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?
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 women.
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. Racialised gender inequity persists with higher education. In recent years, the pay gap for White and Asian women has closed more than for Latin and Black women.
The fact is that race increases the gender pay gap, not just in Hollywood but in everyday life.
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, or in their feminist practices.
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.
Gender inequity matters and should be addressed at every opportunity. The fact is that the intersections of gender and race make gender inequity worse.
Intersectionality 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. Intersectionality is the antithesis of feminist theory and practices that otherwise ignore how race further marginalises women from underrepresented groups.
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/
[Images: 1) Stylised, waist-line image of the of a woman of colour holding a designer handbag. 2) Stylised photo of a street intersection with the phrase: My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit! – Flavia Dzodan.]
Source: The Other Sociologist.