How Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Lawrence are highlighting Hollywood's gender issues

Lawrence's recent column on unequal pay and Bullock taking on roles written for men have prompted discussion about these problems. Can their actions make a difference in women's fight for equal pay?

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/File
Actress Sandra Bullock arrives at the LA premiere of 'Our Brand is Crisis' at the TCL Chinese Theatre, Oct. 26, 2015 file photo. When Bullock read the screenplay for the movie, she decided to call longtime friends George Clooney and Grant Heslov to see if there was any chance they might consider her for the lead - an amoral, Sun Tzu-quoting political consultant who’s come out of retirement for a showdown with an old rival. They said yes. The film opened Friday, Oct. 30.

Female roles in Hollywood and what actresses are paid for them is currently at the forefront of conversation in Hollywood. Sandra Bullock is expected to play George Clooney’s character Danny Ocean in an upcoming female version of the popular "Ocean’s Eleven" trilogy, reported The Playlist on Thursday. Ms. Bullock's latest lead role, in "Our Brand is Crisis," was also originally written for Mr. Clooney.

These gender role reversals come after another A-list actress drew attention to gender-pay inequality in Hollywood.

Jennifer Lawrence penned a letter on Hollywood's gender-pay gap earlier this month for Lena Dunham’s Lenny newsletter, stirring both praise and criticism. After reading hacked Sony emails, Ms. Lawrence learned that her male co-stars in the film "American Hustle" earned nine percent of back-end sales, compared to the seven percent earned by Lawrence and Amy Adams, reported The Christian Science Monitor's Olivia Lowenberg.

"Hollywood’s best-compensated actresses made just 40 cents for every dollar that the best-compensated men made," reported Slate in 2013. Averaged across all occupations, women are paid 79 cents for every dollar their male co-workers earn, reports the American Association of University Women. 

But as Lawrence articulates in her letter, her goal is not to make people feel sorry for her losing out on a few million dollars that she doesn’t even need. The core issue is that women in every industry deserve equal  pay and need to be heard fairly.

With a net worth of $60 million, Jennifer Lawrence is hardly an average female employee. But if gender stereotypes and expectations prevent J-Law from advocating for fair pay, "ordinary women negotiating on their own for an hourly wage as a cashier or an annual salary as a mid-level manager don’t stand a chance," argued Sally Kohn in The Washington Post.

Within California, demands for equal pay have been realized for everyone. The California Equal Pay Act, signed into law in October, prohibits employers from paying women less than men "for substantially similar work."

"The inequalities that have plagued our state and have burdened women forever are slowly being resolved with this kind of bill," said Gov. Jerry Brown while signing the toughest pay equity law in the country.

Some state lawmakers say they were motivated to sign the equal pay legislation after pleas from high-profile Hollywood actresses, reports the Associated Press.

"There’s a double standard in the whole world, yeah, for sure. This is just one aspect," said actor Bradley Cooper to Entertainment Tonight, discussing pay discrepancies with his "American Hustle" costars and his "Burnt" co-star Sienna Miller.

"Anytime there’s a place where a voice can come out and be outspoken – something Sienna did, or Jennifer – that’s great," he said. "I think it is making a difference."

In February, during her Oscar acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress, Patricia Arquette made a plea for equal pay for all women – not just wealthy actresses.

"To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights," Arquette says. "It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America."

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