntersectionalityIntersectionality
is a concept used to critically examine how gender discrimination is affected by race and other social disadvantages that include ableism (discrimination against people with disabilities), homophobia, transphobia, age and class.
The next time a White woman talks about gender equality without at the very least acknowledging race, rethink what they're really saying. How can all women overcome the gender pay gap if White women don't "see" racism and other forms of oppression?
See further analysis and resources on my blog: https://othersociologist.com/2017/01/13/gender-pay-gap-and-race/Notes on commenting
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The Other Sociologist.[Stylised photo of a street intersection with the phrase: My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit! – Flavia Dzodan.]#sociology #socialscience #feminism #racism #paygap #intersectionality