The recent hacking of thousands of Sony emails revealed that Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, two stars of last year’s blockbuster hit American Hustle, were paid millions of dollars less than co-stars Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Christian Bale. The latter actors are perfectly fine (I mean, two are superheroes!), but why did those first two stars of Hustle make so much less than the other three? Here’s my educated guess: Adams and Lawrence are women, and Cooper, Renner, and Bale…aren’t.
This story isn’t getting press because the wage gap is surprising. The Equal Pay Act was passed over 50 years ago, but we still don’t actually have equal pay yet. Women working full-time, year-round typically make 78 cents to every dollar made by men — it’s worse for most women of color, and complicated for transgender women as well. This story may have had bigger disparities to report if Hustle had starred Michelle Rodriguez and Laverne Cox instead.
No, the story is getting mainstream attention because it centers on one of America’s favorite sweethearts: Jennifer Lawrence. In fact, as some journalists are starting to point out, many outlets aren’t even mentioning that Amy Adams faced a pay gap as well (and a particularly steep one considering she played a lead role). We refuse to believe that “JLaw,” the girl of our dreams (and memes), experiences some of the same everyday discrimination as her fans. Or, if we can move on from that shock, many of us may think: “well, it was only a two percent difference. What’s two percent to an Oscar winner?” Well not for nothing, two percent of the total box office gross of American Hustle is about five million dollars. But to be perfectly frank, that doesn’t matter here.
The wage gap is unjust whether it’s at two percent, twenty-two percent, or seventy-two percent. It’s unjust because it’s unequal, and that’s not the kind of society we claim to have. This is especially salient for low-income women, for whom the cost of sexism could mean a missed rent payment or a night without dinner. But here’s the truth every woman is staring down: the wage gap hurts women and families at every income level, and we need to close it at every income level, because this is an issue that matters, period, whether you’re making millions or minimum wage.
It’s not less wrong for Amy Adams to face pay discrimination than it is for a woman like Wal-Mart worker Betty Dukes. It’s also not less wrong when it happens to women like Betty than when it happens to Amy. It’s wrong when it happens to anybody. Full stop. Because justice isn’t something you earn — it’s something we agreed everyone should have equal access to, and that means nothing if we don’t enforce it. And to that point, if it took a massive hacking of Sony’s servers to shine a light on unequal pay for movie stars, the chances are way lower that your average working-class mom has a shot at being treated fairly.
I and so many others have had enough of the too, too many ways women are targeted simply for being women. Whether it comes via threats of digital violence, attacks on reproductive health services used primarily by women, or continued votes against raising wages for the two-thirds of minimum wage workers who are women, sexism hangs in our air like vaguely pink smog. It’s past time to air it out — let’s see some hustle.