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This Trailblazing Oscar Winner Argues Why You Must Ask Male Co-Workers What Their Salaries Are

An equal rights pioneer in Hollywood tells VH1 why and how you need to start these conversations for your sake, your daughters, granddaughters and this country.

Whether you want to believe it or not, we are not equal.

Literally. Women do not have equal rights under the US Constitution as men. In this country, white women earn 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. Black women earn 63 cents per male dollar. Latina woman earn 43 cents per male dollar.

In a groundbreaking Oscar acceptance speech last year, Patricia Arquette risked her entire career to fight for changing these numbers. Her plan was calculated. At Vanity Fair Social Club's pre-Oscars panel in LA on Friday, the Oscar winner said she told her family she knew her risky maneuver would cost her jobs. But she didn't care. "I'm cool with that," she said. "I'm old enough, I'm good. Let's do this thing."

In case you're unfamiliar, revisit Patricia's incredibly moving, badass acceptance speech at the 2015 Oscars when she took the gold for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Boyhood:

Not only did the speech give birth to memes like this:

But it started a revolution.

At first, the expected repercussions came. "I have lost jobs because of this. I know so," she said. "One person said something very dumb that may be very obvious, but they've been fired because the big karma rock fell on their head." Meanwhile, a movement was in progress.

Patricia has worked tirelessly with politicians and other social influencers to bring the expression "Knowledge is Power" to life. The new documentary Equal Means Equal which she stars in (and she refers to as "brutal reality") helps shed light on the injustice females don't even realize they face daily. It's not pleasant ("We don't need a chick flick today," she said) but it's information. It's power.

During the panel, Patricia explained that part of this power is normalizing the uncomfortable, yet necessary process of men sharing salary information with female colleagues. This majorly stemmed from a case when a woman's male co-worker wrote his salary on piece of paper and left it on her desk so she would know. In Patricia's words, this "[w]asn't to be mean, but to be nice. To help her." It became the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, when the woman, Lilly, filed a gender pay discrimination suit in federal court when she learned she was being paid significantly less than male colleagues. Although initially overturned, President Obama ultimately signed the bill into law (his first as president).

But we clearly have ways to go.

Patricia has never experienced this exchange with a boss or co-worker because "it was pretty clear in Hollywood that [women] don't get as much money," she tells VH1. "'That's all the money they have for the girl part,' they would say."

She's here, however, to walk you through it. Here's her advice for approaching this situation:

"You can say to your co-worker, 'Hey I feel uncomfortable asking you this, but I want to know if I'm getting drastically underpaid. I don't want to put you in a weird position, but would you just think about letting me know? I want to make sure my sex and the color of my skin is not impacting how much money I'm making."

She also recommend the site Glassdoor, an accessible tool to compare salaries.

Of course our knowledge will make us more powerful. But males need to be educated as well. "When men support women, change comes ten times faster," Patricia said. "We [have to] call on our brothers, our dads, our best friends, our lovers." One prominent male who is taking the lead in this movement and deserves our applause is actor Bradley Cooper.

After his Silver Livings co-star Jennifer Lawrence wrote the essay "Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co‑Stars?" for Lena Dunham's site Lenny Letter last year, the actor announced he would move forward sharing salary information with female co-stars in order to help them negotiate their own income.

Yes, opening the conversation with your male bosses, co-workers, friends and loved ones helps. It helps more than you know, and one day soon, this taboo will be open, it will be the norm. But once you've started that process, what comes next?

Remember how we told you women are not protected under the law as equally as men? Change that. Change it with Patricia and all of her allies, who are behind the Equal Rights Amendment. Here's the petition. Sign it. Because without it, we will not get paid as much as our male colleagues. The US will continue to be the only industrialized nation in the world that does not guarantee paid maternity leave. And with a rising maternal mortality rate.

"They say the wage gap isn't going to close until 2058," Patricia tells us and looks to the crowd, saying: "Raise your hand if you'd like to wait that long. We don't have to wait that long. I'm pretty impatient."

The incredibly humbled pioneer closes out our time with her by telling us about how her incredibly poor upbringing and life in her twenties helps motivate her. She also tells a story of something her dad told her brother David when they were younger, messing around and he was taunting her.

"My dad pulled him into the other room and said: 'Listen, your sister is gonna grow up to be a really beautiful woman. She doesn't know that. But don't you dare step on her, her sense of humor, her intelligence, her anything! You let her be everything she wants to be because this world will already try to take that from her.'"

Don't let the world take anything more from you, your daughters, granddaughters, or friends. Start the conversation. Sign the petition. Educate yourself. Become that power.