Kate Winslet says the pay gap is 'vulgar'. So much for my ballsy teenage heroine

Kate Winslet
Kate Winslet has said that discussing money and the pay gap is 'vulgar' Credit: Rex

It’s the most horribly sexist time of the year!

November 9 marked Equal Pay Day, the point at which women are effectively working for nothing until January 1. Obviously we’re not actually working for nothing, staring at blank pay slips and wondering whether it’s possible to postpone Christmas.

But as men earn an average of 14.2 per cent every hour more than we do – a pound to our every 80 pence - they’ve already earned everything women are going to get this year. Whoop.

The pay gap affects every woman at every level – as witnessed by recent comments by Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence, who has been speaking out about gender and pay discrepancy after discovering (in leaked Sony emails) that she’d been paid less for film American Hustle than her male co-stars.

Lawrence has pinpointed a tricky truth

She recently addressed the issue in a newsletter for Lena Dunham, saying she wanted to avoid being seen as ‘difficult’.

Lawrence wrote: “I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable!... I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It’s just heard.”

Her words struck a chord with women the world over. So I was stunned to read Kate Winslet’s comments on the issue this week.

"In 1997, when Titanic came out, it was revolutionary to have a size 14 actress in a leading role."

The Titanic star told Newsbeat she thought the whole thing was “vulgar”.

She said: "I don't think that's a very nice conversation to have publicly at all…it seems quite a strange thing to be discussing out in the open like that. I am a very lucky woman and I'm quite happy with how things are ticking along.”

Say what? Less “I’ll never let go, Jack,” and more “I’m alright, Jack”.

Winslet added: "I haven't ever felt that I've really had to stick up for myself just because I'm a woman.” There speaks a chick who’s never had to hide in the toilet at a company Christmas party because Advocaat makes Barry from payroll “a bit handsy”.

Kate Winslet has played on her image as a 'real woman' since 1997's Titanic

When I was a teenager, Kate Winslet was my heroine.

I turned 13 in 1997, the year Titanic came out. This was a time when it was revolutionary to have a size 14 actress in a leading role - especially one who called out every interviewer who wanted to make her body the biggest part of the conversation.

She swore. She spoke about being bullied at school. She fed her wedding guests sausage and mash. She had a wee on camera when she was filming Holy Smoke. (So weeing is fine, but money is “vulgar”, Kate?)

She spoke out against airbrushing on the covers of magazines. She was a 'real woman'.

"When did the celeb I’d most like to go to the pub with turn into someone who feels ‘women’s issues’ aren’t for her?"

Her legacy inspired the new crop of cool, feminist actresses - Jennifer Lawrence has inherited Winslet's down-to-earth mantle, and she’s running with it. Other actresses, such as Meryl Streep, Patricia Arquette and Maisie Williams (as well as actor Bradley Cooper) have also spoken up.

Kate - you should be celebrating and supporting these women, not opting out of the sisterhood.

When did the feminist celeb I’d most like to go to the pub with turn into someone who feels ‘women’s issues’ aren’t for her and should be swept under the carpet?

Patricia Arquette used her Oscar's speech to call out sexism

To be fair, being likeable is not part of Winslet’s job. She’s an actor, and her task is to convince us in the role she plays. She shouldn’t feel obliged to win us over with her personality, sexiness or ‘down to earth’ nature.

But she’s a woman on our team. She might be in a different financial league from most of us, but she’s still playing the same game. The rest of us would love to wash our hands of dirty, difficult ‘vulgar’ money, and never have to make a painful decision about it ever again.

And if we worked in a world where gender didn’t determine our worth, it might not be so painful. We’d know that our work and value was acknowledged and rewarded, and instead of holding back and questioning our own power, we’d soar.

"It’s up to women like Winslet – who’ve made themselves role models for speaking out – to demand transparency".

The trouble is that to some extent, Winslet is right. We do feel extremely awkward when we discuss money.

As a freelance writer, negotiating fees is my least favourite thing, because I don’t want people to think I’m demanding, and stop liking me. Other people rarely talk about what they get paid, which makes it harder to gauge my worth.

Like Jennifer Lawrence, I don’t want to ‘seem spoiled’. That’s why it’s up to women like Winslet – who’ve made themselves role models for speaking out – to demand transparency.

Women protest for equal pay in a scene from Made in Dagenham Credit: Susie Allnut

Last Christmas, a friend with a similar job drunkenly told me how much she earned, which inspired me to ask for more. She revealed that she’d had that conversation with a colleague who was paid more than her, and she was negotiating her contract.

So I passed it on, telling another freelancer what I’d just been paid for a job, and advising her to increase her rates. If four women in varying states of tipsiness can increase their own bottom lines while they’re in the pub, imagine what Winslet could inspire if she embraced the issue.

"Of course, Winslet doesn’t need to worry about working for free until 2016 - but she’s in a position to help those of us who do."

From next year, companies with more than 250 workers will be forced to disclose whether they pay men more than women. But we’re not going to make any positive changes unless we actually have awkward conversations.

As Spiderman’s Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Not many women have an audience, a fan base and the assurance that all their statements will be recorded and broadcast.

Not many women are in a position where their wealth allows them to pick the projects that bring them the most creative joy, or not to work at all if they choose. Of course, Kate Winslet doesn’t need to worry about working for free until 2016 - but she’s in a position to help those of us who do.

I hope she revises her statement, and guides us all onto dry land. Because right now? It feels like she’s safe and dry on her lifeboat, happy to leave those of us in steerage to our fate.