Why Mila Kunis publicly slammed Hollywood sexism

Mila Kunis: In an open letter, the actress writes of being 'insulted, sidelined, paid less, creatively ignored, and otherwise diminished based on my gender.'

David J. Phillip/AP/File
Actress Mila Kunis watches during the seventh inning of Game 4 of the National League baseball championship series between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, in Los Angeles.

Mila Kunis hopes that sharing her experiences with gender discrimination will make a difference for other women.

The Hollywood actress, who recently appeared in "Bad Moms," took to Medium on Wednesday to discuss the bias she has experienced as a woman in the film industry. She wrote that it took her years to realize that what she was experiencing – from insults to threats – were signs of sexism, and that she “was complicit in allowing it to happen” because she didn’t stand up against it.

Though the film industry is an elite sphere, the struggle for gender equity is universal. Hollywood stars like Ms. Kunis may help shine a light on the issues – and give women courage in their quest to address the discrimination they face.

“If this is happening to me, it is happening more aggressively to women everywhere,” wrote Kunis, adding that she hoped her experiences would “[bring] one more voice to the conversation so that women in the workplace feel a little less alone and more able to push back for themselves.”

Kunis details two specific instances of discrimination she has experienced during her career. The first came when a producer threatened her with the end of her career after she refused to pose semi-naked on the cover of a men’s magazine, telling her “You’ll never work in this town again.”

“Guess what?” she asks in her post. “The world didn’t end. The film made a lot of money and I did work in this town again, and again, and again.” 

Now, she notes, she is fortunate to be able to speak out without worrying about “how I will put food on my table," an issue that many women who face discrimination may struggle with.

Combating bias and changing the way that women are viewed was important to Kunis, so she and three other women founded a production company, Orchard Farm Productions, that aimed to bring “unique voices and perspectives” to cable and broadcast TV. 

But the sexist attitudes continued. While their company was pitching a show to a major network, one producer sent an email to try and get executives to sign on by focusing exclusively on Kunis’s “relationship to a successful man and … ability to bear children," writes Kunis. As a result, she and her colleagues "withdrew [their] involvement in the project."

These experiences, she suggests, may be common to all women — whoever and wherever they are.

One universal issue: equal pay. Jennifer Lawrence highlighted the disparity last year, after the Sony email hacks revealed that her male co-stars made 9 percent of back end sales, while she and Amy Adams received 7 percent. 

Kunis cites a September study from the American Association of University Women, which predicts that the pay gap will not close until 2152. As women entered the workforce in huge numbers in the 1980s and 1990s, they also began to be paid better. However, “in the last 15 years, progress on closing the pay gap has stalled,” the study finds.

With the post, Kunis adds her voice to a substantial chorus of women in Hollywood calling for gender equity. Anne Hathaway, Nicole Kidman, and Emma Watson are all UN Women Goodwill Ambassadors, working to improve conditions for women worldwide. Sandra Bullock has been working to change popular perceptions of which film roles are appropriate for women, taking on several roles originally written for George Clooney. And Hollywood actresses may have inspired California legislators, who passed the toughest equal pay legislation nationwide in October of last year.

“From this point forward, when I am confronted with one of these comments, subtle or overt, I will address them head on; I will stop in the moment and do my best to educate,” Kunis promised.

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