Equal pay advocates continue to hold out hope that one day in the near future, there will be no need to harp about how grossly unfair and sexist it is that women are still paid less than men based solely on gender. But until then, the longstanding cause needs all the support it can get, particularly from the men who benefit from the existing pay disparities. So what does effective gender wage equality allyship look like? If you ask Salma Hayek, it involves the men in Hollywood being more mindful of where they put their money. Specifically, the actress told Cannes Film Festival attendees that in addition to industry producers, Hollywood’s male actors should take pay cuts in order to effect real change.
“If actors ask such inflated fees it will leave nothing for actresses. If the movie’s budget is $10 million, the [male] actor has to understand that if he is making $9.7 million, it is going to be hard for equality,” Hayek said during the festival’s Women in Motion talk. “Otherwise, they will kill the movie,” she added, before admitting that her words would likely cause a stir.
And they should. According to the Pew Research Center, the gender pay gap has closed since 1980 but has remained relatively steady over the past 15 years. A 2017 analysis of the median hourly wages of part and full-time workers in the U.S. showed that women earned 82 percent of what men earned, which amounts to a difference of 47 days’ worth of work. Combining this issue with the host of other gender-related challenges women face in the workplace—from sexual harassment to discrimination for taking maternity leave—should offer men plenty of incentive to aggressively use their privilege to contribute to the greater good. But if male actors were to act on Hayek’s suggestion, how impactful would their voluntary pay cuts be?
While Hayek admits that her call for male actors to fork over some of their hefty salaries is risky, having them actually comply with that suggestion is certainly not an anomaly. In January, a group of the BBC’s highest paid male presenters took a pay cut in response to an equal pay dispute at the network. Later that month, EasyJet’s new male CEO agreed to a lower salary to match that of his female predecessor. Recently, Benedict Cumberbatch called for the film industry to reject projects with gender-based pay disparities.
Seeking equality isn’t about making an enemy out of anyone.
“Equal pay and a place at the table are the central tenets of feminism. Look at your quotas. Ask what women are being paid, and say: ‘If she’s not paid the same as the men, I’m not doing it,’” he said. In a way, the efforts of these men can definitely be viewed as a solid show of solidarity that makes them a part of the solution instead of idle bystanders who knowingly profit off a discriminatory system. It’s no secret that oppressive patriarchal constructs make it extremely difficult—and in some cases impossible—for women to be heard, so male voices and actions are absolutely necessary for progress.
However, some argue that men taking pay cuts won’t solve the pay gap issue. As Ashley Louise of career development organization Ladies Get Paid told CNN, a certain value has already been placed on the job, and voluntary pay cuts simply reinforce the notion that women don’t deserve to earn what men do.
“You're telling women, ‘Yeah, we'd rather take pay away from other people than increase your pay to what we had already defined as the value of this work,’” Louise explains. Furthermore, placing the onus on these male stars could be viewed as subjecting them to some sort of penance for sexist rules that they aren’t necessarily responsible for creating.
On the positive side, men voluntarily taking salary cuts assures us that the persistent voices of women fighting for their rights aren’t simply going into a black void, never to be acknowledged or acted upon. People are actually listening and taking action, which sadly appears to be the only way to secure attention from gatekeepers. With the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements going strong, women are using their collective strength, bravery and influence to help us level up on all fronts.
In the end, it’s important to keep these ongoing conversations from being derailed by accusations of women ostracizing men. Seeking equality isn’t about making an enemy out of anyone. On the contrary, it’s simply about ensuring that women are respected, included, valued and fairly compensated for the work that we do.