When a woman talks about her paycheck, we all need to listen

We all tend to have a hard time summoning the courage to ask for what we want. Due to the unreasonable amount of pressure our culture puts on females to keep their opinions to themselves, women (particularly young women) often struggle with this problem more than anyone else, especially when it comes to how much they get paid.

Actress Jennifer Lawrence recently published an essay called “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?” in Lena Dunham's email newsletter. The essay effectively explained the discrepancy between male and female actors in the amount of power they have when they negotiate their contracts. Giving the words even more weight, Lawrence is an insider and pop culture icon. 

As both an avid movie-goer and an economics major, I was eager to find out what she had to say.

Before I read the essay, I expected it to go something like, “I made (insert large amount of money here), and Bradley Cooper made (insert even larger amount of money here). The average woman in America makes 78 cents for every dollar the average man makes. This is unfair.”

While that would have been a completely worthy point to make, it wouldn’t have addressed any of the gender pay gap’s underlying causes. The reasons for the difference in earnings between men and women are both numerous and complicated, but the most quantifiable explanation for why men make more money is simple. They ask for it.

After I read Lawrence's essay, I realized her frustration wasn’t so much with how much money she was earning, but instead something much deeper and more personal. It was really about the experience of being a woman, more specifically how women often worry they won’t be “liked” if they're too persistent in asking for what they want.

She attributes her failure to ask for the same amount of money as her male counterparts to not wanting to come off as “spoiled.”

The apprehension women have when it comes to asking for more money isn't without merit. Studies suggest that women who ask for higher pay are even likely to be penalized for doing so.

In the essay, Jennifer Lawrence writes, “This could be a young-person thing. It could be a personality thing. I’m sure it’s both.”

Other actresses, such as Rooney Mara, Emma Watson and Jessica Chastain, have commented on the challenges women need to overcome when attempting to demand the right amount of compensation for their work without "offending" anyone.  

Mara, of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" fame, said, "I’ve been in films where I’ve found out my male co-star got paid double what I got paid, and it’s just a reality of the time that we live in."

Lawrence's essay is a great example of how women can encourage each other to speak up for themselves and make sure they’re being taken seriously.

As a result of the statement, Bradley Cooper, who had a more advantageous contract than Lawrence in "American Hustle," announced that he is going to start negotiating his salary alongside his female co-stars.

The world needs employees to listen to what Jennifer Lawrence has to say about how people should speak their minds. It also needs employers to accept her criticism of the way they treat women, and figure out ways to be more understanding of the needs of all of the people who work for them.  

Related Links:

Letter: Pay gap looms after women graduate

ASU Salaries: divide and gender


Reach the columnist at cmfitzpa@asu.edu or follow @CodyFitzStories on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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