Earlier today, The Hollywood Reporter published an interview with Ellen Pompeo titled, “Ellen Pompeo, TV’s $20 Million Woman, Reveals Her Behind-the-Scenes Fight for ‘What I Deserve'” and it has been blowing up ever since. Here’s why it matters:
Ellen, who has played Meredith Grey on ABC’s hit drama Grey’s Anatomy for nearly 15 years, got very candid about money. It’s not something a lot of women feel comfortable talking about, which is why it’s so important that Ellen did. But’s it’s more than that. Let’s break it down a little bit:
“As a woman, what I know is you can’t approach anything from a point of view of ‘I don’t deserve’ or ‘I’m not going to ask for it because I don’t want other people to get upset,’ [Shonda] Rhimes says now. ‘And I know for a fact that when men go into these negotiations, they go in hard and ask for the world.”
All right. Here we go. We’re already seeing the split between men and women when it comes to talking money, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Women don’t like to ask for things. Men LOVE to ask for things, especially more money. This isn’t a coincidence. Women are taught to be gracious and polite and quiet about money. We’re just supposed to accept whatever the check says and not ask questions.
Be polite. Say thank you. So what if your male colleague makes 25% more than you for the same labor? That’s how the system works. You’re a woman, thus, you’re worth less. Right? Wrong.
“Rhimes recalls giving her star a simple piece of advice: ‘Decide what you think you’re worth and then ask for what you think you’re worth. Nobody’s going to just give it to you.”
This is the hard part. Knowing your worth and demanding it are two very different things. It’s easy to know how much you deserve, but actually asking for that is a whole different story. It’s hard and it’s scary because, no matter what, somebody is going to be pissed that you had the audacity to demand more. We’re women. We’re supposed to be fine with being treated like garbage, remember?
Already on Twitter, I’ve seen people reacting this way. And I’ve seen it from women, too. This idea of the entire female population staying all hush hush about their paychecks is so outdated I want to scream. But this is about more than that. It’s about women being allowed to share their stories. It’s about women being able to share their stories without fear of repercussions from their employers, their colleagues, and in some cases, their friends and family.
For me, Patrick [Dempsey] leaving the show [in 2015] was a defining moment, deal-wise. They could always use him as leverage ––”We don’t need you, we have Patrick”––which they did for years. I don’t know if they also did that to him, because he and I never discussed our deals. There were many times where I reached out about joining together to negotiate, but he was never interested in that.”
This is one of those cases of repercussions from your employers and colleagues. Plain as day. The fact that network executives were using Ellen’s male cast-mate as leverage against her is abhorrent. It’s a total slap in the face. Basically, what those execs were saying is this: “look, we get you’re here and you’re somewhat important, but you’re not important enough to be given what you deserve, and you’re definitely not important enough to be treated as an equal to Patrick.” That’s what the suits said.
But what about Mr. Dempsey? (I can already feel the shit I’m about to get for saying what I’m about to say, but that’s the point, isn’t it? Saying it anyway?) When Patrick refused to discuss his deals and negotiate with Ellen as a team, he was refusing to acknowledge that he, as a male actor, benefited from the ingrained sexisms found all over Hollywood. The patriarchy is not the fault of one individual, but a collective group of men who refuse to speak out against something that benefits them. And this is a perfect example of that. I’m not here to say that Patrick is a horrible person because I don’t think that’s true at all. But what I am saying is this: he could have (and should have) done better here. It’s not like the network would’ve fired him for demanding that Ellen be treated and paid equally. She was kept on an invisible leash for years by the same executives who were giving Patrick preferential treatment, and for what? His penis? To me, the fact that he wasn’t willing to negotiate or even discuss the deals with Ellen just goes to show that he seemed to be fine with benefiting from that sexism. And that is a problem.
But I also want to make it clear that I am not pinning the blame on Patrick Dempsey. Ultimately, he was not in control over Ellen’s salary, the network was. I guess my thoughts on how he chose to handle, or rather, not handle, this whole situation is this: He’s not to blame, but he’s also not completely blameless. He didn’t have direct power to control Ellen’s pay, but he did have enough power to demand better for her, and probably get it, too. He should have been her ally and instead, he was silent.
“At one point, I asked for $5,000 more than him just on principle, because the show is Grey’s Anatomy and I’m Meredith Grey. They wouldn’t give it to me. And I could have walked away, so why didn’t I? It’s my show; I’m the number one.”
This part pissed me off. I mean, come on. $5,000 is couch change for a TV network, especially one as huge as ABC. The fact that they weren’t willing to give the namesake of their most successful show what she was asking for is just more proof that women are not valued in the same way men are. It doesn’t matter that it’s Grey’s Anatomy and the woman behind Meredith Grey wanted more. Apparently, they were more interested in keeping the Shepherd name happy. Hmmmmm. Anyway.
And now we’re getting to Ellen’s response to all of this.
“I’m sure I felt what a lot of these other actresses feel: Why should I walk away from a great part because of a guy? You feel conflicted but then you figure, ‘I’m not going to let a guy drive me out of my own house.'”
And this was the moment I stopped thinking about this article as just being about the money. It’s about allowing women to be powerful in their own right. It’s about respecting women and their power. It’s about learning to handle your own power instead of letting your power handle you. It’s about choosing yourself and then making everyone else choose you, too.
“So, what does it look like when he leaves the show? First, it looks like a ratings spike, and I had a nice chuckle about that. But the truth is, the ink wasn’t even dry on his exit papers before they rushed in a new guy.”
A ratings spike. She’s allowed to be excited about that. I’ve seen people equating that comment to “slamming Patrick’s work into the ground,” and “being cold-hearted” and other things that I don’t want to type on here. But let me tell you what I see: I see Ellen recognizing her own work. I see an audience that is as invested in the stories of Meredith Grey as ever before. I see a show that spent 11 seasons focusing on a woman working to become extraordinary. I see an actor who emerged fully knowing how much she was worth regardless of who was or wasn’t standing beside her.
And then the network shit on her again. I remember this being a big scandal back in 2015, when Ellen had the audacity to pose on the cover of Entertainment Weekly alone. It’s the same thing over and over again. A woman can’t be trusted to carry a show on her own. Why is that? Is it because our stories aren’t interesting? We all know that isn’t true. So, as Ellen put it, what’s with the immediate need to rush into “[getting] a penis in there?”
“When your face and your voice have been part of something that’s generated $3 billion for one of the biggest corporations in the world, you start to feel like, ‘Ok, maybe I do deserve a piece of this.”
The “ah ha!” moment. It’s one thing to feel like you deserve more, and it’s another thing to know it. To be sure. To be unwavering in that knowledge, and to then act on it. In 2018, we are seeing a shift in focal-point when it comes to women’s worth. We’re seeing more people accepting that women are whole human beings on their own. We’re seeing more women being paid equally, though the statistics on this are still not what they should be. We’re seeing more women in control. We’re seeing more and more and more. But is it enough? If you ask me, as long as we have to talk about women being capable entities, about being worth just as much as any man, that translates into the societal view remaining largely the same. That we’re not worth it. That being paid equally is an exception to the rule, and not the expected rule.
And that’s why it’s about more than the money. This is a much bigger issue than paychecks. It’s about women being respected in whatever they choose to do––whether it be acting or teaching or playing a sport professionally or staying at home with the kids. We deserve to be treated as if our lives are just as important and fulfilling as any man’s life. We deserve to be treated with respect in the workplace. We deserve more. And Ellen just helped us all realize that. And my hope is that she inspired you to demand more, too.