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Equal pay: All the best celebrity quotes about the dangerous gender wage gap

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Women around the world earn around 18% less than their male counterparts, a global gender pay gap that will take some 202 years to close. In recent years, several celebrities have spoken out about tackling the wage gap, and their stories will inspire you to demand more.

This is a number you need to know: 18.8%. That is the percentage less of income that women around the world earn compared to their male colleagues. 

18.8%. That’s almost 20%. Women around the world are earning almost a fifth less than men despite doing the same work. And this just an aggregate. In the US, black women earn just 61 cents for every dollar made by a white, non-Hispanic man, a loss of more than $23,000 a year. 

For black women, equal pay would not be a reality until the year 2119. Pay gaps also exist for Hispanic women, Indigenous women and Asian women. The reality, according to new research, is that the global gender pay gap will take 202 years to close.

It’s not good enough. In recent years, celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Michelle Williams and Jessica Chastain have spoken up about how they are tackling the pay gap that exists in their own industry. Hollywood has long exploited its female stars, paying them less than their male counterparts. But these women, and several others like them, are calling Time’s Up on that, and are doing so through speeches at awards shows, essays, in their interviews and on their social media platforms.

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These celebrities may be suffering from a pay gap in an industry where they are already earning eyewatering sums of money, and they would be the first to admit that their pay gap is not the most egregious, nor the most pressing in the world. But what each of the women in this story is doing is flagging the existence of the gender wage gape and forcing people to confront the reality of unequal pay.

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As Williams put it at the Emmys: “So the next time a woman – and especially a woman of colour, because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white, male counterpart – tells you what she needs to do in order to do her job, listen to her. Believe her.”

“Because one day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.” 

  • Jennifer Lawrence

    Jennifer Lawrence on equal pay: "I saw the payroll on the Internet and realised every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being difficult or spoiled."

    Back in 2015, Jennifer Lawrence penned a powerful essay for Lena Dunham’s now-defunct Lenny Letter on the gender pay gap in Hollywood. The letter was prompted by the Sony hack, that revealed that several female celebrities – including Lawrence and Amy Adams – were paid less than “the lucky people with dicks”, as Lawrence put it.

    “I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight,” she wrote. “I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’ At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realised every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being difficult or spoiled.”

  • Sienna Miller

    Sienna Miller on equal pay: “I was forced to choose between making a concession on my self-worth and dignity and a role that I was in love with.”

    The actor told the Guardian that she was forced to turn down a role in a Broadway play because they were not willing to offer her pay parity with her male co-star. Instead, producers on the play wanted to pay her less than half what her male counterpart would be paid.

    “The decision to turn down this particular role was difficult and lonely,” Miller said. “I was forced to choose between making a concession on my self-worth and dignity and a role that I was in love with.”

  • Taraji P Henson

    Taraji P Henson on equal pay: "Still a fight. I don't get paid if I don't fight."

    Speaking to Variety, the star of Hidden Figures shared a story from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film that sent her star ascendant and earned her an Oscar nomination. Henson asked producers for $500,000 for the role. They paid her $150,000.

    “I’m number three on the call sheet,” she said. “Does that make sense to you?”

    Henson added that, now, she will say goodbye to a job if the pay is not equal. “If you want a discount performance, go get it,” she said. “They’re out there. But you’re not getting it from me. I deliver, and I have the track record to prove it.” 

    “Still a fight,” she added. “I don’t get paid if I don’t fight.” 

  • Natalie Portman

    Natalie Portman on equal pay: "I wasn’t as pissed as I should have been. The disparity is crazy.”

    Many people will remember No Strings Attached as a B-grade romantic comedy elevated by the performance of Natalie Portman in a starring role. What people don’t know is that, behind the scenes, the Oscar-winning actor was being paid considerably less than her male co-star Ashton Kutcher.

    “I knew and I went along with it because there’s this thing with ‘quotes’ in Hollywood,” Portman told marie claire. “His [quote] 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. The disparity is crazy.”

  • Octavia Spencer

    Octavia Spencer on equal pay: “I think my goal is to make sure that all women of colour get equal pay, and all women get equal pay,”

    At the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Octavia Spencer spoke openly about her battles for equal pay. She praised her co-stars both male and female for helping her achieve pay parity.

    “I think my goal is to make sure that all women of colour get equal pay, and all women get equal pay,” Spencer said. She recounted a story in which Jessica Chastain helped her receive a raise five times her initial quote on a forthcoming film they were both headlining by negotiating salary alongside her.

    “The only way to do it is to have these conversations, to talk numbers with your co-stars,” Spencer said. “Jessica and I stood together, and that was interesting that she would take that position – well I mean, she is Jessica Chastain – but we also need advocates and allies in negotiating.” 

  • Jessica Chastain

    Jessica Chastain on equal pay: "It’s completely unfair. It’s not right."

