Don’t shed any tears over Olivia Colman’s pay packet

The ‘gender pay gap’ only affects those who are already uber-privileged.

Darragh McManus

Topics Culture Feminism Politics

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Olivia Colman has always come across as a ‘good sort’. That’s part of her brand, isn’t it? Regular, unpretentious, cheerful. She has a sense of humour about herself. She likes a bit of swearing. If you squint hard enough, she could almost be one of us.

Which is partly why her recent comments on the gender pay gap struck a bit of a wrong note. Nothing says ‘utterly tone-deaf in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis’ more than a very rich woman, already vastly overpaid for what is essentially playing dress-up, complaining that she isn’t even more minted. ‘I’m very aware that if I was Oliver Colman’, she told CNN earlier this week, ‘I’d be earning a fuck of a lot more than I am’.

Technically, Colman might be correct. Female Hollywood megastars earn, on average, $2.2million less per film than their male counterparts. But that doesn’t make her complaint any less tone-deaf. She’s still a multimillionaire, asking for sympathy because someone else is even more stupidly overpaid than she is.

A lot of this gender pay gap stuff really grinds my gears. Yes, women have in general had the shitty end of the stick throughout most of history. And today, while things are much better, women still get the shitty end in some ways, varying greatly depending on where in the world you live.

But the whole ‘gender pay gap’ debate, as far as I can see, does hardly anything for genuinely impoverished women. For those women who are overworked and underpaid, overlooked and undervalued. Abused, harmed and threatened women. In short, it does hardly anything for those who most need help. On the contrary, it’s always high-earning people in the professions or corporate world who we are asked to shed a tear for.

How would Olivia Colman becoming even wealthier improve life for poor women? Or, to expand on that, how does more women winning, say, an Oscar for Best Director or Best Screenplay make life better for women anywhere? What does higher female representation on the boards of Fortune 500 companies do for anyone… except those women who are now on the boards of Fortune 500 companies?

If these people gave a damn about their sisters, they would be using the ‘currency of their celebrity’ to call for better pay and conditions for downtrodden cleaners, carers, canteen workers, factory workers, shop girls and so on… you know, all that boring old class stuff.

Maybe I’m wrong in all this. Maybe some mother of seven in rural Bangladesh, who’s battling dysentery and exhaustion, really is inspired by these things. Maybe she is there thinking: ‘I can sleep well tonight, knowing that Greta Gerwig secured the biggest American box-office return in history as a female director – and playfully challenged the patriarchy while she was at it.’

What I would really like to see is across-the-board consistency in all of this. So, yes, there should be a more-or-less 50:50 split between the sexes in politics, business, academia and so on. But shouldn’t there also be a 50:50 split in other jobs, such as collecting the bins and cleaning out sewers? When are these supposedly egalitarian feminists, I ask you, going to address the shocking, even misogynistic, dearth of women in logging, oil drilling, truck driving, steelmaking, toxic-waste disposal, farming, soldiering, security, etc.

The next time a pampered celeb or strident technocrat starts complaining about lack of opportunities in the professions, the arts or something else that’s comfortable and well-paid, feel free to point them in the direction of the nearest oil rig or chemical plant. Imagine Ursula von der Leyen, rat catcher. Emma Watson, roofer. Sheryl Sandberg, skipper of a North Sea trawler. I would pay to see that. Olivia Colman could even make an inspirational movie out of it all.

Darragh McManus is an author and journalist. Visit his website here

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Culture Feminism Politics


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