Sandra Bullock on Hollywood Sexism, Pay Disparity and ‘The Worst Experience’ of Her Career

Sandra Bullock on Hollywood Sexism, Her
Michael Buckner/Getty Images

As part of this week’s cover story on income disparity for women in Hollywood, Sandra Bullock spoke to Variety about the first time she became aware that she was being treated differently at work because of her gender. As Bullock recalled, it was on the set of a movie she made 10 years ago, which she didn’t name. :”It was the worst experience I ever had,” Bullock said. Read her full story below.

Sandra Bullock: It’s a bigger issue than money. I know we’re focused on the money part right now. That’s just a byproduct. I keep saying, “Why is it that no one is standing up and saying you can’t say that about a woman?” We’re mocked and judged in the media and articles. Really, how men are described in articles versus women, there’s a big difference. I always make a joke: “Watch, we’re going to walk down the red carpet, I’m going to be asked about my dress and my hair while the man standing next to me will be asked about his performance and political issues.” Once we start shifting how we perceive women and stop thinking about them as “less than,” the pay disparity will take care of itself. There’s a much bigger issue at hand. I’m glad Hollywood got caught.

But Hollywood has always been at the forefront of pioneering a new road and a new movement. So it’s a blessing that they got caught, and there are a lot of outspoken, narcissistic actors like myself who are very happy to talk about the issue and keep it alive.

My mother basically raised me as, “Women can do everything men can do. Don’t get married. Blaze your own trail.” And I didn’t think others thought any differently. I always thought we are all equal, and we are. I was actually doing a film about 10 years ago, and I found myself yelling and being angry. And I was like, “What is happening to me?” I was literally fearful. And I realized, it’s because I’m female. It dawned on me. At that day and age, at that point in my career, it was the worst experience I ever had.

I was destroyed, because you can’t unsee something. Was I so naïve up to this point to actually think that I was on an equal level with everybody? It was the way I was being treated, because I was female, versus the way others were being treated. It took me a while. It took a year and a half, where I regrouped, and thought, “Okay, this is an isolated case.” I’ve had other subtle experiences, but nothing that blatant. It was a big eye opener, because it wasn’t just men on women. A lot if came from women as well. The blessing of that film was that it opened my eyes.

I was just happy to be working, so you take it, especially in this business. Only like 1 or 2 percent of us get to do this job. I’m not money oriented. I lucked into money most of the time. But money is the byproduct of everything. How do you explain to your son that the ERA hasn’t passed? I want him to think I’m the boss and women are equal, but I can’t really support that in the outside world. I hope in my lifetime, for him, everything is a level-playing field. We can hope.

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  1. So HAPPY for Sandra and her beautiful family. I have so much respect for her because not only will her kids have a GREAT mom. But, she didn’t adopt from another country. That’s always bugged me about rich people. Why adopt from another country when there are so many kids here who would LOVE to be adopted and loved by someone. Anyone who knows about foster care/children’s aid knows that kids have it pretty bad and deserve a happy family! Yay for Sandra Bullock!!!

  2. Glenn Petsin says:

    If the pay is not enough don’t do the project. It is that simple. How good would films be without a leading lady? Most of the actresses could hold out for a while. If they hold out long enough I’ll bet they would get more than the men.

  3. Caroline says:

    This entire Hollywood power dialogue is entirely bullshit. These people have more money, power and influence than God (literally). I struggle to maintain a career as an actress after 30 years in this business. Women like me can only gawp in wonder at these Princesses in their ivory Starwagons, pretending that they live the working class lives they imitate on screen. These conversations are an embarrassment, and the Streeps, Arquettes and Bullocks of Hollywood make me utterly sick. Any and all tax breaks go into their pockets. My paycheck continues to shrink to accommodate their multi-million dollar salaries and their backend sucks up my residuals. My ability to qualify for SAG insurance gets narrower every year. I don’t even go to the movies much anymore, because their personal “struggles” suspend any attempt to immerse myself in their screen personas. Of course, they vote for their socialist ideals, since their wealth helps them avoid any consequence. Shut the fuck up, Sandra.

    • JR Parsons says:

      And, meanwhile, a lot of us out here are going broke paying for the socialist schemes they vote for and don’t even go to the movies, anymore. We just stay home and watch Netflix and Hulu and try not to dwell too much on our lives of quiet desperation.

  4. Carl says:

    Okay, Sandra, here’s the problem…in Hollywood, you are only valuable as a woman if you make the guys want to sleep with you. That’s the sum total of your worth to the men in charge. I understand you’re a bit skewed in your perception as a result. Out here in the real world, hopefully that is not how we evaluate women.

  5. Ken says:

    Ms. Bullock has a point: the fashion industry has taken over the red carpet, and designers kill to have their names mentioned, all of it enabled by idiot, gushing, overheated interviewers and reporters who have nothing better to ask than “Who are you wearing?”. I would think that for most actresses, attending the Oscars/Globes/et al must be career high points because their WORK is being recognized. Of course attendees dress up (because these are formal affairs), but to be reduced to yay/nay clothes horses is dumb if not demeaning (not to mention ultra boring to this old viewer).

