Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lawrence: Three Lessons in Power


While we can’t all relate to the lifestyles of Taylor, Jen or Bad Gal RiRi, a lot of us can identify with feeling frustrated with the inequality of power between men and women in business.

Why is it that women start most of their sentences with an apology: “Sorry, would you mind explaining that to me again…” , “Sorry to interrupt but…”, “Sorry, this might be a dumb question…” ? There seems to be a lack of confidence and, ultimately, power for women in the workplace and Sheryl Sandberg summed it up perfectly in an inspiring TED TALK that you can check out on The Twenties Club here.

Three of the entertainment world’s most influential voices made headlines this week, and they were all talking about one thing: power. Specifically, power in an industry that typically is much more difficult for women. Here’s what each of them had to say.

Rihanna: Power in business

The pop star sat down with author/director Miranda July for a rare interview with The New York Times. In a wide-ranging conversation that covered everything from childbirth to music, July asked Rihanna about race and power.

“I wanted to ask her about being a young black woman with power in America but it seemed somehow wrong to speak of this; maybe she was postracial now,” July wrote. “So I directed my question to a younger Rihanna, and asked if she had suddenly felt aware of race in a different way when she moved to New York.” Rihanna replied:

‘‘You know, when I started to experience the difference — or even have my race be highlighted — it was mostly when I would do business deals.’’ Business deals. Meaning that everyone’s cool with a young black woman singing, dancing, partying and looking hot, but that when it comes time to negotiate, to broker a deal, she is suddenly made aware of her blackness. ‘‘And, you know, that never ends, by the way. It’s still a thing. And it’s the thing that makes me want to prove people wrong. It almost excites me; I know what they’re expecting and I can’t wait to show them that I’m here to exceed those expectations.’’

July also goes on to compare the singer to Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, saying that Rihanna “doesn’t have to manufacture dimensionality, because she actually is soulful, and this comes across in every little thing she does.” In other words, the image she projects is her authentic self — which clearly works in her music, as she’s one of the top-selling digital artists of all time.

Jennifer Lawrence: Power in finances

The “Hunger Games” star made waves in an essay she penned for Lena Dunham’s newsletter Lenny, in which she talked candidly about her angry reaction during the Sony leak when she found out her male “American Hustle” co-stars (Jeremy Renner, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale) all made more money than she did.

“I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early. I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need,” Lawrence wrote. “But if I’m honest with myself, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’ ”

This triggered a tsunami of coverage about the gender wage gap, especially as Lawrence said that her male co-stars were probably lauded for being “tactical” when they went through contract negotiations, while she worried about being called a “brat.”

She also went on to talk about a common problem: When a woman speaks up in an authoritative way in a professional setting, she’s often considered “difficult,” while a man is just considered … authoritative. Lawrence threw down the gauntlet, adding: “I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable!” Clearly, her essay struck a chord: If the highest-paid actress on the planet has these problems, think about how difficult it is for women in other industries.

Taylor Swift: Power in perception

There’s no shortage of glossy magazines running profiles of Taylor Swift, but in Chuck Klosterman’s cover story for GQ this week, there was one element that stuck out. In telling Swift about the time an acquaintance called her “calculating,” Klosterman says it’s the one time during the interview when Swift looked “flustered.” “She really, really hates the word calculating,” Klosterman writes. “She despises how it has become tethered to her iconography.”

“Am I shooting from the hip?” she asks rhetorically. “Would any of this have happened if I was? In that sense, I do think about things before they happen. But here was someone taking a positive thing — the fact that I think about things and that I care about my work — and trying to make that into an insinuation about my personal life. Highly offensive. You can be accidentally successful for three or four years. Accidents happen. But careers take hard work.”

Our translation: Swift is tired of people assuming that because she writes so frequently about her personal life, that somehow her business savvy is connected to her personal relationships. That’s likely why she considers it “highly offensive” to call her calculating — because if the public perceives that she uses the people to just write songs about them (for her own musical and financial gain), that’s giving her much less credit to her talents as an artist.