This is the Wrong Way to Fight the Pay Gap

Fact-Check-Heres-Why-Michelle-Williams-Was-Paid-Less-than-Mark-Wahlberg-for-Reshoots.jpgThe news about Mark Wahlberg’s and Michelle Williams’ disparate pay is so puzzling to me. Basically, Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams are in a movie and certain scenes needed to be reshot to cut out disgraced actor Kevin Spacey. Wahlberg was paid $1.5M for the reshoot and Williams was paid $1k.

The news stories covering the reshoot note that while Williams was willing to forgo her salary, Wahlberg, who had already taken a substantial pay cut to shoot the film, was not.

So Wahlberg wants $1.5M for the reshoot and Williams will work for the per diem amount.  The talent agency (the same talent agency represents both actors) will ask for whatever Wahlberg and Williams want.  The film company is willing to negotiate with the the talent agency.  What is the correct “feminist” thing for everyone to do?

According to news articles, the correct thing was for Wahlberg to work for the same amount as Williams or to donate the money in excess of Williams’ pay.  This is basically the same solution Emma Stone insisted upon to even up the pay gap in her movies- basically, that her male costars reduce their pay to match hers.

This seems stupid.

Why Williams is Not a Damsel in Distress

Before I address how stupid I think this is, I want to address Forbes‘ take on the situation – suggesting that perhaps Williams didn’t feel confident enough asking for more money because of her relative lack of star power and her need for the potential star-making turn in this film.  I’m not sure I buy that angle though.

First, she’s the lead in the movie and only certain scenes needed to be reshot – not the entire film.  Star power or not, she was in an advantageous position over the film company.  Michelle Williams has made many movies and probably still gets Dawson’s Creek residuals. She’s probably ok for money whether the movie comes out or not.

Second, because of Williams’ advantage and because her talent agency was doing the negotiating, she stood to lose very little from trying to make more money.  If she had asked for $2M, the film company could refuse, but they’re not going to cast a different actress and reshoot the whole thing. They would renegotiate.

Third, Williams eventually agreed to work for minimum wage.  That fact seems to indicate that she didn’t have her talent agency negotiate any additional money at all.  She’s not some random extra on the set – she’s a well-known actress, and the star of the movie.  If she had wanted money, she could have at least asked for some money (like, perhaps, double the minimum wage), but she didn’t.  Working for free/minimum wage was a statement of her devotion, according to what she stated in interviews.  Let’s not discount the possibility that Williams was leveraging the story of the loss in pay to create Oscar buzz around her devotion and media buzz for her movie because of the potential pay gap headlines.  Let’s not assume that she was a naive girl when she could clearly be a savvy woman manipulating this whole ordeal to her advantage in a way that accepting more money could not.

Fourth, her agent negotiates for her! This is the same talent agency that Wahlberg has. This is not the case of some little woman fighting a big fight against a big company. It was one company negotiating with another company. Just because one company represents a woman doesn’t mean the company has less power. Remember, this was the same company that got Wahlberg his big payday.

Anyway, back to why Wahlberg donating his difference in salary is a dumb way to reduce the pay gap.

Why Wahlberg Shouldn’t be a White Knight

It seems like some feminists believe that female advancement (all this HeForShe stuff) should be based on men sacrificing and fighting for women.  It’s basically the typical chivalry ideal with the knight in shining armor and the damsel in distress.  This both overburdens the men and infantilizes women, making it seem like women have no power at all and must be rescued.

This tactic suggests that male workers have the burden of figuring out their female coworkers’ pay and donating or turning down the difference.  It’s only because these actors get paid enormous sums that this solution could even be suggested.  Why is pay equality so important that we’d rather all men get paid less, even if the company gets the difference and the women don’t get paid any more?  It’s kind of like “sticking it to the man” though it’s literally “the man,” as in the male coworker, as opposed to “the Man,” the big company.  I don’t see how this benefits anyone (besides the big company).  If it’s the man’s burden to do this, to act in direct disregard to his own interest, well it does not seem that pay inequality will be fixed anytime soon. What does Mark Wahlberg gain by reducing his pay?

Second, this strategy doesn’t help the women.  What does Michelle Williams gain by Wahlberg reducing his pay and not receiving any of it? I would understand people caring about the pay gap if women don’t have enough money to live on. I don’t understand it when it’s just about being paid the same amount for appearances. If the number of men in poverty equals the number of women in poverty, is this success?

Third, the problem with the pay gap is not the man’s acceptance of a higher amount, but the company’s offering of different salaries to a man and a woman by the company.  This strategy focuses on the man, and not the company.  It assumes that for every interaction, the man must be ever vigilant to reduce his pay, while the focus should be on the company offering equal pay to both. That’s the only way that equal pay will work at all levels, without charity from men.

But even focusing it on the company makes it seem like a zero sum game. Let’s say the company divides the $1.5M paid to Wahlberg between him and Williams. That’s fair, right even though she didn’t ask for the money? But what if the company had an extra $1.5M to give to Williams but she didn’t ask for it? Wouldn’t that be a better result?

I think the media is too quick to paint Williams as a martyr here.  If she were a man and received the payment she did, the story would be that she/he was a team player. This is what happens with star athletes who take pay cuts. I think Williams was passionate about this project and didn’t care about the money.  I don’t see that there’s a problem that needs to be solved where wealthy women make the choice to work for less.  That seems to infringe upon a woman’s right to make her own choices, which seems to be a fundamental tenet of feminism.

And even if Williams was a martyr, and assuming that talent agencies for actresses are helpless to negotiate higher salaries for them (though they are the same agencies that represent actors), there seem to be better solutions than the actor taking a pay cut.  Like joint negotiations.

What do you think about men renegotiating their salaries to get paid equal to their lower-paid female counterparts?

Image credit: Fact Check