The XX Factor

A Producer Referred to Mila Kunis as Ashton’s “Baby Momma,” So She Quit

Mila Kunis at the Los Angeles premiere of the film Jupiter Ascending in Hollywood, California on February 2, 2015. 

Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Another day, another feminist essay by a Hollywood actress. In the past year or so, we’ve read tell-alls by Jennifer Lawrence on being paid less than her male costars, Amanda Peet on her refusal to get plastic surgery, and Jennifer Aniston on tabloids’ body-shaming, among others. This week, Mila Kunis jumped on the bandwagon, penning a manifesto against the sexist microaggressions women face in the workplace. “Throughout my career, there have been moments when I have been insulted, sidelined, paid less, creatively ignored, and otherwise diminished based on my gender,” the Bad Moms star writes for A Plus, the platform for “positive journalism” that Kunis’ husband Ashton Kutcher co-founded in 2014. Like most examples of this mini-genre, Kunis’ essay provides a delectable glimpse at the off-camera lives of celebrities without offering readers much useful information.

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First, the juicy details: Kunis says that a producer (and old-timey movie villain, apparently) told her, “You’ll never work in this town again” after Kunis refused to pose “semi-naked” on a magazine cover to promote a film. Neither the film nor the magazine is mentioned by name, though Kunis informs us that “The film made a lot of money and I did work in this town again, and again, and again.” (Indeed, Forbes ranked Kunis No. 9 on this year’s list of the world’s highest paid actresses, estimating her income at $11 million.) Less nefarious-sounding but perhaps even more undermining was the comment Kunis reports getting from a producer her production company partnered with on a TV project. In an email chain with network executives, the producer wrote, “And Mila is a mega star. One of biggest actors in Hollywood and soon to be Ashton’s wife and baby momma!!!” (Kunis gave birth to her daughter Wyatt in October 2014 and married Kutcher, Wyatt’s father, in July 2015.)

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The insult embedded in this comment is easy for anyone with half a brain to see. “He reduced my value to nothing more than my relationship to a successful man and my ability to bear children,” Kunis writes. And so she did what most women only dream of doing when men minimize them: She walked away from the project. “It became clear in later emails from this producer that he was totally unaware of why his words were so appalling,” she writes. “What he characterized as a ‘lighthearted’ comment was actually deeply undermining to my contributions and ability to be taken seriously as a creative partner.”

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Reading Kunis’ essay is an exercise in vicarious pleasure. Who hasn’t wanted to tell an obnoxious chauvinist colleague to fuck off? But due in large part to the economic divide between Kunis and her readers, the essay doesn’t offer much new insight into workplace sexism. Kunis makes a pledge near the end of the essay: “from this point forward, when I am confronted with one of these comments, subtle or overt, I will address them head on; I will stop in the moment and do my best to educate.” But she knows she’s not in a position to encourage other women to follow suit—after all, most American women can’t afford to quit on principle or get fired if they talk back to their jerk boss. “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,” Kunis writes. “I am also fortunate that I have the platform to talk about this experience in the hope of bringing 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.”

I suppose women might feel less alone knowing that even rich, powerful women are subjected to sexism on a regular basis. (Although after this presidential campaign, it should come as no surprise.) But if being able to push back for yourself depends on financial independence, then hearing about a multimillionaire’s personal triumph over a couple of sexist numbskulls doesn’t come as much comfort. Like her movies and TV projects, Kunis’ essay serves as light escapism, not a blueprint for living.

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