Women are still making less than men make in most work spaces. But things are beginning to change, a slow and gradual change as a result of women speaking out against discrimination, but it is a positive and hopeful change nonetheless.
In the 1980s? Forget about it.
Especially when it came to actors versus actresses in Hollywood, producers and networks didn't give a second thought to paying women a lot less money for doing the same work – and for the most part women didn't complain.
That was until Suzanne Somers, who is most famous for playing the bright-eyed, bubbly blonde Chrissy Snow on Three's Company, decided she should make the same as her male costar John Ritter.
In the beginning of the series, Somers was offered $3,500 a week and she was elated. During this time, $3,500 a week was a great deal of money to a woman working in television.
She would go on to receive small raises, but noted it didn't even come close to what Ritter was making. Upon negotiating contracts for the fifth season of the show, Somers was making $30,000 an episode.
She asked to be paid the same amount as her male counterpart did: $150,000 an episode.
Ritter was making five times her salary despite the fact that they were both important and high-rated characters on the show.
Suzanne explained her husband, Alan Hamel, negotiated on her behalf and requested the 500% salary increase. Unbeknownst to them, ABC was forced to give both Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, who played the leading ladies on Laverne & Shirley, raises months before. During this time, it was unheard of to give one female actress a raise, much less two, which meant there was no room for an appropriate pay increase for Somers.
After all, as Somers said:
"You can't really fire Laverne or Shirley on 'Laverne and Shirley.'"
She was offered a $5,000 increase per episode. So, she boycotted two episodes of the new season and finished her contract with a mere 60 seconds per episode, shot apart from everyone else. Then, she was fired.
Somers was made an example of and called greedy as she was blackballed from television during the height of her fame – all because she wanted to make the same amount of money as her male counterpart.
ABC denied the salary request and proceeded to fire her from Three's Company. Alan told a devastated Somers "You're out, they're making an example out of you." Somers explained she was furious:
The media gave a negative portrayal of a woman asking an equal pay raise, something that now, seems to be an acceptable and understandable request, if not demand. Somers reflected on the tough time:
"The smear campaign they put out on me was 'She's greedy,' and 'Who does she think she is?'"
Life would prove to be even more difficult afterwards, because despite the fact that she was one of the most popular women on television, because of this negative press and painted as a greedy woman, she couldn't secure another role:
"I was fired from the No. 1 show at the height of my success, and I couldn't get a job in television. I couldn't get an interview, I was considered trouble."
Somers began building a personal brand and began entertaining in Las Vegas, even being named Las Vegas Entertainer of the Year in 1987, being honored next to the likes of Frank Sinatra. She became the spokeswoman for ThighMaster and made the exercise product into a household name with countless commercials during the 1980s and 1990s.
Somers would also go on to grace the cover of Playboy Magazine, posing in 1980, and then again in 1984.
In 1991, she made a return to television – and a return to ABC – as Carol Foster in Step By Step. The sitcom went on for seven seasons before coming to an end in 1998.
Somers began selling things like clothing, skincare, cleaning supplies, makeup, and more on the Home Shopping Network, and on her website, suzannesomers.com. She has written dozens of books, including autobiographies and a guide on anti-aging weight loss called "Sexy Forever."
So, despite being fired in the height of her fame, Somers proved she could do it all on her own and amassed an empire as a businesswoman, an author and once again, and actress.
Home Shopping Network
Fans agree she was a massive part of the Three's Company's success:
They also agree that the network firing Somers wasn't right – or a good move for them, as many fans believe the show got boring not long afterwards.
With women starting to earn equal pay now, some find it difficult to believe a woman could've gotten fired for asking such a thing a few decades ago:
And one of the worst parts about Somers being fired by ABC? It had a lasting impact on female actresses:
"It worked for ABC. Not one woman asked for a raise for eight years. Until Roseanne [Barr] came along."
Roseanne premiered in 1998, and became one of the most popular shows on television, all because of Roseann Barr and her abilities to make people laugh. Somers admired how powerful she was:
"Roseanne said 'I'm Roseanne, the show is Roseanne, I want this, and I want this,' and she was powerful."
Somers credits the two of them as a massive reason as to why women are beginning to receive equal pay and equal rights now, decades later in 2018:
"I was responsible for scaring the networks and Roseanne was how they made nice. Between me and Roseanne, the women are getting better treatment."
Roseanne was supposed to receive a modern reboot, but was cancelled after a racist tweet surfaced from May 2018.
Women have come a long way since Somers was fired in 1981. But, her plea for equal rights is still relevant today.
While women are beginning to receive equal pay it is still considered to be the exception, not the rule. From 2016 to 2017, some of the highest-paid actresses raked in a combined $172 million. Sounds impressive, until you hear that the highest-paid actors received double that amount, and then some, with a staggering $488 million. Women still earn an average of 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, and actresses argue in their industry that number is even more diminutive.
Females still have a long ways to go, but it will always be easier because of women like Somers who have stood up for themselves and paved the path toward equal rights, and success.