Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation: How Inequality Affects Women in Film; What Barbie Can Teach Us About the Gender Wage Gap

Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation is a compilation of stories about women’s representation in politics, on boards, in sports and entertainment, in judicial offices and in the private sector in the U.S. and around the world—with a little gardening and goodwill mixed in for refreshment!

Two of the most highly anticipated films of 2023, Barbie and Oppenheimer, had their box office debuts last weekend. The online debate about what movie to see (or what to see first) has been going on for months.

As a feminist organization, RepresentWomen was partial to Barbie this week. The movie featured many women political leaders, ranging from cabinet members to Supreme Court justices and even the president.

But there was one leader that was surprisingly missing: governor. Governor Gretchen Whitmer and EMILY’s List sought to fix this by introducing Governor Barbie in a social media campaign.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer, rendered in Barbie form by her staff. (Julia Pickett / Michigan Governors Office)

Some of our RepresentWomen staff went to the movies and returned with thought-provoking messages on both films.

Our digital engagement associate, Ria Deshmukh

“This movie put all the feelings I felt about being a woman to words. Barbie is an excellent depiction of the transition from girlhood to womanhood within a system that is not built with women in mind.”

Alissa Bombardier Shaw, our outreach manager:

From the beginning of Barbie, you can undoubtedly tell a woman created this filmAmerica Ferrera’s monologue perfectly encapsulated the feeling of never being enough in the eyes of our society- a feeling far too many of us have internalized. The all-women Supreme Court featured in the film couldn’t help but remind me of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s words, ‘People ask me sometimes, when — when do you think it will be enough? When will there be enough women on the court? And my answer is when there are nine.’ “

Our communications intern, Nora Weiss:

“The Barbie movie did a truly incredible job of portraying the experience of being a woman in a male-dominated, patriarchal society. Using humor and irony, the Barbie movie emphasizes all of the hidden barriers and unseen struggles that women endure. The Barbie movie not only sparked countless conversations about sexism but also elevated the concept of feminism to a much more accessible level.”

Jewelene Meneses, our communications intern:

“Oppenheimer” notably underrepresents women and people of color, despite the historical importance of their contributions and impacts. The film offers glimpses into the unique opportunity women find outside traditional academic institutions, as exemplified by Lilli Hornig. However, women’s roles are often reduced to familial identities, overshadowing their professional prowess. Though the film showcases exceptional acting, a gripping score, and explosive cinematography typical of Nolan’s work, its portrayal of the cataclysmic consequences of Oppenheimer’s actions is a chilling reminder of the destructive potential of humanity. The narrative remains captivating and horrifying, providing a stark view of a man-made disaster and the man who gave us a glimpse of mutually assured destruction.”

Of course, movies like Barbie and Oppenheimer are impossible without actors and writers. The creatives behind film and television are being overworked and underpaid. Women, in particular, are still being paid less than male professionals in the industry. 

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) are jointly on strike for the first time since 1960. Please consider donating to the Entertainment Community Fund to support those fighting for a living wage.

Union President Fran Drescher on the Actors’ Strike

TV and movie production has virtually stopped, with actors and writers on strike simultaneously. The Screen Actors Guild has been led by The Nanny star Fran Drescher since 2021 after she defeated incumbent Matthew Modine. When interviewed for PBS, Fran Drescher cites streaming as the main reason for the strike.

The saturation of streaming and how it’s impacted our industry is exponential. And it’s really disemboweled the old business model, which is the one that, let’s say, for example, “The Nanny” flourished in.

And everybody up and down the ladder benefited by it and made money off of it. To this day, they continue to get money from it. But that is not the case anymore with streaming. And all the programs that are made for the streaming channel, you exist in a box, in a vacuum, and there’s no tail of revenue.

And our revenue sharing that was established in 1963, or 1960, when we had the big strike with the WGA, and Ronald Reagan was president of SAG, that business model was predicated off of television that ran as long as there were eyeballs and ad dollars. So, longevity was the name of the game. And that made sense.

Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, and More on Pay Inequality in the Entertainment Industry

Jennifer Lawrence. (The Hollywood Reporter)

In a roundtable discussion for Women and Hollywood, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence shed light on how pay inequality and discrimination appear in the film industry. Though dated five years ago, these women actors’ experiences of inequity and discrimination emphasize how prevalent gender inequality is, even when you’re in the spotlight.

While there has been progress in the last five years, equality is still a struggle for women in this industry, whether actors, producers, directors or writers. The normalization of receiving less pay, the lack of recognition of women’s contribution, and women’s voices and power going continuously unnoticed are themes that are indeed present in the film industry today. The women actors recognize that the experience of gender inequality is universal—women in every industry face the same issues.

But [with actors], I don’t understand — if you’re a very successful agency and they know what everyone is making on the film — how an agent is OK with you making a third of your co-star’s salary. After ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ I was sent a lot of scripts where it was a female protagonist, and they wouldn’t do my deal until they knew who the male actor was because they needed to do his deal first and then see what was left over.

The reason I spoke out about it [after the Sony hack revealed she was paid less than her male ‘American Hustle’ co-stars] was really — we’re in the industry, everybody is looking at us, if we’re going through this, every woman in the world is going through this. But the real problem is the normalization of it. It’s the reason why your agents don’t think twice about paying you a third of your [co-star’s paycheck] — because it’s been so normalized for so long.

Whenever you have one demographic that’s in charge of the livelihood of another, you’re going to have abuses of power.

It’s a huge conversation for our industry, but I would hope that this is only the tipping point for us to discuss equal pay for equal work for women across every industry.

… Speaking of Jessica Chastain:

A few months ago, I chatted briefly with Jessica Chastain about gender inequality and ranked-choice voting! I look forward to a longer conversation with her about the strategies necessary to advance women in politics and the entertainment industry.

What Barbie Can Teach Us About the Gender Wage Gap

(Warner Bros Pictures)

Despite decades of efforts to boost women’s representation throughout the U.S. economy, women still face a pay gap in nearly every occupation.

Only 22 percent of astronomers and 39 percent of lawyers are women, highlighting that few women have access to high-paying jobs.

The typical woman working full time, year-round earns 84 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts; and for all women workers, regardless of hours or weeks worked, that figure dips to 77 cents. One of the core drivers behind this gender wage gap is occupational segregation, by which women—most acutely, Black women and Latinas—are overrepresented in low-paid work, while men are overrepresented in high-paid work. This is the result of cultural norms and biases about the role of different groups of workers and policy choices.

In fact, many of the same jobs represented by Barbies over the past few decades, such as lawyers, remain male dominated. (see Figure 1) Notably, when looking at the 10 highest-paying occupations—defined by dollar terms—in the United States, white men account for at least half of all workers. By contrast, among the 10 lowest-paying occupation, women and men of color account for, at a minimum, more than half of workers.Even when men and women are equally represented in an occupation, such as actors, or when women are overrepresented, such as writers and authors, they likely experience a pay gap.

But policymakers have a critical role to play in this by creating pathways for more women to enter and stay in male-dominated occupations, including through investing in child care, creating pathways into STEM education, and ensuring these jobs are safe and free from harassment. Additionally, lawmakers must invest in work where women are overrepresented by raising the minimum wage and providing universal access to family and medical leave. Only then can we take a meaningful step toward closing the gender wage gap.

Splitting the Atom in the Lab and at the Box Office: Women Still Fight for Their Recognition

Carl Kurlander, a film specialist, and Chandralekha Singh, a female physics professor, wrote this insightful piece on how gender imbalance shown in media impacts the world of physics and sciences.

Christopher Nolan’s film had the opportunity to mention critical women of the atomic age but failed.

Dr. Lise Meitner. (Courtesy of the National Park Service)

Pioneering physicist and discoverer of nuclear fission, Lise Meitner, kick-started the United States’ atomic research program. She should have been mentioned but wasn’t. Regrettably, Meitner’s contributions, like many female scientists, have been overshadowed.

