News Flash, Feminists: Women Can Ask for Raises

News Flash, Feminists: Women Can Ask for Raises
Diane Bondareff/Invision for New York Women in Film & Television/AP Images
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This week, the American media collectively freaked out about many things, including the release of Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee list, the tenacity of plucky socialist Bernie Sanders—not to mention the increasing vexation he visits upon the Hillary Clinton camp—and the highly charged question of whether anyone in America will pay actual money to watch the tired-looking, all-female “Ghostbusters” reboot.

The strangest kerfuffle of all, however, involved what should have been a very boring, pedestrian non-story: Area Woman Asks for a Raise.

It wasn’t just any “area woman,” of course. The person in question was actress Robin Wright, formerly Robin Wright Penn, who famously played the winsome Buttercup in “The Princess Bride” and the ill-fated, infuriating Jenny in “Forrest Gump.”

Wright now stars with Kevin Spacey in “House of Cards,” an over-the-top drama showcasing various wild Machiavellian quests for power among a cache of elite D.C. politicians. These politicians do things like crush their rivals through nefarious six-level schemes, push reporters onto subway tracks, strangle dogs, dramatically spit upon crucifixes, and eventually claw their way to the presidency.

“Actress Robin Wright demanded equal pay for ‘House of Cards,’” the Associated Press trumpeted on Tuesday. “How Robin Wright Negotiated Equal Pay on ‘House of Cards,”’ the New York Times proudly exclaimed. The story was reported by CNN, CNBC, Vanity Fair, USA Today, and ABC News, all with a gendered spin, and all with headlines teasing an answer as to how Wright, who plays the diabolical Claire Underwood on the show, pulled off this astounding feat in the face of the long-bemoaned “gender wage gap.” 

Here’s how she did it: The same way men do. She asked for a raise. “I was like, ‘I want to be paid the same as Kevin,’” Wright said. As Business Insider reported, Spacey made $500,000 per episode in 2014; Wright made an estimated $420,000 per episode. “I was looking at the statistics and Claire Underwood’s character was more popular than [Frank’s] for a period of time. So I capitalized on it. I was like, ‘You better pay me or I’m going to go public.’”

In other words, she negotiated. Her character grew in influence; she expected her pay to reflect it. This is what people in the real world do to get a raise, at least until Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders wins the presidency and puts everyone on some kind of Venezuelan-style “Fair” American Economy-Dissolving UniWage. You might not like Wright’s negotiating terms—“I’m going to go public”—but it was a negotiation nonetheless.

Other actresses, including Jennifer Lawrence and Susan Sarandon, have addressed the “wage gap” in Hollywood in recent months—and both have admitted that, at least in their experience, the infamous gender pay inequity stemmed from negotiating failure, not a blind wall of systemic oppression. Referring to her role in “American Hustle,” for which she was paid less than her male co-stars, Lawrence explained things this way: “I got mad at myself,” she wrote in October. “I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early. Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves.”

Speaking of a role for which she was paid much less than her two male co-stars, Sarandon also took responsibility: “That was my fault,” she said. “That was my agent’s fault, for not putting her foot down and saying, ‘Wait, wait, wait.’ If that’s what you want then you’re going to have to fight for it.”

Famous actresses, of course, don’t represent the average American, but the principles of negotiation apply worldwide—and strangely, many of today’s “empowered” feminist leaders repeatedly tell women that they can’t possibly help themselves. Women, the narrative goes, are destined to make 78 cents for every dollar that men make for the exact same work. Only government can help, we’re told, in the fight against this mysterious oppressive force—and politicians like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama often serve as the lead singers in this depressing chorus.

This would be all well and good, if the structural “wage gap” had not already been repeatedly and thoroughly debunked. Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard University, argues that individual choices—working fewer hours, choosing more flexible career paths, and taking time off for family—serve as the main drivers of wage gaps. “The 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time,” as Christina Hoff Sommers wrote in Time in 2014. “It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure or hours worked per week. When such relevant factors are considered, the wage gap narrows to the point of vanishing.”

Yet somehow, feminists seem determined to tell women that they’re oppressed in ways they’re not—and completely miss the point as they watch a famous woman stand up, take the reins, and capably help herself.

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at  http://www.heatherwilhelm.com/ and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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