Friday, 13 November 2015

It's the pay gap that's 'vulgar', not talking about it

In March 2015 the Women’s Equality Party was founded to push “for equal representation in politics, business, industry and throughout working life”, after what I would call the failure of mainstream politics to fully address these issues. I’ve been following their progress closely and it was while reading an article about their policies online that I saw the video of Kate Winslet’s recent interview. (
 I honestly wish I hadn’t watched it, because in it Winslet declares the public discussion of the gender pay gap in Hollywood a terrible thing. Apparently, she finds women talking about money ‘vulgar’. ‘Wow!’ I thought to myself, ‘She sounds some English aristocrat from the 1900s complaining about uncouth Americans. Plus, she’s making the demand for better wages look bad.’

I then did my homework and discovered that, unfortunately, Winslet represents a broader malaise in the British workplace. According to an O2/ CIPD study published earlier this year, British women are less likely to ask for a pay rise than men, citing reasons such as the fear of being perceived pushy or ungrateful. And these fears are not unfounded because the management class in this country is indeed more likely to view a female employee negatively if she gets a bit ‘vulgar’ about her pay packet.

In the interview, Kate Winslet goes on to confirm that she feels very ‘lucky’ to be where she is, i.e. she isn’t an ungrateful cow like those women in Hollywood. The problem with this is that while actors like Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence certainly aren’t toiling away in a factory or a call centre, the pay gap crosses social class both here and in the US, so ANY women speaking up about the issue – especially a high profile woman – is important for all. It helps to break the ‘polite’ silence around women being short-changed both economically and politically.
The British dislike of mentioning money has to be put to one side if women are to make any progress, and Ms Winslet’s view that arguing about wages in public is ‘vulgar’ only perpetuates a culture of sexist attitudes and low expectations that disadvantages all women in the workplace.

I, personally, would rather like to ask Ms Winslet if she views the suffragettes Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst as also ‘not very British’?  They, too, might have chosen to simply stay ‘grateful’ about their well-off position. And to make things worse (a let-down to all women) Sylvia Pankhurst was involved in the British labour movement, where vulgar people talked about money and their political rights. I know. So vulgar. Really yuck.

A good few years ago Winslet had a go at claiming to be working class, which I suppose is absolutely fine but very, very odd for someone sounding more like a cardboard cut-out of Marie Antoinette these days. In fact, someone really needs to put Kate in a T-Shirt that reads ‘This is not what a feminist looks like’ and be done with it.


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