Jennifer Lawrence Shouldn’t Blame Herself For Her Industry’s Pay Inequality


The actress Jennifer Lawrence is getting, somewhat fairly, a reputation for being outspoken amongst her Hollywood peers. This trend was established back in 2013, when she told Harper’s Bazaar UK, “If anybody even tries to whisper the word ‘diet,’ I’m like, ‘You can go f– yourself.’” In 2012 she told Elle, “In Hollywood, I’m obese. I’m considered a fat actress.” More recently, on two occasions, she’s spoken out on bodily ownership and the wage gap: issues that affect not just Hollywood stars, but all women.

In the November 2014 issue of Vanity Fair, Lawrence gave an exclusive interview, her first since a large collection of her private nude photographs (along with those of many, many other celebrities, mostly female) were stolen by a hacker and leaked to the anonymous image board AnonIB and subsequently to its larger cousins 4chan and Reddit. They were eventually linked to by several news websites, including Gawker and, for a short time, Jezebel.

Vanity Fair quoted Lawrence about the event, known on the internet as “the fappening”: “It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime… these Web sites are responsible…” Lawrence’s most widely reproduced quote from the interview read: “Anybody who looked at those pictures, you’re perpetrating a sexual offense. You should cower with shame.”

And this week, in the third issue of Lenny, the newsletter edited by Jezebel alum Jessica Grose, Lawrence spoke to the gender wage gap as she experienced it. “When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early.”

In both instances, Lawrence recognized the difference between herself—Hollywood’s highest paid actress—and the readership of both Vanity Fair and Lenny. “Just because I’m a public figure, just because I’m an actress, does not mean that I asked for this,” she said, arguing that her status shouldn’t mean her body is public property. “It does not mean that it comes with the territory. It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting. I can’t believe that we even live in that kind of world. ”

In Lenny, her conclusions about the difference between her and most women was a bit different: “It’s hard for me to speak about my experience as a working woman because I can safely say my problems aren’t exactly relatable,” she writes, and in doing so, she effectively and pretty convincingly dispenses with a problem that is ever-present in writing a personal essay on the internet: that of privilege. She adds, hitting the point home, “I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need. (I told you it wasn’t relatable, don’t hate me).”

I think I can safely say that we don’t hate you, Jennifer. And while bluntly admitting that your millions of dollars do distinguish you from most of your audience, your situation, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to find, (or I assume you wouldn’t have written the essay at all), is pretty relatable otherwise: most of us didn’t find out our male colleagues make 10 or 15 or 20 percent more than us via the Sony hack, sure, but we often do after a few cocktails loosens the lips at a company party. Your lack of “relatableness” is simply one of scale, and, like your earlier point that the simple fact of your celebrity shouldn’t make us less careful about the hacking of your personal property, the amount of money you have in the bank shouldn’t make us worry less about the fact that you—an actress with more awards in her cabinet—made less than Bradley Cooper and your other male counterparts.

In that sense, you are completely relatable: your nude photos shouldn’t have been hacked for millions of losers on the internet to hungrily slobber over, and you shouldn’t make less than men you regularly outperform at your job. On that, most—if not all—women would agree.

But upon rereading both sets of remarks, I’m left with a few questions. I admit that when I read the Vanity Fair interview, I felt a lot of outrage on Lawrence’s behalf, and I was happy that someone, at least, in a position of power, was speaking out, calling the hacking what it was: a crime. But I was somewhat disappointed that she stopped short of pointing her finger any farther than the “people” who stole or viewed the photos and the nebulous “Web sites” that published them. I was confused that Lawrence seemed unaware or unwilling to point out that her exclusive interview was being printed in Vanity Fair, whose owner, Conde Nast (and Advance Publications) also own Reddit, one of the sites where the photos were widely disseminated and hungrily devoured. In a very real way, the same company that profited off the dispersal of the photos also profited off the interview wherein Lawrence decried the dispersal of the photos. I gave Lawrence the benefit of the doubt: maybe she didn’t know about the connection. Maybe she didn’t want to alienate the “media” too much.

But her remarks in Lenny are even more flummoxing. Just to revisit: “When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself.” It’s important to ask: why didn’t she get “mad at Sony?” More importantly, why did she get mad at herself? If we read the opening paragraph of her essay, though, I think we find a clue to the answer: “I want to be honest and open and, fingers crossed, not piss anyone off.” Not piss anyone off.

There is a fine line being walked right now, let’s call it the new era of “nice” feminism. Jennifer Lawrence, in her remarks, is telling us she is “pissed off” about the hacked photos, she’s pissed off she makes less than her male co-workers, but she stops short at actually blaming anyone important. She should be mad at Sony, even if just a little. And admitting that is just as important to her audience as admitting that the wage gap exists, and that it bothered her. Sure, it’s important to note that women might be “conditioned” to ask for less, to be less loud, to worry about the tone of our voices.

But anger, directed outwardly and at the right targets, is also important. One is tempted to (I mean, I would be tempted to, if I had access to Jennifer Lawrence) ask, “Why not just go all the way and fucking burn it down?” Why not get angry, not simply at the people who looked at your leaked photos, but at the people who profited off of hosting them? Why not get angry, not just at yourself for being a meek and shitty negotiator, but at the people who knew—and openly said as much in the emails—that you were making less and that that was unfair? Why not name names?

It’s understandable, though, that an actress like Lawrence would be worried about pissing people off: celebrity magazines are littered with rumors of careers ruined or drastically reduced at the hint of “difficulty” or speaking one’s mind. Rose McGowan said her agent fired her after the actress vented on Twitter about sexism in Hollywood as it related to a casting call for an Adam Sandler movie. Katherine Heigel’s never quite escaped the “difficult” label. And Oscar winner Mo’Nique recently said her roles have disappeared and she’s been “blackballed” because she “didn’t play the game.”

It’s important to speak out, and it’s important not to police women’s language when they do. People are on Jennifer Lawrence’s side: they want her to say the things she clearly wants to say, on the issues that affect not just people in Hollywood, but women everywhere. But it’s also important, when pointing out injustices, not to suggest they are nebulous and without powerful perpetrators when, in fact, the chain of responsibility is clear. It’s important not to just say, “the media,” and “people with dicks” are to blame. It’s important to say which media, and which people with dicks, are to blame. On a platform as large, powerful and credible as Lawrence’s, identifying the appropriate parties—as well as the uncomfortable connections between these parties, which indict many of us as culpable to varyingly valid degrees—would go a long way towards helping other women gain the power that we, and Lawrence, are looking for: which starts with the ability to not be afraid of pissing people off.

Laura June is a freelance writer and editor.

Image via Getty.

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