One of the most notable things from last year's Sony leaks — besides the knowledge that Channing Tatum writes emails exactly like you'd think — was the incontrovertible proof that Hollywood pays its actresses far less than its actors.
For instance: It came out that Lawrence and four-time Academy Award nominee Amy Adams were getting 7 percent of American Hustle's backend profits, versus the 9 percent Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner, and director David O. Russell were getting. Lawrence, who was coming off a huge box office win with The Hunger Games, was nominated for an Oscar for her part in the movie.
Now she's speaking up.
Jennifer Lawrence is sick of trying to make you like her if it means she won't get equal treatment
In a powerful essay for Lenny Letter, a new email newsletter from Lena Dunham and Girls producer Jenni Konner, Lawrence writes about how frustrated she was to learn that her male American Hustle co-stars were making more than her. But Lawrence doesn't just rail against Sony; she rails against the systemic sexism that made her afraid to speak up in the first place:
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. I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need.
...But if I’m honest with myself, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem "difficult" or "spoiled." At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being "difficult" or "spoiled."
She goes on to detail how her need to be "likable" taps into years of social conditioning for women, who are often punished for being more aggressive in work situations — especially when it comes to negotiating for higher pay:
A few weeks ago at work, I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-bullshit way; no aggression, just blunt. The man I was working with (actually, he was working for me) said, "Whoa! We’re all on the same team here!" As if I was yelling at him. I was so shocked because nothing that I said was personal, offensive, or, to be honest, wrong. All I hear and see all day are men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the same exact manner, and you would have thought I had said something offensive.
And finally, Lawrence says she's had enough of trying to maintain her "likable" reputation while pursuing equal treatment:
I’m over trying to find the "adorable" way to state my opinion and still be likable! Fuck that.
Lawrence is currently the highest-paid actress in the world, but her points about women in the workplace resonate beyond Hollywood's scope
Seeming to anticipate the immediate arguments that would come out of her essay, Lawrence acknowledges that she is speaking from a place of incredible financial security. "It’s hard for me to speak about my experience as a working woman," she writes, "because I can safely say my problems aren’t exactly relatable." After all, she is currently the highest-paid actress in the world, having made $52 million by August 2015.
But Lawrence's hesitation to be more aggressive when negotiating, or to give up preemptively for fear of alienating co-workers, is a universal problem.
Studies have shown time and again that women pursuing more power in the workplace have to walk a tightrope. In 2011, Stanford released a comprehensive look at women who demonstrated what people think of as traditionally "masculine" traits doing better — but only if they knew to pull back when people found them too aggressive:
"....certain women high in "masculine traits" — defined as aggressiveness, assertiveness, and confidence — were also able to "self-monitor" their behavior.
... [masculine women] received 1.5 times more promotions than masculine men, and about two times as many promotions as feminine men, regardless of whether the men were high or low self-monitors. They also received 3 times as many promotions as masculine women who were low self-monitors...
To be successful, you must be assertive and confident, but if you are aggressive as a woman you are sometimes punished for behaving in ways that are contrary to the feminine stereotype.
There is also the fact that women just don't ask for higher pay as often as men. From a 2013 Pew study:
47% of adults with at least some work experience say they have asked for a pay raise or promotion at some point in their working life: 51% of men have done so, as have 43% of women.
That study did say, however, that this trend may be evening out for millennials, with 48 percent of millennial men asking for promotions versus 42 percent of millennial women.
So while Lawrence knows she doesn't need more money, her position as arguably the most prominent millennial actor in Hollywood, and someone the entertainment industry values thanks to her enormous box office appeal, could make her a valuable ally in the pursuit of equal pay.
Corrected to reflect that Lawrence did not win an Oscar for American Hustle, but was nominated.