Over the last few days, an embarrassing revelation came to light: Claire Foy was paid exponentially less than Matt Smith in The Crown. Which is nonsense because she is The Crown. She is the Queen. She is the reason there’s a story to to tell. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Earlier this month, producers of the series admitted that Foy was paid less than her costar because of his “Doctor Who fame,” and they went on to promise that “going forward, no one gets paid more than the Queen.” Which, according to Jared Harris (a.k.a. King George) and myself, that’s still not enough.
Despite Left Bank (The Crown‘s production company) apologizing to Smith and Foy for finding “themselves at the centre of a media storm [t]hrough no fault of their own,” Harris believes that’s not nearly enough.
“It’s got nothing to do with Matt Smith,” he said over the weekend. “It’s probably got nothing to do with Netflix, either. I understand they made an apology but, you know, an apology and a check would be more welcome. She worked longer hours. Her performance was a huge reason why this thing is going to have a season three, four, five, and six . . . send her a paycheck and, in retrospect, bring her pay up to parity.”
And that’s what I’m talking about. Here’s the thing: we know the pay gap is real. We know it’s real in Hollywood and we know it’s real in our day-to-day lives, and we know that at this point, there isn’t an industry exempt from it. (Just today it was revealed that The Telegraph’s pay gap is a whopping 35% — the biggest in British media so far. Great!) We also know that there isn’t an excuse. It’s great that Matt Smith was Doctor Who, but that doesn’t mean you get to pay him more than the star of a series who appears in the majority of the scenes. It’s great that the Telegraph’s highest-up has vowed to right his wrong. But also, until revelations like these come to light, what are we supposed to do? Sit around, waiting to find out dude sitting next to us is earning more than we are by sheer accident? Wait until our bosses are on a panel? How do you take control of something that feels totally out of our control?
I mean, I should talk: I’m terrible at talking about money. I’m 32, and have only just begun asking for what I think I’m worth instead of what I think will ensure someone will give me work to do. (You know: you want to seem reasonable and appreciative so you get work. Instead of, you know, asking for an amount and treating payment like a negotiation instead of a one-sided conversation.) I’m also terrible at comparing notes with other people. So ingrained in me that money is something We Don’t Really Talk About that I won’t even ask friends what they earn in case I find out that they’re earning more than me and I could’ve wrangled rates better (which is where my mind automatically goes: the assumption that everyone is doing better, and I’m going to be outed as someone who doesn’t have her shit together and whose income reflects that). I just assume we’re all getting paid fairly and the same because it’s easy to bury my head in the sand.
But it’s not easy. It’s not easy to acknowledge that someone’s being paid more than you, and it’s not easy to acknowledge that you are reaping the benefits of your privilege, and somebody else is getting paid less because of that. But too bad. Transparency isn’t easy, and neither is balancing out the playing field. It’s tough and embarrassing and shitty-feeling, especially since most of us have been brought up not to talk about money, and would prefer to make assumptions that don’t apply to a world built on a hierarchy of rules made to favour a very specific sect of society.
And it’s not like us being open about what we earn is going to spark a wildfire which results in everyone earning what’s right and fair by the end of the year. But small conversations can lead to big changes over time. Sometimes it means comparing notes with your coworkers. Sometimes it means conversations with your friends. Sometimes it means telling your boss that you think you’re worth more and would like your salary to reflect that. Other times, it means after finding out about a pay disparity, you say “Yeah, this isn’t cool — so-and-so should be earning as much as me” and doing something about it. All of the time, it begins with a discussion that might seem inconsequential but can amount to life-changing revelations. Baby steps. But even babies grow up. Who deserve to be paid fairly.