No one would hire Ricky Gervais to MC an event and expect him to be a mature, polite, inoffensive host. Outrage comedy is his schtick and, when he gets it right, it can be brilliantly subversive. When he gets it wrong, it’s tasteless at best, cruel and stupid at worst.
His hosting at the Golden Globes was a bit hit and miss. Some of it was incisive satire of the entertainment industry, some was puerile belittling of trans women, who suffer more than enough cruelty as it is.
I’m not going to get into much of what he said, there’s more than enough reviews around for anyone who’s really interested (this one on punching down, particularly with regard to trans women, sums it up pretty well) but there was one alleged joke I thought was interesting.
Jennifer Lawrence made news when she demanded equal pay for women in Hollywood. There were marches on the street with nurses and factory workers saying, ‘How the hell can a 25-year-old live on $52 million?’
Lawrence is young, talented, conventionally pretty, white and paid more than most of us would see in ten lifetimes, so on the surface it might seem like a valid point. How can one of the most privileged people on the planet complain about not getting paid enough without looking foolish?
The answer, I guess, is when her colleagues get paid more than her because they are men. Because if you follow that line of argument all the way through, where do you reach the point that it is ok to fight gender wealth disparity?
If a female CEO discovers that she is paid less than her male counterparts, is her complaint valid because she is paid more than most other women in Australia? What about professional women earning two or three times the average wage? What about women who are earning an average wage? They’re still getting more than most women, and some men, do they have the right to declare that the extra money men are paid is unfair?
Those nurses and factory workers Gervais referred to have been campaigning and protesting about wages for decades. It rarely has an effect. But in America, for every dollar made by a man, the average woman makes 78 cents, black women make 64 cents and Hispanic women 54.
There doesn’t appear to be any reliable data on racial differences in the gender pay gap in Australia, but we know the gap exists (officially at 18%, but reality is far more complex) and we can reliably surmise that women of colour are significantly more affected than privileged white women. Rarely, however, do disenfranchised women of colour have access to a wide reaching public voice to protest gender inequality. This in itself is a huge problem, but therein lies the bind: women without a voice can’t protest and women with a voice are told they don’t have the right to protest.
Lawrence works in an industry with significant gender disparity, not just in pay, but in representation. In 86 years of Academy Awards only three women have been nominated for Best Director, only one has taken the award home. 93% of American movies are directed by men. 32% of the speaking roles in the top 100 movies of 2009 were female, and sexism is rife in every aspect of movie making. The stats go on and on, but they all prove that Lawrence has grounds to protest the workings of her industry.
Australian women experience discrimination across a wide range of industries, medicine, law, business, law enforcement and of course the STEM fields. This is not just going to magically disappear. Women need to stand firm in their rejection of entrenched sexism getting in the way of their careers. All women. CEOs and cleaners, doctors and cashiers, government ministers and hairdressers need to stand together and support each other’s voices, and we need to join together in rejecting men who tell us we don’t have the right to complain.
It’s possible that Gervais was subtly pointing a finger at all the people who dismissed Lawrence’s stand as invalid, it’s also possible he was joining them. Either way, the effect of his “joke” reinforced the idea that women who make noise about gender discrimination are laughable. But I guess that’s not really something he needs to worry about.
While I don’t pay a great deal of attention to entertainment awards, I do, like many women, notice the insidious effect public figures have on the wider debate. Gervais might be funny at times, but honestly, all I could think when I saw the YouTube clips was “come back Amy and Tina, we need you!”