Mila Kunis pens must-read essay on gender bias in the entertainment industry

In a fiery op-ed Mila Kunis published on A-Plus Wednesday, Kunis talked all the infuriating gender biases she’s faced over the years in Hollywood. The essay served as a testament to how, no matter how privileged any woman may be, sexism is an inescapable, omnipresent force.

Kunis starts her essay by recounting her earlier, somewhat less privileged days in show business, when a producer literally told her she would “never work in this town again,” after she refused to pose nude for the cover of a men’s magazine. “I was livid, I felt objectified, and for the first time in my career I said ‘no.’ And guess what? The world didn’t end. The film made a lot of money and I did work in this town again, and again, and again,” Kunis wrote.

Of course, it’s worth noting that in workplaces around the country, not all women have the ability to retaliate against sexual harassment and have to accept all kinds of sexist conditions just to have a job, and Kunis has the good sense to acknowledge and speak to this later on in her op-ed. But Kunis does make the valid point that it’s pretty fucked up how many women are pressured to hold their tongues or do things they don’t want to do, just to not come across as “bitches.”

“It’s what we are conditioned to believe — that if we speak up, our livelihoods will be threatened; that standing our ground will lead to our demise,” she writes. “We don’t want to be kicked out of the sandbox for being a ‘bitch.’ So we compromise our integrity for the sake of maintaining the status quo and hope that change is coming.”

Next, Kunis steered the discussion to the gender wage gap, noting how recent research indicates that, at the rate we’re going, it will finally be closed in 136 years. “Change is not coming fast enough,” Kunis notes, adding, “The pay gap is but one clear quantification of the acute undervaluing of the contributions of women in the workplace.”

Her own experiences steered her to establish her own production company focusing on “inclusivity and our shared human experience.” She writes:

“Throughout my career, there have been moments when I have been insulted, sidelined, paid less, creatively ignored, and otherwise diminished based on my gender. And always, I tried to give people the benefit of the doubt; maybe they knew more, maybe they had more experience, maybe there was something I was missing. I taught myself that to succeed as a woman in this industry I had to play by the rules of the boy’s club. But the older I got and the longer I worked in this industry, the more I realized that it’s bullshit!”

mila kunis
CREDIT: John Phillips/Getty Images

But ultimately, founding her own company and working with major producers didn’t immunize Kunis to sexism within the industry. She recounts how one producer wrote in an email: “And Mila is a mega star. One of biggest actors in Hollywood and soon to be Ashton’s wife and baby momma!!!”

Obviously, the wife- and baby momma-to-be was not happy. “[H]e reduced my value to nothing more than my relationship to a successful man and my ability to bear children. It ignored my (and my team’s) significant creative and logistical contributions,” she wrote. Kunis acknowledges how some will, no doubt, write off her decision to withdraw from the project with the producer as petty, but rightly notes that “it’s these very comments that women deal with day in and day out in offices, on calls, and in emails — microaggressions that devalue the contributions and worth of hard-working women.”

Arguably the strongest part of Kunis’ essay is its conclusion, in which she is able to humbly note how her ability to not compromise is a mark of her privilege and how, in many cases, the conditions other women are subjected to could be much worse. It’s refreshing to have a wealthy white woman acknowledge that she can’t speak to the experiences of poor women of color.

“If this is happening to me, it is happening more aggressively to women everywhere,” she wrote. “I am fortunate that I have reached a place that I can stop compromising and stand my ground, without fearing how I will put food on my table.” Ultimately, through her privilege, Kunis is glad she has the platform to talk about this and hopefully bring “one more voice to the conversation so that women in the workplace feel a little less alone and more able to push back for themselves.”