God I love me some Kerry Washington. For those of you who don’t watch Scandal, I applaud you because you have one less addiction in your life than the rest of us.
This year, Kerry Washington, Eva Longoria, Elizabeth Banks and Reese Witherspoon had an insightful conversation for Entertainment Weekly. The table-style interview feels more like a wine night with girlfriends. It's not just the ease of which the actors can navigate a discussion, it's the familiarity of their experiences and the transparent bluntness of how they're described.
“It reminds me of this line that Shonda Rhimes wrote on our show that has really resonated with African Americans. It’s this idea you have to be twice as good to get half of what they have. It’s something that most black people I talk to, when they heard that line, it completely resonated with how they were raised and the messaged their parents gave them. ‘That’s just the truth.’ I think it’s the same for women. You just know, you have to be twice as good. In a way, until girls don’t have that feeling, we will not have done our jobs. That’s almost the point: to not feel the pressure to be extraordinary.”
This is a taboo subject and I’ll be frank: I feel a nervous writing about it. People don’t like when uncomfortable subjects are brought up. They’d rather not deal with it. While I’m not African American, I can fully relate to the second component of what she’s saying. There is a very real pressure for women to excel in order to have access to the same opportunities as men.
Look to the women beside you and ask the question. No doubt stories that substantiate Washington's assertion will pour out. Among the many areas of discrimination with women one area stands out: being a mother. Women with children or women who are approaching the baby-making age lose opportunities for jobs or promotions because of it.
The inequality was never as apparent to me until my mid-to-late twenties. Employers' questions began to veer off topic to my marital status, specifically probing if I want to eventually start a family. It's a sneaky way of calculating if they will have to keep you employed and train you when it may only be a matter of time before your priorities shift and they can no longer count on you.
One of my former co-workers was passed for a promotion and the owner of the company flat out said he wouldn’t consider giving it to her because she had been “gone for months." She had been on standard maternity leave. I can go on but I'll be brief. There is no lack of evidence to support this claim.
Revisiting Washington’s original point, there is an unspoken pressure to prove yourself as a woman. It’s not enough to show up and be good. Good doesn’t cut it. Excellence will get you that consideration. I can't deny the accidental benefits to such an environment. It's made me savvier at what I do. Yet it's a construct that inevitably sets us up for failure. We can't live up to unrealistic expectations before we succumb to exhaustion, depression and an unhealthy perfectionism. But as Washington said, "That's just the way it is."
More women need to be less polite and say the truth, as uncomfortable as it can make people feel. I've had my own struggles with speaking my mind, especially in a crowd of people who don't understand–– or don't want to. It's in our nature to be agreeable when we should be bold.
Elizabeth Banks weighs in with her assessment on the current climate of gender equality. She does not feel we are in a culture of change but one of conversation. I can get behind that. We live in a time with plenty of data to back up the gender divide, including the Sony hack which most notably revealed huge wage gaps for male and female co-stars, so people like Banks feel comfortable enough to speak up.
“You get Geena Davis’ company to put out numbers that you can’t ignore and the conversation becomes very real," said Banks. "They’re embarrassing numbers and people don’t like to be embarrassed.”
If you want to watch the full interview (trust me you do), check it out.