We Heart: Sarah Silverman Fights the Wage Gap

UPDATE: The Ms. Blog has received quite a bit of feedback about Sarah Silverman’s video—and we want to let you know we’re listening. Silverman’s notion that “becoming a dude” would help her overcome the gender-wage gap suggests that trans people somehow benefit from their nonbinary gender identity, which is clearly not the case: Trans folks are overwhelming in poverty and face harassment and discrimination at work. They’re also frequently denied promotions because of their gender identities. While we want to recognize the great work of the National Women’s Law Center—and Silverman’s fundraising efforts—we know that our kudos shouldn’t come at the expense of trans people. The NWLC put it best: 

The Equal Payback Project uses Silverman’s brand of absurd humor to draw attention to this ludicrous situation—it was not our intent to make light of the serious issues transgender people face. We will share statistics about job discrimination faced by transgender people as part of the Equal Payback Project. And we commit to using some of the resources raised by this project to bring awareness to the discrimination faced by transgender women and men. We don’t want to wait another half century to close the gap. In far less time than that, we intend to achieve equal pay. For everyone.

Silverman herself has also issued a statement:

If I literally got a sex change I would indeed find the work force far less friendly. The video wasn’t transphobic it was transignorant–never crossed my mind. But to my *unintentional* credit, people are talking about it & so begins awareness. Please don’t punish this cause because of my video. I certainly don’t only fight for causes that concern or benefit me and I expect the same of the vital trans community.

PREVIOUSLY: Yesterday, Sarah Silverman helped launch a crowdfunding campaign, The Equal Payback Project, to raise $30 trillion. Yes, you read that right. It’s the amount of money the 69-million-strong U.S. women’s workforce will lose over the course of their careers because of the disparity in women’s and men’s wages. (Currently, women make 78 cents to a man’s dollar.)

In the campaign’s video, Silverman will stop at nothing to earn her full dollar, even if it means gender reassignment (i.e., adding a penis). She sizes up the different penis shapes and colors—ranging from “The Frat Boy” to “The Seinfeld”—like any conscious consumer. Ultimately the popular “European” suits her fancy, as it nicely matches her autumn boots. (Can you blame her?) In the video, Silverman—playing it straight, of course—walks us through her decision:

Every year, the average woman loses about $11,000 to the wage gap. Over the course of the working years of her life, that’s almost 500 grand. That’s a $500,000 vagina tax. That’s why I’m taking matters into my own hands … I’m becoming a dude. In the grand scheme of things, it’s way less expensive than the money I’ll lose having a pussy.

If the campaign raises the $30 trillion, each woman in the U.S. will receive all the money she would have lost—in gold bullion! But in the more likely event that it doesn’t reach that pie-in-the-sky amount, the donations will go the National Women’s Law Center, a nonprofit that fights for equal pay through legislation, education and advocacy.

The campaign’s colorful, infographic-filled website delivers both humor and up-to-date information on the wage gap, based on the 2013 census. Among other facts, it shows that the gap is even worse for African American and Latina women, who are paid 64 and 56 cents to a man’s dollar, respectively. It also explains that gaps exist in every occupation, from surgeons to CEOs to cooks.

The website is as clever as a Silverman comedy routine, promising that if $108, 762 is raised (equivalent to 10 years of a woman’s average wage-gap losses), all those who donated will receive a signed photo of “Sarah’s new willy.” And if $435,049 is raised (the equivalent of an average woman’s wage-gap loss for her entire career), then the project will stage a “pantsuit parade” demanding equal pay.

Considering the huge inequity of the page gap, the topic really isn’t funny—but Silverman manages to make us laugh in a way that seriously drives the point home.

Photo courtesy of Maegan Tintari licensed under Creative Commons 2.0



Brianna Kovan is a reader and writer from the Midwest. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English.