Catt Sadler’s departure from E! News this week represents not just a tangible illustration of the enduring gender pay gap but also the underlying systems keeping it in place.
It is also, however, an important manifestation of the movement towards change.
On Tuesday, Sadler, a presenter for NBC-owned network E! Entertainment, announced on her website that she was leaving the company because of the “massive disparity” between her salary and that of her co-host, Jason Kennedy.
“Information is power. Or it should be. We are living in a new era. The gender pay gap is shrinking, although admittedly we have a long way to go. And well, I learned this first hand. My team and I asked for what I know I deserve and were denied repeatedly,” she said.
Sadler, a single mother of two, had worked for E! since February 2006, for the most part as a presenter for E! News alongside Kennedy. Earlier this year, she was also named as host of E!’s new show ‘Daily Pop’, a two-hour live daytime show looking at the biggest pop culture stories of the day.
“I was named host which meant double duty,” she said, “It was creatively challenging but genuinely one of the most fulfilling years of my professional career.”
You’ve all got me crying like a baby. I’m reading every single message. I will respond to them all after I make it through this difficult day. I love you so much and your words are providing me so much comfort. xx
See you on @enews later this eve with my friend @JasonKennedy1
— catt sadler (@IAmCattSadler) December 19, 2017
She said it was also this year that an executive at E! brought the pay gap between Kennedy and herself to her attention. It was upon negotiating a new contract with E! that Sadler learned of the true extent of the divide.
Although Sky noted that Kennedy was reported to have additional roles to Sadler, including working on the network’s red carpet show, his salary was reportedly almost double hers.
“How can I operate with integrity and stay on at E! if they’re not willing to pay me the same as him? Or at least come close?” she said.
E! Entertainment said in a statement that they refuse to discuss salaries, but “compensate employees fairly and appropriately based on their roles, regardless of gender.”
On her website, the CattWalk, Sadler referenced the innumerable cases of sexual abuse that have come out in recent months, encouraging women to speak out about the countless untold individual cases of unfairness and maltreatment that amount to sexist discrimination.
“Countless brave women have come forward this year to speak their truth,” she said.
“Females refuse to remain silent on issues that matter most because without our voices, how will we invoke lasting change? How can we make it better for the next generation of girls if we do not stand up for what is fair and just today?”
This year has indeed been subject to one outing of sexual indecency after the other. The Weinstein saga saw countless women speak out against one man as well as Hollywood and the filmmaking industry as a whole.
Following from that, women from different backgrounds brought historic sexual allegations against other people in power, from politicians to entertainers, to the attention of the world.
While 2017 has, however, been an important year for female voices in Western society, Sadler has now developed the conversation by bringing it into a new light.
The gender pay gap is a topic that has been grumbling along for decades. Author Phyllis Tharenou argues that the gender pay gap is a tool with which women are restricted to a lesser position in society and with which the status quo is maintained. The pay gap is therefore both a cause and a symptom of the system which facilitates the sexual abuse of women by men in positions of power.
A vital tool of that system is the culture of taboo. Anthropologist Marvin Harris explained that taboos are necessary for the maintenance of the identity and composition of society. They forge the pathways that allow access to certain information for certain people and prohibit it from others. They also act to disclose and suppress information from the population as a whole.
In Western society, it is well recognised that sexual activity is a taboo subject. The overt disclosure of sexual information is counter-intuitive to our cultural makeup. Western society often turns a blind eye to sexual matters. Sex just isn’t talked about. When you add that to the systemic repression of women in that society, sexually-abused women are often extremely reluctant to report their stories. The culture of taboo around sex protects the perpetrators of sexual abuse and punishes the victims.
It is a similar story when it comes to the gender pay gap. There is a widely recognised taboo against the discussion of salaries. It is considered impertinent to ask someone how much they earn.
It is those at the top of the pile who push this practice to optimize their control over corporate finances. Corporations get away with paying men, who mostly hold positions of power, more than women, by maintaining the taboo culture that largely keeps these gross disparities under wraps.
Sadler’s case, as well as those brought forward by all those women airing allegations of historic sexual abuse, represent steps in the right direction towards exposing the wrongdoings of people in power and building a more equal society. But as it stands, they feel like single steps in a journey of a thousand miles.
The Office for National Statistics has revealed that women in England and Wales are more than five times more likely than men to have been victims of sexual assault.
Similarly, in the US, the National Partnership for Women and Families released figures that showed women were paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an average annual gender wage gap of $10,470 (£8,826).
In the 2017 saga of sexual allegations, there has been a very notable lack of criminal charges brought against the accused. Additionally, the exposure of salary inequality resulted not in a pay rise for Catt Sadler, but in her leaving her position at the company she has worked at for nearly 12 years.
For many, the developing culture of openness towards deep-rooted social injustices against women is a step in the right direction. But it still leaves the daunting question of how far in that direction we still need to travel.