This week, Jennifer Lawrence penned an essay titled “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?” for Lenny, a newsletter produced by Girls creator, writer, and star Lena Dunham. In it, Lawrence addresses how it felt to discover, as the infamous Sony hack revealed, that she was paid less than her male co-stars for her role in American Hustle; Lawrence received 7 percent of back-end profits for the movie, whereas the leading male actors (Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner) each received 9 percent.
Interestingly, Lawrence took a certain amount of responsibility for the pay disparity: “I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early,” explaining that she simply didn’t want to “keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need.” She also admitted that her decision to close the deal without a fight was influenced by a desire to be liked. “I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled,’” she said.
But Lawrence went on to wonder why it was that her male co-stars did not seem to worry whether they came off as “difficult” or “spoiled.” Admitting that her age and personality were factors, she suggested that the prevalence of this predicament among women might be, at least to a certain extent, the result of social conditioning. “Could there still be a lingering habit of trying to express our opinions in a certain way that doesn’t ‘offend’ or ‘scare’ men?” Lawrence gingerly asked, before concluding that she was “done trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable.”
Lawrence’s words struck me in two ways. Though I don’t think that women ought to be paid less than men for doing the same work, I must admit that a part of me respects Lawrence’s reluctance to quibble over the extra money. I’m not suggesting that she didn’t deserve it—I don’t know how to think about money in such large amounts—only that I admire her ability to have some perspective on life. When we’re talking about money so far beyond what any sane person needs, it’s nice to hear someone essentially say that money isn’t everything. There are better ways to go about life than milking every transaction for every cent it is worth.
That said, most of us are not millionaires like Lawrence and need every dollar we can get (and even if it’s more than we need, it’s our prerogative where to spend or donate it). I think there is a lesson to be learned from Lawrence’s words; women are not helpless here, and we can effect change by asking for what we deserve. As Christine Emba wrote for Verily earlier this year, “Women are four times less likely than men to ask for higher starting salaries or raises later on, and they shy away from rocking the boat with aggressive negotiation. It’s not because we don’t like making money but because we tend to display less confidence and worry about negative repercussions.” Whether that is the result of double standards in the workplace, social conditioning, female nature, or all three, the fact is that women tend to have a hard time asking for increased compensation—but it doesn’t have to be like that. Learning to confidently ask for a raise can go a long way.