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The Truth is Out There

What the X-Files Reboot Tells us About the Persistence of the Gendered Wage Gap

Source: huffington post
Source: huffington post

Bradley Cooper made headlines last autumn when he vowed to do more to address the gendered wage gap by working with his female co-stars to negotiate for equal pay for lead roles in films.

His remarks came in response to Jennifer Lawrence’s public statements earlier in the month, which expressed both her frustration at the gendered wage gap and her fear that speaking out against them made her seem like a “spoiled brat.”

While female actresses in Hollywood have been speaking out against sexist double standards in pay (among other things) for years now, male actors have been largely silent on the subject. At the risk of paying Cooper kudos simply for being a man speaking about “women’s issues,” while the women who have been working to correct this imbalance for decades remain largely ignored, it does seem to be the case that what is required in this situation is for men in positions of power to take independent action, since the Hollywood machine doesn’t seem interested in any kind of proactive change.

By speaking out against sexist double-standards, Cooper brought the issue into greater prominence – which makes it all the more galling that just this January, it was revealed that Fox was planning on paying Gillian Anderson only half of what it had offered to David Duchovny for the highly-anticipated X-Files reboot.

To add insult to injury, during the original X-Files run, Anderson had worked extremely hard (and ultimately successfully) to raise her salary to that of her male co-lead – which didn’t seem to matter to Fox, even in 2016.

In an interview, Anderson observed that, “It was shocking to me, given all the work that I had done in the past to get us to be paid fairly […] Even in interviews in the last few years, people have said to me, ‘I can’t believe that happened, how did you feel about it, that is insane.’ And my response always was, ‘That was then, this is now.’ And then it happened again! I don’t even know what to say about it.”

David Duchovny’s silence on the matter is also worth noting, as it is illustrative of exactly how men who have done nothing wrong per se still benefit from institutionalized sexism. Duchovny does not need to do anything in order to benefit from Anderson’s loss – although Anderson has since fought for, and received, more appropriate pay.

Though celebrities fighting for more lucrative contracts may not seem especially relevant to most people’s day-to-day business, Gillian Anderson’s struggle – and Jennifer Lawrence’s before her, etc., etc. – draws attention to the fact that the gendered wage gap is a thing that all women struggle with, wealthy or not, famous or not.

It also draws attention to the institutional element of this sexist double standard. In Anderson’s case, she wasn’t paid less because she was deemed less capable, less attractive, or less bankable than her co-star; indeed, it is easily argued that Anderson is currently the more popular member of the duo, after her amazing performance as Dr. Bedelia du Maurier on Hannibal. She was offered less pay simply because paying women less is the norm, regardless of how it’s justified. Because the studio was confident that they could offer her half of what they felt appropriate to offer Duchovny. Because it’s just the way it’s done, and Fox did not foresee receiving any blowback from the issue.

When Prime Minister Trudeau unveiled his plans for a gender-balanced cabinet, his response to the question of “Why?” was a simple quip: “Because it’s 2015.”

(As an aside, Trudeau will be receiving an award for his decision to appoint a gender-balanced cabinet by the non-profit organization Catalyst, which works for women’s recognition and inclusion in the workplace. While it’s true that Trudeau’s decision was laudable, critics observe that yet again, a man is being awarded for his recognition of women’s rights, while the women who have fought for decades to see those rights achieved are obscured.)

It’s now 2016, and Canadian women still make less than their male counterparts. In 2011, Canadian women were paid seventy-four cents to a man’s dollar (a ratio that does not take race into account), and the 2015 Status of Women report says that this number has remained “virtually unchanged” today – even though women are not only more educated than they were, but are now more educated as a group than men.

It should also be pointed out that the pay gap persists in Parliament: men are paid twenty percent more than women.

With the common myth that men and women earn different amounts based solely on life choices now thoroughly debunked, the question remains: why? And how to counter it?

The Pay Equity Commission indicates several factors are responsible, such as male executives preferring to mentor other men instead of women, the fact that women in heterosexual relationships are still responsible for the bulk of child-rearing and home-making responsibilities in their personal lives, occupational segregation so that traditionally “female” jobs pay less than traditionally “male” jobs, and discrimination (whether intentional or not) in hiring, promotion and compensation practices.

These findings point to the fact that, while we now have laws in place intended to reduce the wage gap, the roots of the problem lie in institutional structures and practices, and persistent cultural preferences.

As Gillian Anderson has discovered, we haven’t solved this problem yet – and that means that every Canadian woman who wants to be fairly compensated for her work in the labour market has a long struggle ahead of her.