Golden Globes Time's Up Activists to Hollywood: "Failure to Pay Women Fairly Is Another Way of Exacting Violence" (Guest Column)

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Tarana Burke (left) and Michelle Williams at the Golden Globes

Tarana Burke, who walked the red carpet Jan. 7 with Michelle Williams, speaks out along with two fellow advocates about the disparity between the 'All the Money in the World' actress' compensation and co-star Mark Wahlberg's, challenging the entertainment industry to "swiftly address the system that allows for such inequities."

The timing of news of the pay disparity between Michelle Williams and her male co-star is not lost on us.

Just days after we stood with Williams and other actresses in support of survivors of sexual harassment and assault and declared Time's Up, we learn that Michelle’s male co-star was paid 1,000 times more than she was for reshoots of their new movie, All the Money in the World. (Ironically, the reshoot was necessitated by the removal of Kevin Spacey from the film in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against him.)

The message here is clear: Gender-based injustice is pervasive, and comes in all forms and sizes.

At the heart of the matter is the reality that women’s lives, and our work, are valued less than men’s, and this power imbalance is expressed in a plethora of ways: from pay disparity, to limited opportunities for promotion, to failure to recognize our work and contributions, to sexual harassment, abuse and violence.

In the words of Audre Lorde, “[t]here is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.” As activists who have dedicated our lives to justice and healing, we understand that to achieve equity and help our communities have a shot at our best lives, we must tackle and confront all of the issues that prevent us from reaching our full potential. This includes, but is not limited to, workplace sexual violence, unequal benefits, and pay disparities.

Research shows that women employed across nearly every sector and industry, regardless of education and skill level, get paid less than their white, male counterparts. The average wage gap for women overall is 80 cents to the dollar. Black women are paid 63 cents to the dollar paid to white men. Native women are paid just 57 cents to the dollar paid to a white man and Latinas are paid 54 cents to the dollar paid on average to white male, non-Hispanic workers. Some women fare far worse than these average wage gaps. For example, farmworker women are paid a little more than $11,000 per year as compared to $16,000 paid to their male counterparts. Women-dominated industries like care work struggle to be recognized as work, deserving of basic protections. And the annual median income for a caregiver for the elderly is $13,000 per year. This means we’re working incredibly hard, sacrificing a lot, and still unable to meet our basic needs, support our families and save for the future.

Linking arms and declaring Time's Up on gender discrimination, violence and abuse were not hollow acts to us. We loudly and proudly stated that we are not going back to a time when women's lives and work are less valued. We will not sit silently in the face of injustice — not for the communities that we serve, our sisters in the entertainment industry or any other place. And we meant it.

Now, it is on the decision-makers in the entertainment industry to swiftly address the system that allows for such inequities, and remedy this wrong for Williams and all women who are being shortchanged in favor of a man for no reason other than their gender. In recognition of Michelle Williams' leadership as an advocate for gender equity, Mark Wahlberg announced a $1.5 million donation to the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, and WME (which represents both stars) followed with a $500,000 donation, in her name. This was a good example of the kinds of steps we must take to remedy these injustices when they occur. And, we must also be clear — the goal is to ensure they don't happen in the first place.  

The Golden Globes felt historic. Because it felt that perhaps gender equity might be within reach after decades of work to bend the arc toward justice, but we were quickly reminded that violence comes in many forms, from physical and the emotional to the economic. While Hollywood is trying to address its problem with sexual violence, we want to underscore that the failure to pay women fairly is another way of exacting violence on women workers by devaluing their worth and contributions.

To the power brokers and decision-makers in Hollywood and throughout the economy: Your choices about compensation reflect your values, and what side of history you want to be on. Failure to choose equity means that you are deliberately assigning value to a person’s contributions based on their gender. Whether based on gender, race, gender identity, sexuality, age or ability, it is discrimination, and simply unacceptable.

On Jan. 7, there was a feeling that something was changing for the better in the entertainment industry, and perhaps even throughout our economy. Without question, the women (and men) who believe in true equity will continue to unite. The question is whether industry leaders will be with us.

Tarana Burke is senior director at Girls for Gender Equity and founder of the Me Too movement. Ai-jen Poo is director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of Caring Across Generations. Monica Ramirez is co-founder and president of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas and deputy director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.