Twenty-five years of acting, 24 awards and 90 nominations — that’s what it took for Oscar-nominated actress Michelle Williams to finally earn the same amount as her male counterparts.
“On the job I just completed two weeks ago... I was paid equally with my male co-star,” Williams, 38, said triumphantly to a cheering room full of Democratic Congresswomen on Equal Pay Day, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Deb Haaland (D-NM), Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.) and more equal pay advocates in Washington D.C.
While Williams today feels the satisfaction of achieving pay equity, for a majority of Williams’s 25 years working as a “white” actress “in a glamorized industry,” this was not the case. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families (NPWF), women in the U.S. who hold full-time jobs all year earn 80 cents for every dollar a man earns. However, that amount drops for women of color with Black women earning 61 cents, Native American women earning 58 cents and Latina women earning 53 cents. Asian American women are the only exception, who earn 85 cents compared to one dollar of white men.
Maybe the most shocking gender wage gap the award-winning actress experienced was when her male co-star Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million for reshooting scenes for the film All the Money in the World while Williams was paid less than $1,000 for doing the same work.
However, when the news first broke in late 2017, “Guess what? No one cared,” Williams said.
“This came as no surprise to me. It simply reinforced my life-learned belief that equality was not an inalienable right and that women would always be working just as hard for less money while shouldering more responsibility in their homes,” says the actress known for her titular role in My Week With Marilyn. She also recalled being “paralyzed in feelings of futility” at the time.
“I’ve been a working actress since the age of 12, and I’ve taken every challenge as an opportunity. I’ve been accredited in my industry at the highest levels and that still did not translate into equal and fair compensation,” said Williams.
However, following the #MeToo movement and the uprising of women speaking out against sexual harassment and the imbalanced power dynamics between men and women in the workplace, the disparity between her pay for the same work as Wahlberg was resurfaced by her friend and fellow actress Jessica Chastain. Outrage and “public shaming” in Hollywood ensued for the egregious pay disparity, and resulted in nearly $2 million for the burgeoning Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.
Only after the public reckoning, Williams says she felt what it was like “to be on the inside to be, to be one of the boys.”
“Rather than being grasped too tightly and hugged for too long as a morning greeting, my hand was shaken. And I was looked squarely in the eye,” Williams said. “In this space, respect and safety are out in the open. They are not just found in the shadows and the corners.”
It is this revelation that now drives Williams to fight for pay equity across all industries. And she says she won’t stop until she’s exhausted all her efforts to ensure that every woman feels the satisfaction that she does.
“Imagine a work place where women don’t have to spend extra — or any energy — fighting for fair pay or defending their rights,” Williams said to the crowd of Democratic women. “[They] can instead focus that energy on the fullest expression to the task at hand and enjoy both the pride that brings and the product of that pride, which is fair and equal compensation for every woman.”
The women organized the conference to drum up buzz around the Paycheck Fairness Act that Democrats passed in the House last week, a hopeful moment for Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) who has been fighting to get the piece of legislation passed since 1997. But, according to experts, the bill will likely have an uphill battle in the Senate. Williams was a highlight of the press conference marking Equal Pay Day, a symbolic date that represents the time white women must work to make the same amount as their white male counterparts.
At the press conference, Williams challenged U.S. Senators in what she says is “the next critical moment.”
“Women and families of the country will win if members of the U.S. Senate take the decisive action to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act,” Williams said. “Please don’t let us pass it by.”
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