Recently, director Paul Feig has been under scrutiny for his upcoming release and remake of the 80’s classic, Ghostbusters. Taking a fresh approach with a leading cast of talented female actresses, he told Vulture, “I didn’t realize that for certain older guys, the original Ghostbusters is the equivalent of a tree house that has the no girls allowed sign on it. And I think they look at me as the guy who came up, took the sign, lit it on fire, and then painted the inside of the tree house pink.”
So, why is it such a big deal for a woman to be playing a role that was once played by a man?
And isn’t the more important question why aren’t any of these actresses making what they would have if they were men? According to Time, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled Age, Gender, and Compensation: A Study of Hollywood Movie Stars found that pay for female movie stars increases until they reach 34, decreasing rapidly thereafter, along with the number of opportunities available to them. Not surprisingly, men are at their best earning wise at 51, without any notable decline in wages after that.
Let’s remember, of course, that the gender pay gap is everywhere. According to the Equal Pay Coalition, the 2015 UN Human Rights report raised concerns about “the persisting inequalities between women and men in Canada, including the high level of the pay gap and its disproportionate effect on low-income women, visible minority women, and indigenous women.”
This disparity contributes to a number of factors impacting women, including the inability to save adequately for retirement and an increased risk of being subject to poverty, especially if a woman has dependent children, experiences a separation, divorce, or loss of a partner. Furthermore, women who are not financially independent are at risk of staying in abusive relationships, endangering themselves and their dependents.
In Canada, the percentage of working women has increased from about 42% to almost 60% over the last 30 years. Even with such dramatic social change, governments and employers alike have yet to respond with a reassessment of women’s compensation, leaving the female working force at an unfair disadvantage.
Getting back to Ghostbusters, even Ivan Reitman, director of the original Ghostbusters told Vulture that “There wasn’t even a thought about gender. It was just, ‘These guys are all funny. We’re going to do it.’ I never thought it was male-exclusive. None of us did.” The cast of the remake seems to embody Reitman’s sentiment, with each actress possessing a comedic background and meshing well with Feig’s love of showcasing funny and talented females (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy).
When asked “why risk it?” given the cult following and popularity of the original film, Feig said, “I wanted for little girls to be able to see themselves up on the screen. The original one exists, so you can see boys doing it, but how fun for girls to have this experience! I’d like girls to be able to put on a proton pack and run around.”
Feig’s mindset around inclusivity is exactly what we should be thinking about when it comes to eliminating the gender wage gap. By helping women enter higher-wage occupations, and encouraging young girls to enter STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) – based careers, we’ll be addressing gender-based discrimination, especially in male-dominated fields.
In Canada, six Canadian Provinces (Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, and Quebec), have initiated legislation that addresses pay equity. While Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, and British Columbia have yet to do so, they have developed policy frameworks for negotiating pay, so while we may be moving at a slow pace, we’re moving – and that’s something.
In the meanwhile, men on the internet can indulge in the nostalgia of Ghosbusters’ boys’ cub, and the rest of us can load up on buttered popcorn while we watch these seriously funny ladies take on the ghosts of New York.