How did Jennifer Lawrence feel when she found out, through the Sony Hack last November, that she was paid less than her male American Hustle costars? As she writes Tuesday’s Lenny Letter, her reaction to the realization that “the lucky people with dicks” were raking in more cash than she was for the same movie was this: “I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up too early.”
For their work in American Hustle, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and the director David O. Russell took home 9 percent of back-end profits; Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence got only 7 percent each. While art is subjective and star value is a mercurial, difficult-to-quantify quality, the stats are not ever in the gentlemen’s favor: Adams had, to date, four Academy Award nominations to her name, while Lawrence had a nomination and a win. (Lawrence and Adams went on to be nominated for American Hustle, as did Bale and Cooper, though none of them won.)
Theirs was not the only gendered wage gap exposed by the Sony Hack. Through the leaked emails, Charlize Theron discovered she would be earning $10 million less than her The Huntsman costar Chris Hemsworth; she successfully negotiated a $10 million raise. Sony executives, too, were revealed to experience a pay gap based on gender: Columbia Pictures co-presidents of production Michael De Luca and Hannah Minghella have, as that “co” title suggests, the exact same job. De Luca makes almost $1 million more than Minghella.
In her essay, Lawrence addresses up front that she has an exceptional explanation as to why she felt uncomfortable negotiating for more money: The literal poster girl for two massive franchises “didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly… I don’t need.” But then she digs into something women in any industry can understand:
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. I didn’t want to seem “difficult” or “spoiled.” This could be a young-person thing. It could be a personality thing. I’m sure it’s both. But this is an element of my personality that I’ve been working against for years, and based on the statistics, I don’t think I’m the only woman with this issue. Are we socially conditioned to behave this way?… Could there still be a lingering habit of trying to express our opinions in a certain way that doesn’t “offend” or “scare” men?
She goes on to describe a recent conversation she had with a man at work — technically, a man who was working for her — in which she “spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-bullshit way; no aggression, just blunt.” His response was so disproportionate to the tone of her comment, she writes; he reacted “as if I was yelling at him.”
Girls and women the world over feel the pressure to alter behavior — and clothes and makeup and body language and the actual bone structure of and skin on their faces — in order to become and remain “likable,” a social pressure that, almost by design, holds women back in professional life. (It’s enough to make a person think maybe those things are related! But no, that couldn’t be, I’m just being hysterical.) Lawrence presumably experiences that pressure on an extraordinary scale, as so much of her movie star marketability depends on her as-yet-unassailable status as a person you’d have to be a sociopath not to like. The wage gap, too, is far from a Hollywood-only conundrum: Nearly every profession in nearly every industry has a pay gap.
Lawrence issues something of a rallying cry at the end of her letter: “I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable! Fuck that. I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It’s just heard.” Let her ability to reference, in the next sentence, her American Hustle costar Christian Bale — a man who is not exactly known for his “likable” on-set personality — as someone who not only negotiated a killer paycheck for himself but was, by Lawrence’s estimation, probably “commended for being fierce and tactical,” fuel your fury at this gendered double standard.