When Jennifer Lawrence wrote her open letter against the wage gap, she added in one particular clarification about her position as a “working women” in the hollywood paygrade. “I can safely say my problems aren’t exactly relatable [….] I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need. (I told you it wasn’t relatable, don’t hate me).” Laurence immediately worked to dissuade any claims that she was trying to usurp the feminist movement from ‘normal’ people. It was a necessary line; when Patricia Arquette dedicated her Supporting Actress Oscar speech to decrying the sexism in the Hollywood pay grade, Meryl Streep gave it a standing ovation, but columnists and internet commenters rolled their eyes as yet another multi-millionaire tried to make their problems seem meaningful. How dare they complain about unequal wages— working-class American would never complain about that type of salary—they should shut up and be grateful.
The above line of thinking is facetious of course, but it exposes a flawed frame of thinking that conflates the person with the cause, and in doing so, unfairly dismisses the overarching goal: Wage equality. It’s a noble cause, and one that supporters of gender equality have been fighting for since the movement began in the ’20s. There are a myriad of smaller issues behind the big picture: Pre-conceived notions of a woman’s worth, minority disenfranchisement, the repercussions of tone policing, and gender dynamics in the workplace, just to name a few. Inequalities are experienced by blue-collar workers and celebrities alike, so why, when Jennifer Lawrence speaks out about these issues, does she feel that she needs to to qualify her experience as ‘other,’ or else risk getting insulted for her arrogance?
Hollywood stars have been agents of change for a long time. When they aren’t running for office and winning the presidency, they’re speaking at the United Nations and organizing fundraisers for candidacies and federal causes. The Oscar stage has been used as a platform for social action on a multitude of occasions, and stars have played active and visible roles in campaigns for political reform, most recently for the legalization of gay marriage. Any time a celebrity speaks out on popular issues, they will face direct criticisms from all walks of life—something that is a given when one is in a continuous spotlight—but it seems that Hollywood feminism has become particularly difficult to accept.
There are issues of inherent sexism that plague society as a whole. A person who denies feminist issues in their personal life will of course be appalled if the notion arises in the Hollywood sphere, and misogynists are typically permitted to be harsher in their criticism of celebrities. The refusal of A-listers to use the term ‘feminist’ to define themselves could also be perceived as an issue, but demanding that women label themselves in certain ways ultimately counters the overall goal of independence and personal agency. Ultimately, it seems that people just can’t distance themselves from the idea of celebrity privilege and therefore disconnect these women from the rest of society. However, establishing female celebrities as ‘others’ demeans the feminist cause, and as a result, ultimately prohibits progress.
Preventing female celebrities from speaking candidly on sexism and racism in the workplace erases a global platform where these issues can be discussed. Hollywood actresses have millions of followers on social media, and speak at events that are broadcasted all over the world. Whenever they speak multiple newspapers reprint their stories to be read by young children who are often more influenced by their words than those of their parents. By virtue of the job, female celebrties exist as global microphones. Claiming that their words on feminist issues don’t matter strips away their intellectual agency and stifles meaningful discussion. Acknowledging sexism in Hollywood and enabling celebrities to speak on feminist issues should be encouraged by the populace, because misogyny—no matter who it affects—should be fought against.