Paula and Pay Equity.

Paula_Abdul2.gif

by Leslie Morgan Steiner

 

I never imagined cute, ditzy Paula Abdul as a feminist. Shame on me for assuming that a Los Angeles Lakers cheerleader and music video diva couldn’t also be strong, smart and gutsy. Because Abdul’s dispute over women’s pay equity – an issue that affects all women in the U.S. and around the world -- seems to be the back story behind last week’s departure from American Idol, eloquently justified by National Public Radio’s Michel Martin and other pundits. Give me an A, Paula!

 

Celebrity buzz brings another teachable moment for our kids, who can certainly learn an interesting lesson in fairness from the fact that Paula quit because the men on the show were paid far more than she was. Entertainment pay packages are tough to verify, but the New York Times reported that Abdul made $2 million per year in salary and another $1.5 for wardrobe and expenses. Idol host Ryan Seacrest’s pay recently doubled to $10 million a year, and flame-thrower Simon Cowell earns in the range of $30 million per year. Abdul asked for $10 million per year, with the show countering $5 million.

 

Heady numbers, for sure – but that’s not the point here. Statistics prove that inequal pay for equal work is the reality for most women in most professions in the U.S. whether you earn minimum wage or millions. According to Catalyst, women in Abdul’s age bracket (45-54) make 74.5% of men’s earnings. The 2008 median income for women hit only $638 a week vs. $798 for men. Over the course of a career, some studies show that women earn only 38% of what men make. The situation is widespread and serious enough that President Obama made it illegal to pay women less than men back in January as his first law signed while president.

 

Paula Abdul was offered 50% less than her male peers despite the fact that her very ditziness is critical to the show’s unique, Twitter-worthy appeal. Abdul, who’d been with Idol for eight seasons, gave the show’s producers plenty of chances to make it right; she negotiated as all career coaches tell women to do; she stood up for herself and asked to be paid what she was worth in terms of the media attention, viewers and ratings she brought to the show. I think Abdul had few respectable choices but to walk away from the top-rated Fox program, even if walking away kills what’s left of her strange and varied career in entertainment. (Fortunately early reports indicate she’ll be fine, with ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and other shows reportedly pursuing her.)

 

shiduri
08.19.09

I think Paula Abdul made Idol (almost) as much fun to watch as did Simon's antics. Randy and Kara mostly parroted each other, but Paula's funny, gentle ways added a human dimension that Simon's sarcasm clearly lacked.

I will miss her.

Nobiwan
08.19.09

Hold on a second - it seems people don't even know what Paula's qualifications are to even be on the show as a judge. She is, above all else, pretty much the most qualified choreographer in all of Hollywood. She's done work for Janet Jackson - think about that. She's not just a cheerleader, her choreography is one of the reasons why the Laker Girls are a name unto themselves. She's been at this for twenty years. Go ahead, find something about Simon Cowell from before 2000. I dare you. Same goes for Ryan and Randy. Not only does she have actual skill in these things, she's the only one who went through anything like what those kids on Idol go through - the sudden spotlight and stardom. If it were my show, I'd pay her at least what Simon gets.

laniebeck
08.19.09

Paula's name is synonymous with AI and the show will definitely suffer because of her departure. She added spunkiness - wack or not - and viewers will miss her offbeat commentary and support of the contestants. Gender pay equity? Not sure if that's the real issue or not, regardless, she will be missed next season.

leslie morgan s...
08.18.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

wow, now I feel so much better that Randy gets paid three times what Paula made! Because being a bass player clearly means he's proven himself.

(Just being snarky...nothing personal!)

aimpell
08.18.09

Wow - Paula as the poster woman for the pay equity movement? It's a clever argument, but I'm dubious about the premise. I'd be interested to know what Randy and Kara's contracts look like. They, along with Paula, are clearly supporting actors in the Ryan and Simon show (aka American Idol) so unless Randy is making more than Paula per year, I don't really think the gender argument works in this context. I don't think it advances any feminist agenda to argue that in the real world, women should rely on the gender card to overcome a history of questionable and controversial behavior/work performance in pay negotiations . . .

caseyb
08.18.09

Paula discussed her addiction to pain killers in an article in Ladies Home Journal ... so I don't mentioning her drug use is a "sweeping accusation" or "libel."
http://www.lhj.com/style/covers/paula-abdul/

sexyMama
08.18.09

Of course she has to prove herself!

What I mean is, being paid on your own merit is a better system than being paid based on your co-workers' merit.

Plus there's no way she should make as much as Simon -- he's the show's executive producer. (Randy Jackson is the other guy's name; he's an accomplished professional bass player.)

leslie morgan s...
08.18.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

No disrespect to the respectful disagree-ers, but i see a lot of unconscious bias here. Paula has to prove herself? You cannot be serious! On an idiotic show where people sing and some sing well and others make fools of themselves in front of millions of viewers? How exactly have Simon and the other yo-yos proven themselves?

It reminds me of the comments I've heard over the years about not hiring a woman for a top job, or not hiring a qualified stay-at-home mom, or a single mom, or a working woman with kids, because they haven't proven themselves. Men are usually judged by what they can contribute in the future, which is all that matters. Women are often dismissed because they haven't (supposedly) done enough, accomplished enough, "proven" themselves. It's just code for "she's a woman, and in this country we respect men more just for walking in the door."

Check your own biases...let us know what you find.

ymatlosz
08.18.09

I respectfully disagree with this blog -- her dismissal had very little to do with pay equity and more to do with her wacky behavior. How much has AI had to shell out to do damage control over the years? THAT is where the rest of her salary went ... I think Kara is a strong replacement and brings a lot more to the table. The real test will be to see what she makes compared to Simon and Randy in a few years once she has proven herself. Honestly -- if Paula were my employee she would have been fired a long time ago.

leslie morgan s...
08.18.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Just wanted to pause for a second...can you believe Paula Abdul makes so much more money than we do (okay..I'll speak for myself here). What are we doing wrong?!? There is no fairness in the world! She is cute, she sure can dance, but five million a year?