    Oscar-nominated actor Jessica Chastain has been one of the most vocal and outspoken critics of the gender pay gap. In response to Lawrence’s viral essay, Chastain told Variety: “There’s no excuse. There’s no reason why [an actor such as Lawrence] should be doing a film with other actors and get paid less than her male co-stars. It’s completely unfair. It’s not right. It’s been happening for years and years and years. I think it’s brave to talk about it. I think everyone should talk about it.” 

    She also advocated on behalf of her longtime co-star Octavia Spencer so that she could receive equal pay. “It was the easiest thing to do,” Chastain told Whimn.com.au, of helping Spencer. “It was her vulnerability in sharing with me where she was in terms of her salary [that led to that]. For the longest time, women have felt like we have to keep things secret. We’ve been raised to think that it’s not proper to talk about money or salary, and there’s something shameful about that.”

    “I think that is absolutely part of the problem. We should feel confident to put ourselves up for promotion, and put ourselves up for a raise, no matter what the industry… I think we have to acknowledge that when we are vulnerable enough to speak to each other whether it’s wage inequality whether it’s abuse that women are suffering in the workplace, we will protect each other and support each other.” 

  • Patricia Arquette

    Patricia Arquette on equal pay: “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

    For many, Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech for her Best Supporting Actress Oscar was a watershed moment in Hollywood’s equal pay battle. During her three minute talk, Arquette implored everyone in the audience to make equal pay their number one concern.

    “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,” she said. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” 

  • Michelle Williams

    Michelle Williams on equal pay: “No one cared. This came as no surprise to me."

    Infamously, Michelle Williams was paid just $1,000 to reshoot key scenes in her movie All The Money In The World while her male co-star Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million.

    “No one cared,” Williams said, in a speech delivered on equal pay day at Capitol Hill. “This came as no surprise to me, it simply reinforced my life-learned belief that equality is not an inalienable right and that women would always be working just as hard for less money while shouldering more responsibility at home.”

    She added that she believed that the industry was changing, slowly. “I could tell my workplace was shifting,” she said. “Rather than being grasped too tightly or hugged for too long as a morning greeting, my hand was shaken and I was looked squarely in the eye and I was welcome to my Monday morning. On the job I completed two weeks ago, I have to tell you, I was paid equally with my male co-star.” 

  • Julianna Margulies

    Julianna Margulies on equal pay: "I was more surprised than hurt. I thought, ‘What are you worth?"

    This star of The Good Wife had to turn down a guest role on The Good Fight – the spinoff to the series that she headlined for several years – because the television network did not want to pay her fee.

    “To be honest, I was shocked,” she told Deadline. “I was more surprised than hurt. I thought, ‘What are you worth?’” I’m not a guest star; I started the whole thing with The Good Wife. I wanted to be paid my worth and stand up for equal pay. If Jon Hamm came back for a Mad Men spinoff or Kiefer Sutherland wanted to do a 24 spinoff, they would be paid.” 

  • Ellen Pompeo

    Ellen Pompeo on equal pay: "I asked for $5,000 more than him just on principle, because the show is Grey’s Anatomy and I’m Meredith Grey. They wouldn’t give it to me."

    Ellen Pompeo is one of the highest-paid women on television, earning $575,000 per episode of her series Grey’s Anatomy, plus a seven-figure signing bonus for each new contract. At the end of 2017 she had made $20 million for her work on the celebrated medical drama.

    But this hasn’t always been the case. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Pompeo revealed that for years network executives used her co-star Patrick Dempsey against her in salary negotiations.

    “They could always use him as leverage against me — ‘We don’t need you; we have Patrick’ — which they did for years. I don’t know if they also did that to him, because he and I never discussed our deals,” Pompeo explained.

    “There were many times where I reached out about joining together to negotiate, but he was never interested in that.

    “At one point, I asked for $5,000 more than him just on principle, because the show is Grey’s Anatomy and I’m Meredith Grey. They wouldn’t give it to me. And I could have walked away, so why didn’t I? It’s my show; I’m the number one. I’m sure I felt what a lot of these other actresses feel: Why should I walk away from a great part because of a guy? You feel conflicted but then you figure, ‘I’m not going to let a guy drive me out of my own house.’” 

  • Claire Foy

    Claire Foy on equal pay: "It definitely opened my eyes to a lot. And I certainly won’t be naïve about those things.”

    Fans of The Crown were horrified to learn that, despite playing the literal Queen, Claire Foy was paid less than her male co-star Matt Smith.

    Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Foy said: “I’m surprised because I’m at the centre of it, and anything that I’m at the centre of like that is very very odd, and feels very very out of ordinary. But I’m not [surprised about the interest in the story] in the sense that it was a female-led drama. I’m not surprised that people saw [the story] and went, ‘Oh, that’s a bit odd.’” 

    Later, she told The Telegraph: “It definitely opened my eyes to a lot. And I certainly won’t be naïve about those things.” 

  • Emma Stone

    Emma Stone on equal pay: "I’ve needed my male co-stars to take a pay cut so that I may have parity with them."

