Jeremy Renner just can't seem to keep from putting his foot in his mouth. He has a habit of making controversial and tone-deaf comments, and then doubling down on them rather than diffusing the situation. As a media sound bite, he's a gift from Hollywood. As a publicist's responsibility, he's a handful.
He's back in the news again today for his comments that while he's all for his female costars getting equal pay, it's not his job to negotiate for them. This comes the week after his American Hustle costar, Jennifer Lawrence, penned a candid essay about the gender pay gap in Hollywood, and other costar, Bradley Cooper, said he would be happy to negotiate salaries with his female costars heading into production.
Naturally, Renner is getting lambasted on social media for his comments. And normally, I'd be right there facepalming with everyone else. But on this occasion, I'm not. In fact, dare I say...I agree with him?
Hear me out.
On one level, the fuss over what he said has been blown out of proportion (a totally out of character and not at all common occurrence on social media in 2015, I know). Renner was simply saying was that it's not his job -- and it's not. He doesn't understand, as he says, "contracts and money and all that stuff." And of course he wouldn't. That's what an agent is for. It's not an actor's job to deal with that part of the negotiation process, or, at least, it doesn't have to be if they don't want to be involved with it. Renner appears to have no interest in being involved even when it's his own contract and salary at stake, and that's fine. If he trusts his agent and wants to be hands-off, then he's simply being honest about his lack of understanding.
But even if his comments hadn't been misconstrued, and he meant it wasn't his job in a metaphorical sense, he'd still be right -- it's not his job. I am glad that Bradley Cooper is willing to sit at the negotiating table with his female costars. I am glad that male celebrities have finally started to join in the female chorus about the double standards in Hollywood, from Mark Ruffalo flipping the gender script during an interview for [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](tag:293035) to Daniel Craig dropping the mic on the "older woman" Bond girl nonsense.
Except, here's the thing: Women have already been leading this charge and they've mostly gotten burned for being vocal. In Hollywood, a squeaky wheel doesn't get the grease -- it gets blacklisted. When a male celebrity speaks up about equality, he's lauded as being brave. But it's not bravery to speak from a position of security. It's not bravery when you know your career won't take a hit. It is right and good that it's done -- but it's not bravery. Bradley Cooper can say that he's going to fight for equal pay because there's not a studio in the world that would turn him down for speaking up, but Jennifer Lawrence, as popular as she is, might find that her essay paints her as a "spoiled brat" in the very same entitled circles that make or break her career.
No, it's not Renner's job to argue for equal pay. That job is already being filled by the many actresses and female crew members and executives already advocating for equality. Getting angry at Renner for not wanting to wade in undermines the agency of the women who are handling speaking for themselves and other women just fine on their own already, like Lawrence, like Ava DuVernay and Meryl Streep, like Emma Watson, like Laverne Cox, like Ashley Judd, like Helen Mirren and Geena Davis and Shonda Rimes and Jessica Chastain and Rose McGowan.
It's not Renner's job here, nor any actor's job, to talk. It's their job to listen. To listen to what's already being said by their female colleagues, and, when the media attention turns away from those colleagues, to turn the conversation back to them. Because too often, when male celebs do speak up, the conversation starts revolving around them, and moves away from the women whose voices then get drowned out and undermined. Listening, learning, and redirecting the attention back to female colleagues will do more than easy sound bites ever will.
And there's always an added bonus, if you're Renner: If you're too busy listening to open your mouth, you run less of a risk of finding your foot in it.