Is This New Ad Campaign on Equal Pay Creative or Transphobic?

The wage gap is a continuing issue, not just for women but also for their families and anyone who believes that people who work identical jobs and have identical experience should get paid the same, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. Raising awareness about this issue is a worthy goal, and the National Women’s Law Center has spent tireless hours fighting against gender discrimination in the work force, with the wage gap being just one facet of their activism.

Yet their new ad campaign on the issue has become a divisive one. While some have cheered it as creative and provocative, many others have criticized it for being harmful and transphobic. When it comes to advocating for equality, they wonder, why is transitioning being used as a punchline?

“Why Sarah Silverman wants to be a dude,” reads one MSNBC headline. ”Sarah Silverman, for one, has had enough. Famous for her edgy humor and her viral videos, the comedian is taking matters into her own hands in more ways than one. Watch the start of her new video above: Silverman is taking drastic measures to get people to understand how big a deal the wage gap really is.”

That drastic measure? She says she’s going to have surgery and become a man, in a three-plus minute long video that is rife with penis jokes, “saying goodbye” to her breasts and, yes, even an “oldest profession” jab in there, too.

The wage gap is a major issue, and one that affects women of color to an even greater extent. For transgender people, however, workplace discrimination is even more prevalent. No wonder trans advocates were ready to call out NWLC and those who supported the campaign as using transitioning as a punchline:

“Of course, I understand the campaign’s video is supposed to be funny. The whole thing is done in a very tongue-in-cheek manner, and its star is a famous comedian. Yes, I understand this. Even so, trans people are constantly being used as the butt of jokes, and over time it starts to wear you down,” explains writer, activist, and trans woman Parker Molloy over at Hello Giggles. “It was wholly unnecessary to treat something very real — the wage gap — as being centered on one’s genitals (or, for that matter, suggesting that having a penis makes one a man, or that having a vagina makes one a woman), when really, it’s about how society views you, what’s in your pants aside.”

“Transphobia in the name of feminism is still transphobia,” she added, asking the campaign and the people supporting it to “do better.”

The originally full-fledged cheers for the video, which is part of a campaign both to raise awareness of pay inequity as well as funding for NWLC (the campaign jokes that it is raising $30 trillion and will cut a check of nearly $500,000 for every woman in America for the wages she’ll lose just for being female, but if they don’t earn that much it goes to the organization so they can continue their work), is growing far more subdued after a reality check from the trans community and their allies.

PolicyMic, which first advanced the video as a “creative solution,” has revamped its original kudos to acknowledge that the campaign is both transphobic and harmful. “Of course, gender reassignment surgery is not a joke. transgender Americans don’t choose to undergo what is in fact an expensive, intensive procedure on a whim, or to prove a point about the wage gap, for that matter. (And as an aside, a man’s identity cannot be summed up by a singular anatomical characteristic.),” writer Elizabeth Plank updated her original article to add. “Since the video was published, members of the transgender community have voiced their concerns over the way Sarah Silverman treats the topic of gender reassignment surgery. As advocates like Janet Mock and multiple studies point out, transgender individuals in America continue to fight against discrimination and prejudice in the workplace, and are at disproportionate risk for hate crimes.”

NWLC does excellent advocacy, and the pay gap is something that simply must be addressed, but their new campaign missed the mark. Sorry, but I’ll be passing on the “signed photo of ‘Sarah’s new willy.’”

Update: NWLC has responded to the criticism with a statement at their site, in which they say, “it was not our intent to make light of the serious issues transgender people face,” and that they will “commit to using some of the resources raised by this project to bring awareness to the discrimination faced by transgender women and men.”

That sounds suspiciously like: “We are sorry if you were offended that we made jokes about you to raise money. Would using some of the money we raise off of the joke make you feel less hurt?”

Photo Credit: Equal Pay Back Project


Jerome S
Jerome S9 months ago


Jim Ven
Jim Ven9 months ago

thanks for sharing.

M.N. J.
M.N. J3 years ago

This comment bothered me: "I wish they passed a law that made commenting publically [sic] on things you don't understand illegal."

I'm sure a lot of governments, busybodies, book burners, and other speech-banning types would agree wholeheartedly. I hope anybody who takes a moment for thought would not.

For example, a lot of people commenting publicly on this article do not seem to understand humor. What governmental body is going to judge how ignorant you have to be about comedy before they cut out your tongue or take away your computer?

Rhonda B.
Rhonda B3 years ago


Janet B.
Janet B3 years ago


Jonathan Harper
Jonathan H3 years ago


Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Rosemary Diehl
Rosemary Diehl3 years ago

I do think people are being really sensitive. That being said I am not Trans and cannot speak to what they go through

Sarah Loeb
Sarah Loeb3 years ago

Shut up! The ad makes me sick. This article makes me sicker. Attention Care2 Members: Being easily offended does NOT make you morally superior!

Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F3 years ago