The Equal Pay Act passed on June 10, 1963, by John F. Kennedy aimed to remove wage disparity between men and women, yet fifty-four years later the gap between men and women’s wages has narrowed but not disappeared. This year, many celebrities have championed the cause of the Equal Pay Act. One being Amy Schumer, who tweeted in support of former “E! News” anchor Cat Sadler after quitting her job in December 2017 after discovering she was being paid less than her male counterparts. Emma Stone also touched on the issue, revealing that her male colleagues took a pay cut so she could have an equal amount of pay to them. Viola Davis is yet another A list actress who spoke about equal pay between men and women, but lent her voice to a more insidious problem than the fight for gender equality — that is the racial gap in earnings as well.
The movement focuses on the fight for white women to earn the same as white men specifically, but it doesn’t account for other races of men and women. According to Pew Research, white women earn less than white and Asian men; they earn $17 an hour compared to white men who earn $24 per hour — and that is where the gender inequality ends. White women earn more than Black and Hispanic men who earn $15 and $14 per hour respectively. They earn more than Black and Hispanic women who earn $13 and $12 respectively. The figure disparities are a disgrace, but make crystal clear that conversations about equal pay between men and women show that the real drive is to elevate the pay of white women, not to bring about equality for all. It’s simply dishonest to debate the gender pay gap and not discuss the fact that white women earn more than Black and Hispanic men and women. The debate on equal pay demonstrates that the media are a thinking monolith, guided by a need to reinforce the status quo.
Why Equal Pay Matters
Every day in workplaces across the country decisions are made that contribute to the discrepancy. A prime example is the situation with Monique and the Netflix contract Monique was offered — $500,000 to do a comedy special. According to Monique, this offer was put on the table as a non-negotiable offer. Monique challenged the offer and requested that her track record be used to assess whether or not she is worthy of a more lucrative contract. Netflix refused. Monique’s response was to go public, the outcry was swift. Tony Rock commented that she should focus on her own wage and not compare herself to others. But for argument sake, how does Netflix treat other comics? Netflix offered Amy Schumer $11,000,000 initially then it was increased to $13,000,000 after the comedian asked for a revision of her contract. Amy Schumer did allegedly say she didn’t think she should be paid the same as Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle, but she should be offered more than the $11, 000,000. Netflix’s response was to increase the offer.
What was perhaps as disappointing as Netflix’s response was the concerted effort to diminish Monique and the tacit support given to Netflix with friends and foes alike advising her on how to better accept the inequality. Black radio hosts even cosigned on the negative narrative about Monique. It was interesting to see how many black people followed the mainstream media’s lead questioning her behavior, an argument that suggests that equality is not a God-given right, but rather something earned as a result of good behavior.
Take a look at the contract below and imagine you were given one similar. How would you respond to a contract for your job that offers you less than the market rate? One clause, in particular, caught my eye which calls for Monique to promote the special. How long will this promotion go on for? Who pays for her travel or will that come out of the same payment? All legitimate questions. But perhaps the most despicable part of the contract was the stipulation that for twelve months after the premier (imagine if they decide not to cast the special for 2 years let’s say) Monique cannot tape or negotiate with any third party with respect to her next comedy special. All for a paltry $500,000 which isn’t even close to the offers of her counterparts. This Netflix contract is steeped in exploitation.
It’s shocking that anyone would suggest that Monique accept the contract, and it shows how little we think of one another to the point that people have used their platform to try and talk up a slave contract. We are talking about a company that makes billions of dollars in profits globally who certainly can afford to offer multiple celebrities a multi-million dollar contract. Inequality always looks like this; movable goal posts, the factors that determine pay appear arbitrary, however, none of this reflects the catch-all phrase in most jobs which is relevant experience. There are a number of cases where the workplace has used that phrase to pay black members of staff less by discounting some of their relevant experience.
The real battle for equal pay will have to focus on the removal of the racial wage gap as the primary battle. To close the gap black men and women will have to struggle to earn as much as white women first and then white men. To succeed people will have to be willing to have honest and sometimes painful conversations. Monique’s battle with Netflix is, in fact, a brave stand and her anger is palpable. This is what change looks like, it’s not neat and tidy, it’s raw and honest and it brooks no opposition. Monique, we salute you.