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Jennifer Lawrence ends pursuit of likability to take on the gender wage gap

Jennifer Lawrence, shown at the 2014 Academy Awards, has declared war on the curse of likability that she says helps sustain Hollywood’s gender wage gap.
Jennifer Lawrence, shown at the 2014 Academy Awards, has declared war on the curse of likability that she says helps sustain Hollywood’s gender wage gap.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Jennifer Lawrence, Hollywood It Girl, is done with being “relatable.”

She has been praised — and sometimes derided — for being just like us: With every revelation of her flaws, she becomes less threatening.

But in a new essay published in Lena Dunham’s newsletter, Lenny, Lawrence effectively declared war on the curse of likability that she says helps sustain the gender wage gap in Hollywood and elsewhere.

Thanks to last fall’s hack of internal Sony emails, Lawrence learned just like the rest of us that she was being paid less than her male counterparts.

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It wasn’t that Lawrence needed (or even wanted) the money, but speaking out for fair compensation isn’t about that at all.

“If I’m honest with myself, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight,” Lawrence admitted. “I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’”

She added: “At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’”

Fast-forward several months, Lawrence says, and she decided to do something about it.

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You can probably guess what happened next:

“A few weeks ago at work, I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear ... way; no aggression, just blunt. The man I was working with (actually, he was working for me) said, ‘Whoa! We’re all on the same team here!’

“As if I was yelling at him. I was so shocked because nothing that I said was personal, offensive, or, to be honest, wrong. All I hear and see all day are men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the same exact manner, and you would have thought I had said something offensive.”

Quickly, the other hurdle revealed itself. Simply being willing to negotiate won’t close the gender wage gap — even for Jennifer Lawrence. Because, Lawrence points out, as long as women are considered “spoiled” for demanding more compensation, they face a disadvantage at the negotiating table.

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“I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable!” Lawrence wrote. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It’s just heard.

“Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves. If anything, I’m sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share.”

Lawrence isn’t exactly feminism’s perfect messenger, as she readily admits. She noted that she was hesitant to talk about her pay and feminism because she rarely wants to jump into conversations just because they are “trending.”

“But with a lot of talk comes change,” Lawrence wrote. “So I want to be honest and open and, fingers crossed, not piss anyone off.”

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This On Leadership column in the Washington Post was written by Abby Phillip. She is a general assignment national reporter for the Post and can be reached at abby.phillip@washpost.com.


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