On October 17th of last year, Alyssa Milano tweeted asking that anyone who had ever experienced sexual harassment or assault respond by tweeting back ‘me too.’ Almost overnight #MeToo became a movement catapulting a culture of silence and abuse against women to center stage. Since October the movement has gone on to accumulate over 1.7 million tweets, launching it to national attention, landing its high–profile supporters on the cover of TIME magazine and confirming for many users what was already known: sexual abuse is an insidious international, classist, racist, and prejudiced epidemic.
Recently, despite criticism about the movement’s struggle to define its social boundaries, #MeToo has grown to spotlight and implicate the misogynistic, abusive and assault–like practices that seem endemic to heteronormative dating. But #MeToo has also created room for movements like Time’s Up, directing public attention to other suppressed truths about the inequalities facing women of nearly every industry, such as the silent standardization of unequal pay.
Earlier this month it was announced that Ellen Pompeo, star of ABC medical drama Grey’s Anatomy with the staying power of a 14–season run, had successfully renegotiated her salary to become one of the highest–paid television actors to date. When the story broke, readers and fans took to social media to convey their overwhelming support. That Grey’s Anatomy is now a cultural icon, with new users engaging with its pilot through Netflix every month, is due in no small part to Pompeo’s performance as the titular character Meredith Grey, and many felt the increase in compensation was more than justified.
Though Pompeo’s demands are far from unprecedented, her case is notable for not relying on validation in the form of her male co–stars’s support to ensure her financial agency—though this was true in the past. Shameless’s Emmy Rossum, whose renegotiation for her role as Fiona Gallagher on the show was publicly and privately aided by William H. Macy in 2016. In 2012, Bradley Cooper made his earnings for Silver Lining’s Playbook public upon learning of Jennifer Lawrence’s much smaller salary for the movie.
The outpouring of public support afforded Pompeo is also in no way standard practice. Despite the growing popularity of Time’s Up and last year’s introduction of the Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, many women of color in media have still felt themselves silenced in the fight for equal pay despite being disproportionately paid less than white actors, regardless of gender. Last week, when actress Tracee Ellis Ross’s re–negotiation for her role on ABC’s Black–ish went public, fans were split into camps of both support and outright condemnation, with many wondering aloud why the actress would ever require a salary comparable to her male co–star’s and characterizing her demands as outright ungrateful.
In an equally aggravating vein, Oscar–winning actress and comedian Mo’Nique took to Instagram this past weekend to announce that Netflix had offered her a mere 500,000 dollars for an hour–long comedy special, despite offering 11 million to Amy Schumer (later negotiated up to 13 million), and 20 million to both Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. In response, fellow comedian Wanda Sykes revealed on Twitter that Netflix had not even offered her half of Mo’Nique’s proposed 500,000 dollars, leading the seasoned comic to ink a deal with Epix instead.
Retrospectively, what is perhaps most notable about the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements is how it can be that these racial divisions exist even within camps of support. When Lupita N’yongo revealed that she, too, had been a victim of Harvey Weinstein’s systemic abuse, Weinstein was quick to reject and condemn the implication, though he remained unwaveringly silent on all the other allegations against him. N’yongo’s story and those of many other actresses of color were quickly swallowed by others.
Comparably, last week at Sundance Festival, The Shape of Water actress Octavia Spencer revealed a conversation on the severity of pay inequity for women of color with fellow actress and friend Jessica Chastain. Chastain decided that their salaries for an upcoming joint project would necessarily be equal and that they would demand that unwaveringly. In the aftermath, both women were offered five times what they originally asked.
In some ways, the stakes were set in favor of movements #MeToo and Time’s Up, due in large part to the accountability, visibility and amplitude provided by social media and the fact that, on the front of sexual assault, America had been so long holding its breath. What many women of color have noticed, however, is that in keeping with the history of women’s rights and privileges in America, white voices are amplified louder than others and non–white voices are actively suppressed. The duty is therefore on such amplified women (and men) to use their bully pulpits to effect change for the silenced and for the whole.