In the wake of Adele Lim’s decision to value herself more and walk away from unequal pay on the Crazy Rich Asians sequels, a hashtag sprang up on Twitter as other women in Hollywood shared similar stories of being underpaid and undervalued. The hashtag “#NotWorthLess” is full of stories from women discussing their pay situations on various TV and film projects. Two themes quickly emerge from all these stories: 1) Everyone is quick to acknowledge it’s not the men they work with they’re upset with, it’s the studios and production companies signing the checks, and 2) you can’t achieve equality when you’re devalued from the start.
It should be a given that women discussing pay inequality does not equal women sh-tting on men, but any time a woman speaks, a ghoul inevitably appears to shriek “but what about the men, THINK OF THE MEN” because everyone knows the true victims of gender inequality are men. So everyone talking about disappointing offers and unsatisfying deals is careful to note they do not blame their male counterparts, they hold the studios responsible for a whack system. Which is true, it is 100% the studios’ fault because they control the purse strings, but it drives me nuts we even have to waste Twitter characters on ensuring people understand this is not about hating men. We really need a baseline acceptance that women talking about issues that affect us is not a personal attack on every man in our lives. In other words: It’s not about you, Chad.
The second point is best expressed by Patricia Carr, who declined an offer from CBS TV when they would not up her offer based on a totally reasonable adjustment to account for inflation. Carr notes that people are “haunted by early [salary] quote[s]”. Duana broke it down when writing about Adele Lim, that writers, like most creatives in film and TV production, get paid by a quote system, in which your current quote is based on what you last got paid. What is clear from the stories in #NotWorthLess, though, is that it is very, very difficult to achieve parity when you start from a disadvantaged place. Women are paid less from the beginning, accepting that “haunting” early quote because what else are you going to do? Not work? Adele Lim can walk away from Crazy Rich Asians because she has other projects to fall back on. But there are women in writers’ rooms right now who know they are being undervalued but don’t have a choice except “work or don’t work”. The problem is, as those women build their CVs, their quote does not scale up equitably with the men with whom they work. Their male peers will (quickly) outstrip them on quote scale, and it is almost impossible for women to catch up.
No one starts out making the big bucks, but as we see in practically every industry, men often advance faster and are rewarded sooner/bigger than women. The women sharing their stories are experienced industry veterans, and they have to practically beg to get even a nominal increase, while men have money thrown at them. In Patricia Carr’s case, she walked away from a job on NCIS: New Orleans only to learn later that they ended up hiring a guy and paying him way more than she asked for (and then CBS ended up firing that guy for being a toxic liability. Good job, CBS). So you can’t say it’s about budgets and responsible spending, because again and again we hear stories of women—experienced women—being undervalued while their male counterparts get one of those money-blower machines installed in their offices.
Studios will always tell you they have an algorithm to figure out salaries, but clearly their algorithms are bullsh-t because women keep getting undervalued. Scaling salaries by experience is fine, but there has to be some way to remove the gender (and race, and sexuality, and abled) bias from the process. Like get some math nerd to write a new algorithm that is about experience and experience alone, and then don’t let individual producers/network brass add to the number based on personal preference. Maybe something like “time in industry x number of overall credits/number of credited scripts – Brad’s preference for his doctor’s nephew”. If you’re going to claim this disadvantage is the work of algorithms, then really test your algorithm. Do your best to remove the bias from your algorithm. Because it sounds like Hollywood is full of sexist computers, screwing women out of fair pay. Gotta do something about those sexist computers. Or you could just, you know, pay women what they’re worth.