Women’s representation in STEM is still an ongoing issue. The lack of female representation in popular media and culture, like in “Oppenheimer,” reinforces stereotypes and discourages talented students from historically marginalized backgrounds from pursuing careers in STEM.

Only around 20% of the undergraduate majors and Ph.D. students in physics are women. The societal stereotypes and biasesexpectation of brilliancelack of role models and chilly culture of physics discourage many talented students from historically marginalized backgrounds, like women, from pursuing physics and related disciplines.

Societal stereotypes and biases influence students even before they enter the classroom. One common stereotype is the idea that genius and brilliance are important factors to succeed in physics. However, genius is often associated with boys, and girls from a young age tend to shy away from fields associated with innate brilliance.

Studies have found that by the age of 6, girls are less likely than boys to believe they are “really, really smart.” As these students get older, often the norms in science classes and curricula tend not to represent the interests and values of girls. All of these stereotypes and factors can influence women’s perception of their ability to do physics.

Research shows that at the end of a yearlong college physics course sequence, women with an “A” have the same physics self-efficacy as men with a “C”. …

More frequent media recognition of female scientists, such as Meitner, could vicariously influence young women, who may see them as role models. This recognition alone can boost young women’s physics self-efficacy and identity.

The Emotional and Physical Toll of SAG-AFTRA Strike

Jaden Thompson pulls back the curtain in their most recent Variety article to share how Women in Film (WIF) is stepping up to address the emotional and physical implications of the SAG-AFTRA strike. Women have championed fair and equitable safeguards and workers’ rights by standing up against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and studio executives like Disney CEO Bob Iger. However, few have stopped to consider the emotional and physical repercussions of the ongoing strike. Women in Film (WIF) is offering their assistance to strike-affected workers.

Women in Film (WIF) has created a resource guide and included a dedicated day on their help line to offer assistance to those impacted both physically and emotionally by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. On Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., advocates will be available on the help line to offer emotional support to those affected by the work stoppage.

“As entertainment workers fight for job sustainability and safety, our help line advocates can be a listening ear to help you navigate the stress of this critical moment,” WIF’s website states. 

WIF’s resource guide includes several organizations and businesses that offer help to those affected by the ongoing labor strikes, pointing to grants, loans, emotional support resources, grocery assistance and discounts offered by local businesses. 

View the resource guide for strike-affected workers on WIF’s website.

EMILY’s List Unveils Madam Mayor Initiative

Earlier this week, Grace Panetta, political reporter for The 19th, shared the newest resource from our terrific allies at EMILY’s List called the Madam Mayor initiative. Panetta highlighted in her article what drove the creation of the program and what they hope to achieve with it: 

The organization said it launched the Madam Mayor initiative in part because of the rise in misinformation (incorrect information shared unintentionally) and disinformation (incorrect information shared intentionally) that is targeting political candidates and shaping the political environment.

Misinformation and disinformation, the group said, are particularly harmful to women candidates and candidates of color and can have a “chilling effect on recruitment.” Women candidates have contended with a rise in harassment and threats, fueled by online vitriol, in recent years. …

Emily’s List said it hopes the Madam Mayor program will “serve as a critical touchpoint” for woman mayors to receive support and resources in combating the myriad challenges currently facing local officials.

Rank Your Favorite Snacks

With all the summer blockbusters coming out, watching your favorite movies without a snack is unfathomable! Rank your favorites here.

My pink water lilies are lovely this summer.

That’s all for this week. Have a fantastic weekend!

Up next:

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Cynthia Richie Terrell is the founder and executive director of RepresentWomen and a founding board member of the ReflectUS coalition of non-partisan women’s representation organizations. Terrell is an outspoken advocate for innovative rules and systems reforms to advance women’s representation and leadership in the United States. Terrell and her husband Rob Richie helped to found FairVote—a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice and a truly representative democracy. Terrell has worked on projects related to women's representation, voting system reform and democracy in the United States and abroad.