By now you’ve probably seen Sarah Silverman’s video about wage equality, made to promote The National Women's Law Center's "Equal Payback Project." (It’s racked up close to a million views on YouTube in the first week it went live.) If you haven’t seen it, there it is, right above. In it, the comedian notes that women across America earn, on average, about 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.
No one can argue with the initiative’s goals — equal pay for equal work seems like a fundamental human right that we shouldn’t even have to discuss. Nevertheless, here we are. And, while Silverman’s goal to raise awareness is laudable, her execution is, well, pretty awful.
The piece features Silverman in a doctor’s office, cheerfully announcing that she is going to get a sex change so that she can get paid what she is worth. That is where the problems begin — most of them having to do with assumptions or downright ignorance of the realities of trans* people’s lives and the challenges and discrimination they face. No matter how well-intentioned, Silverman’s blithe depiction of a reassignment surgery goes off the rails and into cringe territory right away. Let’s bullet it out:
• If anyone faces job and wage discrimination, it’s trans individuals. As activist and author Jane Mock put it: “Sex reassignment doesn't help one advance in workplace. Ask one of the most underemployed populations: trans people.” There are still 32 states where someone can be fired, just for being trans.
• Gender reassignment is not that easy to obtain — although Medicare did recently decide to cover it. Okay, this isn’t a documentary, but men and women go through extensive and expensive medical testing and treatment before they can get to the situation Silverman has herself in now. Furthermore, many trans* individuals opt out of surgery altogether.