For many of the female Oscar attendees who jumped for joy when Patricia Arquette brought up the gender wage gap Sunday night, the delight might have been personal.
The data point you’ve probably heard most often on how gender affects wages is that women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. This particular number, which Democrats have touted to make the case for legislative efforts that would let women sue for punitive damages over wage discrimination, is controversial for a number of reasons. (Read Hanna Rosin’s take here and the Washington Post’s fact-check here.) Gender numbers don’t take into account race-based wage discrepancies: White women’s earnings typically outpace the earnings of black and Hispanic men, for instance. And the size of gender pay discrepancies varies between industries.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a lot of fun (though slightly old) data on this last point here. In 2009, for instance, women in construction earned 92 percent of what men made. You might think that when it comes to gender pay equity, ultraprogressive Hollywood studios would be a little better than an industry infamous for employing our nation’s best catcallers. You would be wrong. Forbes crunched the 2013 numbers and showed that among the kind of lavishly compensated thespians who fill seats at the Oscars, men make way, way, way, way more than women. The men on Forbes’ list of top-paid actors for that year made 2½ times as much money as the top-paid actresses. That means that Hollywood’s best-compensated actresses made just 40 cents for every dollar that the best-compensated men made. No wonder Meryl Streep and J-Lo are pissed.
And this Hollywood gender wage gap isn’t just a first-world problem for the mostly white women who get skillions of dollars thrown at them all day long and tote around free goody bags worth $168,000. As Mollie Hemingway catalogs at the Federalist, women lag absurdly far behind men in basically every Tinseltown gig. The most shocking stat: Since 1998, women’s representation in behind-the-scenes roles other than directing has gone up just 1 percent. And don’t get your hopes up about directing, either. The data Hemingway cites, from the Women’s Media Center, shows that women directed the same percent of the 250 top-grossing films in 2012 (9 percent) as they did in 1998. And we haven’t even talked about the fact that most of the roles women get in movies are lifeless, boring, and terrible.
In short, Arquette gave her pay-gap speech to an audience full of studio brass responsible for the industry that has one of the most miserable records on pay for women. Too bad she flubbed it.