By Deirdre Venter, Partner at Webber Wentzel 

On 22 January 2018, at the ripe old age of 90 Minnie Mouse received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This was 40 years after her male counterpart, Mickey, received his star. A stark reminder that, even in the world of make believe, women continue to get a raw deal.

Mickey was the first animated movie star to be honoured on the Walk of Fame, receiving his star on 13 November 1978 at the age of 50. At the time, Minnie had the same experience and length of service as Mickey, in fact they both started their careers by starring in the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie.

Mickey was not the only male animated character to receive his star before Minnie. The bad tempered prankster Donald Duck received his star in 2004 after 70 years’ service. The insane Woody the Woodpecker was honoured after 50 years and the cocky Bugs Bunny received his star in 1985, after only 45 years.

Minnie Mouse, intelligent and sophisticated, independent and confident, loving and affectionate, an icon and role model for little girls the world over had to work twice as hard as Mickey to get the recognition she deserved. Her bad tempered and lunatic male counterparts, often with less experience as animated characters in the movie industry, were rewarded long before her, despite her success and influence in the movie industry.

In short: Minnie Mouse hit the proverbial glass ceiling; and she is not alone. There are other animated actresses who have not yet received recognition: Cinderella, Rapunzel, Ariel, Belle and the other Disney princesses.

As Minnie, Cinderella and Belle would no doubt attest, gender inequality is no myth. It is almost 100 years since the protection of women and the principle of equal remuneration for equal value was highlighted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and yet countless examples of gender inequality still exist today. This is in spite of the existence of the ILO’s Conventions and Recommendations and sophisticated national legislation aimed at prohibiting and eliminating differences in the treatment of men and women, and achieving equality in remuneration and status.

Issues such as the ‘wage gap’ and more serious concerns around predatory behaviour towards women in the workplace – as we are seeing highlighted in the likes of Hollywood and the British theatre currently – are real-world issues. Unlike the world of animation there are not quick fixes and panaceas; in a world where gender inequality festers nobody lives happily ever after. 

Going backwards

This was highlighted recently with the release of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) Global Gender Gap Report in 2017, which benchmarked the efforts of 144 countries to close the gender wage gap. The findings were a disgrace. The report referred to a “continued staling of progress at global level” and, in fact, a reversal of ‘wins’ already made. Such is the depth of the wage gap that, noted the report, it will take 217 years to be defeated with the global gender gap taking close to 100 years to close.

Out of the 144 countries analysed, Iceland ranked top for the ninth consecutive year for efforts which have closed the overall gender gap by more than 87%. Norway took second spot, closing the gap by 83%. South Africa was ranked 19th on the Global Index and 89th on the Economic Participation and Opportunity Sub Index.

The Global Gender Gap Report was a prominent agenda item at the recent WEF in Davos, Switzerland. And, in an unprecedented move, the 23-26 January 2018 summit was co-chaired entirely by women. At Davos, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered an impassioned speech to business leaders and heads of state, sharing some ideas as to how the wage gap could be closed. These included reviewing parental leave policies, increasing child grants, promoting women into senior positions, and instituting women-only recruitment quotas. 


Already we are seeing examples of pioneering laws in some countries. In January 2018 Iceland enacted a revolutionary law intended to handicap the wage gap. The law requires employers of 25 or more people to obtain government certification. Employers are required to evaluate each job and obtain certification that they are paying men and women equally, failure to do so is punishable by fines and public shame.

In Britain, the government’s weapon of choice is the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017, which came into force in April 2017. The regulations oblige employers with 250 or more staff to publish information relating to the gender pay gap. Employers must report on the difference between average hourly rates of pay and average bonuses paid to male and female employees, the proportion of male and female employees who receive bonuses, and the proportion of male and female employees in each quartile pay band in the workforce.

Compliance with the regulations has already created a stir in the UK, igniting public outcry and resulting in the resignation of senior women employees who are earning significantly less than their male equals. In some instances, the wage gap is so marked – for example at the British Broadcasting Corporation – that some humbled male colleagues have offered to take pay cuts.

While such public naming and shaming is a powerful tool, the reality is that the wage gap will continue to be fed by gender bias and sexism. These are harder to address as they are sustained and nourished by skewed perceptions and archaic ideas of the role of women and men in society.

The wage gap will flourish as long as the world keeps serving up a diet of stereotypes which continues to bill women as the weaker sex. Only a unified global army of strong, enlightened, bold, innovative and brave men and women, boys and girls can hope to exterminate this scourge. This is a battle to be fought on all fronts, in the real world, on the big screen, in boardrooms, in classrooms and, yes, even on the animator’s easel.

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