5 Women Who Took a Powerful Stand for Equal Pay — And Didn't Back Down


Despite it being the greatest economic stimulus package the United States might ever see, despite it being the feminist thing to do, despite it being the fair thing to do — women are still denied equal pay. And according to a 2015 study, they'll probably not going to see it until 2058

But women aren't keen to spend the next 42 years holding out for their fair share. Some of Hollywood's leading actresses have been speaking out against the industry's gender wage gap, and they aren't backing down. 

At last year's Academy Awards, Patricia Arquette traded in the standard acceptance speech for an epic call to action for equal pay, exclaiming, "To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights. It's our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America."

Little has changed in Hollywood since, but small victories are worth celebrating. 

Here are a few:

Robin Wright

What would Claire Underwood do?

In May, the House of Cards star, and now executive producer, revealed during a speech at the Rockefeller Foundation that Netflix had been paying Wright less than Kevin Spacey. After conducting her own research, the actress found that viewers preferred her character to Spacey's and she used that as leverage — along with the threat to expose the streaming service for its gender discrimination — to get equal pay. 

"There are very few films or TV shows where the male, the patriarch, and the matriarch are equal," said Wright. "And they are in House of Cards."

Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence may be the highest paid actress in Hollywood, but it wasn't always that way, and it wasn't for lack of trying. The 25-year-old is slated to even the playing field in her upcoming movie Passengers, which will debut in December. Lawrence will reportedly bring home $20 million to co-star Chris Pratt's $12 million. 

But just because Lawrence has successfully beat the wage gap for herself doesn't mean she's done fighting for equality. In October, the actress penned an op-ed for Lena Dunham's Lenny Letter, speculating that a sexist double standard keeps women from advocating for themselves when it comes to pay. "Based on the statistics, I don't think I'm the only woman with this issue," she wrote. 

"Could there still be a lingering habit of trying to express our opinions in a certain way that doesn't 'offend' or 'scare' men?"

Yes, JLaw. Yes.

Salma Hayek

"We've been trying to talk about it for a long time," actress Salma Hayek told Reuters last October on the red carpet for an event called the Power of Women. 

"But now all of a sudden people are beginning to listen, so I'm very hopeful," she said. "I feel women are more united than ever. I think it's more obvious than ever. People are beginning to show some support."

Gillian Anderson

When Gillian Anderson teamed up again with David Duchovny for a highly-anticipated reboot of The X-Files, Anderson was faced with the spookiest X-file of all — unequal pay.  

According to the Daily Beast, Anderson was initially offered just half of Duchovny's pay, telling the outlet she was surprised that she hadn't been asked about it more "because it's true."

"It was shocking to me, given all the work that I had done in the past to get us to be paid fairly," she told the Daily Beast. The actress said she was eventually able to renegotiate her salary, "I worked really hard toward that and finally got somewhere with it."

Viola Davis

The How To Get Away With Murder star told Mashable in no uncertain terms that she advocates for equal pay, but with a caveat. 

"I'm sorry, if a woman does the same job as a man, she should be paid the same amount of money," said Davis. "She just should." But she said that for women of color, the fight against the gender wage gap in Hollywood starts with not being seen as equal to men, but as being seen as equal to other women. 

"The struggle for us as women of color is just to be seen the same as our white female counterparts," said Davis. "Forget the men! We're not even in that realm yet."

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg promotes women speaking up for themselves when it comes to workplace inequality with her mantra "Lean in," from her eponymous 2013 book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead

While Sandberg's strategy may prove effective for Hollywood actresses, it's not so easy — or fruitful — for the average woman, especially if she's poor or a woman of color. 

"What makes life easier for any given woman high on the corporate ladder might actually make life harder for women toiling near the bottom rungs," explained Elizabeth Bruenig in a 2015 piece for the New Republic. And, at the end of the day, it's on employers, not the women they employ, to take a stand for fairness. 

However, having the likes of Robin Wright and Viola Davis can only help increase awareness about the enduring gender wage gap.