Yesterday in a talk at The Rockefeller Foundation, Actress Robin Wright opened up about fighting to receive the same pay as co-star Kevin Spacey on House of Cards. Why does it take a celebrity to make us listen?
I seem to write about the pay gap all the time. Because it's important—it's so important. But when same statistics come up again and again—wage inequality does exist, it's worse for women of color, it's bad for the economy—it can start to feel like old news. We add it to the list of things we want to fix: disease, poverty, Donald Trump existing. But when a famous person brings it up, it jumps to the top of our feeds again. Jennifer Lawrence did it, and Patricia Arquette before her. And now, Robin: embodiment of everything queenly to me since the first time I watched The Princess Bride.
First up: go, Robin. It's very cool that she's spoken out about this. She explained how House of Cards is the perfect case study: it's one of the few shows where the male and female leads have equal status, so it makes complete sense on every level that they should be paid equally. Huffington Post's Emily Peck says Kevin "was reportedly making $500,000 per episode," back in 2014. In 2015, Forbes estimated Robin's work on the show made her about $5.5 million, "around $420,000 per episode." Apparently Robin basically told the studio to pay her the same as Kevin, or she'd go public. As The Guardian's Bonnie Malkin says, it's "a move that would have made Claire Underwood [Robin's no-holds-barred, ball-busting First Lady on the show] proud."
But why does it take Robin, or Jennifer, or Patricia, who make us sit up and take notice? I don't think it's just that they're famous, attractive, and, it has to be said, white. I think it's because we know these women are successful. We might doubt ourselves—just watch our video on Imposter Syndrome—and question our worth at work: maybe we shouldn't go for that promotion, or ask for that raise; maybe we don't have enough experience to get the salary our male colleague does. But because these women are on screen, we see them do their jobs! We know they're just as good as the guys, and so we cheer them on when they ask to be paid accordingly.
All of us work hard, even (and especially) when it goes unseen. So I'm going to make Robin my mascot (not for the first time,) and channel a bit more Underwood into my career.