    • Lucifer says:

      It’s the red carpet, a quick 2-3 minute chat, not a sit down with Oprah for god’s sake! If these pampered 1% women are so upset they have to namedrop the designer that gave them a free dress, maybe they should just pick out something from their closet.

  6. bsbarnes says:

    Sandra Bullock as a single mother is addressing the huge gender gap that continues to stifle American culture, and more power to her! This is a discussion we need to have and she is in a unique position to move it forward.

    • Kay says:

      I would just like to point it out that motherhood is not a relationship status, she’s not a single mother, she’s just a mother.

  7. UYTRE says:

    She made $70 million from Gravity. Most actors make $5,000 a year.

  8. N says:

    Take your meds.

  9. Mr. Y says:

    Mr. X – you didnt get it? Variety did this intentionally!

  10. Sara Scarritt says:

    Bravo Sandra Bullock! I find it hard to believe we are still fighting for equal rights in 2015.

  11. Anon says:

    Equal is equal. Means we do the same, we get paid the same. I’m not sure why that’s a difficult concept to grasp. If an actor of color were making 30% less for the same thing ~ everyone would scream racism. But for women, you’re being unreasonable? And as an aside ~ no one wears sweatpants to these things – good actor/ bad actor. It’s just inappropriate for the setting. Just caugh up a fair share ~ those are your wives, mothers and sisters out there. Show your love.

  12. Paramount Employee says:

    It’s really unfair that an A-lister like her should only be treated like a queen 99% of her several decade career. Wah-wah.

  13. Ward says:

    Here’s a thought. If you don’t want to get asked about hair and your dress, then don’t spend 9 hours getting your hair and make-up done before walking the red carpet. Don’t have designers give you expensive dresses to wear. You can’t have it both ways. You wanna be appreciated solely for your acting? Then show up in sweatpants. Do you think people are not gonna hire you, a major movie star worldwide, because you wore sweatpants to the premiere? Of course not. Maybe they’ll even respect that you don’t give a sh*t. But hey, all the pics show hair and make up and expensive dresses on you? Why? You wanna be treated like a guy, then start acting like a guy.

    • Bill B. says:

      You have a legitimate point. Francis McDormand is a perfect example. She is far from a red carpet person and can barely comb her hair at these events and no one is asking her about anything other than her craft.

    • Guest says:

      Yet men get all dressed up and yet they are never asked those type of questions. Come on dude, think before commenting.

    • That Girl says:

      Ward, if that’s your name, would you show up to a semi-formal red carpet event in sweat pants*? Really? That would be inappropriate for anybody, male or female. Surely, you aren’t really suggesting that Sandra Bullock (or any actress) has to deny her femininity entirely to be taken seriously. A woman doesn’t have to “act like a guy” or dress sloppy at a formal event to be treated equally! No more than someone who is black would have to “dress white” (whatever that might be) in order to be considered equal. It’s offensive to even suggest these things. As if Sandra Bullock could put on a pair of sweatpants and suddenly the ERA amendment and Equal pay for equal work would be the law of the land and all sexism would be magically undone. She probably would do that, if only it were that easy! However, what a woman wears or doesn’t wear shouldn’t have any consequence when promoting a project. She should be asked questions about her work the same manner as her male counterparts. (*And besides, sweatpants are gross, no matter who is wearing them).

      • Bry says:

        Nobody ever asked Shia LaBeouf where he got the paper bag he put over his head. Ward, your logic is completely circular. You imply that men don’t obsess over appearance as they know no one is going to ask them about it anyway (granted), but that if a woman wants people to disregard her appearance in favor of her intellect, she has to make a conscious effort to ensure she wears something which sends everybody a message she doesn’t care about her appearance. In reality, nothing will have changed, she’d still be forced to focus on the way she looks instead of being able to abandon such thoughts completely.
        You’re attempting to dismiss with a simplistic solution an issue that is vastly convoluted and millions of years in the making. Women dress the way they do largely as a result of what men find attractive. It’s a sociological byproduct of evolution — shimmering fabrics and sparkling diamonds were originally worn to evoke the way light bounces off water. By extension, the wearer is imbued with the value of a vital resource in scarce supply in the semiarid Rift Valley of East Africa. So, instead of making an inane comment about sweatpants, why not instead suggest a way for our society to recognize modern, professional women as the resource-getters that they clearly are?

      • Paramount Employee says:

        Also, there aren’t too many people interested in who designed yet another black tuxedo.

      • Ward says:

        There were articles recently about Woody Harrelson wearing pajamas to the Hunger Games premiere while Jennifer Lawrence was all dressed up. There were articles recently about Adam Sandler and Kevin James wearing sweatpants and shorts to the Hotel Transylvania 2 premiere while Selena Gomez was all dressed up. These are choices. If you wear a parrot on your head, people will ask about it. If you look like you spent 9 hours getting dressed and made up, people will ask about it. I stand by my comments 100%.

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