The first time I went into my boss’s office to ask for a pay rise, I didn’t do it. I couldn’t do it the second time either, and by the time I blurted out my bungled request (actually it was more of a pathetic plea) as an afterthought at the end of my third visit, he was so bored of the mad, manufactured reasons I kept coming to see him for that he granted me my raise without demur.
“Do you know how often men who don’t deserve a pay rise come and ask me for one?” he asked, as I stared at my shoes and thought: “Damn - I should have asked for more.”
“A lot. Do you know how often women who deserve a pay rise ask me for one? Very rarely.”
Not wanting to push my luck with “why don’t you hand them out regardless, if they’re so deserving?” I went straight to the ladies room, locked myself in a cubicle and waited for the dry swallows and electric heat in my cheeks and earlobes to subside. That was 17 years ago.
Today, the same conversation would only cause me a modicum of discomfort, but it took me a good decade to understand that going to your superiors with both palms outstretched and asking to be paid what you’re worth is not demeaning, and that since we’re not Edith Wharton characters, money-talk isn’t vulgar.
Perhaps someone should tell Kate Winslet? In an interview this week, the Titanic star has confessed to finding gender pay gap debates “a bit vulgar.”
"As tedious as it must be to have to stand for things when all you really want to do is winch yourself into another corset and crinoline and act your heart out, it’s every successful female public figure’s duty to do so"
“I’m having such a problem with these conversations,” the 40 year-old told BBC Newsbeat. “I understand why they are coming up but maybe it’s a British thing. I don’t like talking about money. I don’t think that’s a nice conversation to have publicly at all.”
Which of course is true. Because if we all kept our conversations “nice”, theseveral female MPs ordered to leave New Zealand’s parliament on Wednesday after declarations that they had been victims of sexual assault were ruled ‘out of order’ by the Speaker, would still be at their posts and women in full-time employment in the UK would have been punching in all week blissfully unaware that they will effectively be working for free for the rest of the year (since the gender pay gap is 14.2 percent).
Now although I’ve always found the ‘earthier-than-thou’ side of Winslet hard to swallow, she’s clearly a terrific actress who goes against the grain in refusing to either starve herself into a stick, turn herself into a human Botulinum toxin or be airbrushed into a cartoon character.
She also, sporadically, talks sense – only last week declaring that social media makes her “blood boil” and urging other parents to ban it from their homes.
So it’s possible that as a woman who earns up to nine million dead presidents per film, she’s aware that any whinging might sound like the world’s smallest violin playing Hearts and Flowers from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Which is commendable in terms of self-awareness (not something actresses are known for possessing) but that’s about it.
"You don’t see stars like Jennifer Lawrence succumbing to attacks of the vapors every time the gaping gender pay discrepancies in Hollywood come up"
Because as tedious as it must be to have to stand for things when all you really want to do is winch yourself into another corset and crinoline and act your heart out, it’s every successful female public figure’s duty to do so.
Winslet is indeed, as she goes on to say, “a very lucky woman” but the gender pay gap debate isn’t about her or her $95 million net worth.
It’s about the clerks, bus drivers and retail workers who still earn less than their male counterparts.
It’s also about the top lawyers, businesswomen and fellow A-list Hollywood actresses lucky enough to be members of the one percentile club – but unlucky enough to be penalized for their gender. In short, it’s about all women.
You don’t see stars like Jennifer Lawrence succumbing to attacks of the vapors every time the gaping gender pay discrepancies in Hollywood come up, although the American Hustle actress has admitted in a public newsletter to finding it hard to find a way to “state my opinion and still be likeable.”
Just a fortnight ago I watched the male Hollywood executives surrounding me at the Britannia awards squirm in their seats when the latter, Oscar-winning actress gracefully accepted her trophy with the words: “I am honored to receive this award that has been given to a distinguished group of men and… men.”