    After portraying Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes, which told the story of the tennis star’s fight for equal pay in sport, Emma Stone revealed her own experience of gender pay gap.

    “I’ve needed my male co-stars to take a pay cut so that I may have parity with them,” she told Out magazine. “And that’s something they do for me because they feel it’s what’s right and fair. That’s something that’s also not discussed, necessarily — that our getting equal pay is going to require people to selflessly say, ‘That’s what’s fair.’”

  • Oprah

    Oprah on equal pay: "Either they’re gonna get raises, or I’m gonna sit down. I’m not gonna work if they don’t get paid more."

    Speaking at The Hollywood Reporter’s inaugural Empowerment in Entertainment gala, Oprah shared the ways in which she has fought the wage gap in her own life. 

    “Because I was a single woman and I didn’t have a mortgage and I didn’t have kids, I was not entitled to earn the same kind of money as the man sitting next to me,” Oprah recalled in her speech. “And I realised in that moment that my employers didn’t get it. They did not understand my value. But you know what? I did.”

    Oprah went on to recount an experience she had when her television show first became a national series. She received a pay rise, but none of the producers – incidentally, all women – did. Oprah marched into her boss’ office and asked for her employees to receive a pay rise.

    “Why do they need more money?” her male boss replied. “They’re a bunch of girls.”

    So Oprah took her own pay rise and, out of it, gave each of her producers a $10,000 bonus. “My idea of being creative was to have [the money] rolled up in toilet paper rolls at the dinner as gifts, because I couldn’t get management to pay them,” Oprah mused, in The Hollywood Reporter’s accompanying interview.

    The next year, Oprah went back into the office and asked, again, for her boss to give everyone more money. Only this time, she said this: “Either they’re gonna get raises, or I’m gonna sit down. I’m not gonna work if they don’t get paid more. Babe.”

    At the podium, recalling this moment, Oprah paused. “You know it takes a while to develop a voice, but once you have it, you damn better use it on stuff that matters,” she said. 

  • Priyanka Chopra

    Priyanka Chopra on equal pay: “I'm still used to being paid – like most actresses around the world – a lot less than the boys”.

    Priyanka Chopra is sick of being told that she’s worthless. Speaking to Glamour, the actor said that she was “still used to being paid – like most actresses around the world – a lot less than the boys”.

    “We’re told we’re too provocative, or that being sexy is our strength, which it can be, and it is, but that’s not the only thing we have.” 

  • Amy Adams

    Amy Adams on equal pay: “I wasn’t comfortable [talking about it] because I don’t feel bad for myself as an actress."

    Like Lawrence, her co-star in American Hustle, Amy Adams has been the victim of Hollywood’s pay gap. She’s also aware that she comes from the issue from a position of privilege.

    “I wasn’t comfortable [talking about it] because I don’t feel bad for myself as an actress,” she told Allure. “I feel really fortunate. I started doing research, and it was striking how women don’t feel comfortable negotiating for raises.”

  • Meryl Streep

    Meryl Streep on equal pay: “Men are ashamed that they’re getting that money. It used to be, everybody didn’t say anything about it, so it was kind of fine."

    Speaking to TIME, Meryl Streep said that she thinks that the tide is turning in Hollywood. “Men are ashamed that they’re getting that money. It used to be, everybody didn’t say anything about it, so it was kind of fine. Now they’re a little more nervous that somebody will find out what they make vis-a-vis their co-star.”

    “That’s the best vigilance: the vigilance of privilege,” she added. “People will always be battling and whining about it. When the other side says, ‘You know, I think that sucks’—that’s great.” 

  • Emma Watson

    Emma Watson on equal pay: “I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts."

    As part of her HeforShe campaign with UN Women, Emma Watson gave a speech at the United Nations on the subject of equality. “I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts,” she said. “I think it is right that I should make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that be women involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.” 

  • Julie Delpy

    Julie Delpy on equal pay: “Listen guys, if I am not paid the same, I am not doing it.”

    The Before trilogy is a cult classic series of romantic dramas, and Julie Delpy its undeniable star. But in reality, the French actor was paid about a tenth of what her male co-star Ethan Hawke was paid on the original film Before Sunrise, which was released in 1995.

    In 2004 when Before Sunset was released, Delpy was paid half of what Hawke was paid. So by the time 2013 rolled around and Before Midnight went into production, Delpy told producers: “Listen guys, if I am not paid the same, I am not doing it.” 

  • Emma Thompson

    Emma Thompson on equal pay: “This is the fact: this person does the same work for less money, and that’s just wrong.”

    Emma Thompson, who wore an equal pay badge to receive her Damehood, has said that she has “always” been “paid less than my male counterparts” on films. 

    The future, she has said, is to publish the salaries of employees in order to shame companies into paying men and women the same amounts. 

    “Publishing figures is the first step,” she has said. “It’s a forensic way of looking at how women are second-class citizens and I really appreciate that because it’s not emotional. This is the fact: this person does the same work for less money, and that’s just wrong.”

Images: Getty