Amy Schumer clarifies her pay gripe

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Story highlights

  • Story in Variety said Amy Schumer got more pay after she pointed out to Netflix it was paying Chappelle and Rock more
  • Peggy Drexler: Schumer makes key point that a variety of factors determine pay, not always simply gender parity

Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)This week, Amy Schumer issued what may have been one of the best comebacks of her career.

Variety reported the actress and comedian had negotiated higher pay for a Netflix gig after learning that colleagues Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle were each earning some $9 million more for similar appearances. Social media weighed in, of course, with some blasting her as not deserving it anyway. And then Schumer gave the naysayers what they thought they'd never get from her: agreement.
"I don't believe I deserve equal pay to Chris and Dave," she wrote in an Instagram post Wednesday. "They are legends and 2 of the greatest comics of all time." Her hashtags further echoed criticisms that have been lobbed at her over the years: "#fat #stealsjokes." She is pictured posing wearing only underpants; she holds a dog wearing a stuffed hot dog to cover her top.
    It was perhaps one of the more teachable moments we've had in the ongoing conversation about equal pay. For one thing, Schumer, as a celebrity, has a wide reach: 6.3 million Instagram followers. For another, she used humor to address a very serious topic, but she didn't make light of it.
    She did not get defensive. She made it clear that she, yes, did ask for more money and that there was nothing wrong with that. She pointed out that she works hard, regularly sells out arenas ("something a female comic has never done"), and does her best every night. She didn't just ask for a boost in pay for equal pay's sake.
    But she also asserted that she did not, in fact, ask Netflix to match the salaries given to the men.
    It's an important clarification: Equal pay doesn't mean that men and women should be paid the same, across the board, all the time. Certainly, one man may not earn the same as another man in the same position, and there's no gender inequality there.
    A point often overlooked in discussions about equal pay is that there can be a range of factors that will determine any person's salary — including, for the employee, the ability, desire, and opportunity to negotiate (as Schumer did in this case). And for the prospective employer, there is the experience of the potential hire to consider, how in-demand he or she is, and the amount of work/ effort/ travel/ rearranging/ and whatever else may be required to take and complete a job.
    Equal pay means individuals should not be penalized — or rewarded — simply for their gender or skin color.
    The original Variety headline that broke the story of Schumer's purported request to Netflix was likely meant to be incendiary: "Women, Minorities on TV Still Making Less Than White Men." While that appears to be true, the takeaway on this issue shouldn't be that gender and race are the only factors separating any one white man's salary from any one woman or minority worker's salary.
    It's also noteworthy that Variety never exactly reported that Schumer had asked that her pay match that of Rock and Chappelle; that was a reader assumption. Naturally, those readers were lightning quick to shoot her down, with tweets like, "Amy Schumer asking for the same pay as Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock is without a doubt the funniest thing she's ever said," and that special ire reserved for women who ask for more than others think they should.
    By standing up for herself, Schumer effectively sent the message to millions of people that yes, women deserve more — and she, in particular deserved it — while also encouraging continued openness about money and what we, and others, are earning.
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    Gender equality, after all, is best achieved when people are willing to talk about it, and women shouldn't be afraid to ask around to find out how much their co-workers make. They also shouldn't be afraid to ask for more money if they feel they should get it.
    Schumer felt she did and, in agreeing to her request, her employers validated both her righteous request and the truth of her stature. Victories are becoming more common in this area, even as the fight is not over.
    But the biggest victory will come when salary is viewed simply as a true reflection of the value of the individual — the talent, ethic, drive and performance — assessed without penalty, or preference, for skin color or gender.