What it means to be a woman is on many American women’s minds right now, since our current presidential election is playing out like a gender studies course simulation. Even Chelsea Handler is not immune, and she used an episode of her show Chelsea to explore some of the issues women think about.
Her guests definitely narrow the exploration of what constitutes women’s issues. While there’s plenty of valid criticism for how the gender pay gap isn’t going to be closed by rich white actresses, an anecdote Hilary Swank tells about how she was paid earlier in her career is still fairly shocking. She explains that she only made $3,000 for her Academy Award-winning performance in Boys Don’t Cry, which didn’t even qualify her for health insurance. After her second Oscar win, she was offered a part across from a male lead who had recently become “hot,” but had no critical acclaim. He was paid $10 million and she was offered $500,000. After she turned down the role, the part was given to an upcoming actress who was paid only $50,000.
In the clip above, Ava DuVernay talks about how, when she was offered the chance to direct Selma, she was the seventh director they asked. Her budget for the film was $20 million, which was a big jump for DuVernay. She tells a story about meeting a friend, a male director, who had also recently gotten a movie with a larger budget than he’d ever had. It turns out it was Jurassic World, which has an estimated budget of $150 million.
Deshauna Barber, crowned Miss USA 2016, brings some less Hollywood-centric topics to the table in the full episode. Before her pageant win, Barber worked as an IT analyst and in the army. She says she’s often questioned when she says she’s a soldier, because of her size. She and Handler get into a back and forth about whether or not men are always physically stronger than women and Barber wonders if “size decides whether you’re capable or strong?”
Barber is the youngest woman at the table at 26, and everyone is eager to give her advice, especially Connie Britton, who is psyched about her own age, saying, “The truth of the forties is it’s about wisdom.” Britton is additionally there to applaud Handler, in this exchange:
Handler: I’m looking back reflectively going, I was so irresponsible with my fame. You just want to make a splash and then all of a sudden the responsibility weighs in and you’re just like—what am really doing here.
Britton: In a backhanded way you became a feminist role model and I know that wasn’t your intention originally. And I really think that’s the key. And I think it’s actually an amazing example for women, because we don’t have to—I think some women are very uncomfortable with going out and flag waving and all the rest of it.
Barber says for herself, she only recently became famous and is often hesitant to share her views on issues like Black Lives Matter or feminism on social media. She fears saying the wrong thing, and feels the pressure from fans or followers to have a position and speak out on all sorts of issues she doesn’t necessarily want to have a public opinion on.
Handler says she feels fear too and basically doesn’t care, which seems accurate. For instance, she confuses Chiwetel Ejiofor and David Oyelowo when talking to DuVernay about Selma and doesn’t edit it out, perhaps because of DuVernay’s insistence. She also says that she has ten male writers and two female writers for her show, and would never hire a woman just because she’s a woman. Honest, doesn’t give a shit, or doesn’t need to?
DuVernay interjects to share that she hired an all woman directorial team for her show Queen Sugar. She says that all of them are exceptional directors who were on the film circuit, but unable to break in to directing TV episodes, adding, “No one wanted to be the first person to give them a chance....At some point you gotta let a woman give it a try.”