Well, one thing’s certain: Patricia Arquette’s publicist had to be the hardest-working woman in show business Monday.
On Sunday night, Arquette made a forceful appeal for gender and pay equity in her acceptance speech after she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,” she said. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
Inevitably, it didn’t take long for the message to sour as Oscar-watchers parsed Arquette’s words in real time.
Why was there specific mention of “citizens” and “taxpayers?” Was she deliberately omitting people? And what of the verbiage of “women who give birth” when there are plenty of mothers who didn’t or couldn’t give birth to their children? Why didn’t she just say “mothers?”
It was difficult to say Arquette’s words were imprecise due to the overwhelming nature of the moment because, well, she read from a prepared speech. With her reading glasses. She was quite deliberate in her phrasing. But not everyone’s a writer and, oh man, can’t we just be happy about something without ripping it to shreds? Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez were pumped.
However, while the language in Arquette’s acceptance speech may have set off some silent alarms, her follow-up comments backstage proved more incendiary to some.
“The truth is, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are at play that do affect women, and it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we all fought for to fight for us now.”
Here’s where things really got dicey, and this is what made a lot of people unhappy with Arquette. Over at RH Reality Check, Andrea Grimes called Arquette’s statement an “intersectionality fail.”
Per the Geek Feminism Wiki: “Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.”
“Her statement implies that LGBT people and people of color have achieved equality,” Megan Kearns wrote for Bitch magazine. “They haven’t. LGBT justice and racial justice still have far to go. It blatantly ignores coalition building that has happened across movements. Arquette excludes women of color and queer women with her statement.”
This is when folks start referring to bell hooks: feminism is for everybody. Even though Arquette never explicitly used the word “feminism,” it’s what undergirded her spiel on equal pay.
Writing for the Nation, Dave Zirin explained why so many took umbrage with Arquette for passionately championing something that serves as a reliable applause line in State of the Union speeches for President Obama. Few, except for maybe Stacey Dash and her adherents, were peeved at Arquette for advocating for equal pay for equal work. Rather, it was the way she did it, and the words she chose, that rankled some:
What is so aggravating is that Ms. Arquette’s comments could best be described as “anti-intersectional.” When you speak of equal pay for women and call upon “all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve fought for, to fight for us now” it states pretty clearly that you see your struggle as one of straight, white, native-born women for equal pay, as if there aren’t masses of people who live beneath the weight of multiple labels that would benefit from such reforms. It would have been so easy for Ms. Arquette to say something like, “If we had laws in this country ensuring equal pay for women, it would mean equal pay for all women of color and all of our LGBT sisters.” But she chose instead a “we fought for you now you fight for us” approach to fighting oppression.
Arquette wouldn’t have had to look very far to find folks in the room living beneath the weight of multiple labels, as Zirin put it. Not only are actors such as Lupita Nyong’o, Kerry Washington and Viola Davis fighting for equal pay as women in Hollywood — where the pay gap is just as real as it is in other workforces — they’re also engaged in a battle for equal recognition as black actors, and it’s not so simple to separate those two issues. Davis, who’s had to fend off descriptions of herself in the New York Times as being “less classically beautiful,” is a great example of that.
Wait…so who’s underpaid again……..? pic.twitter.com/JgJxupqn1K
— herodotus (@daygobagel) February 23, 2015
There’s a wage gap for women compared with white men, but it gets even worse for women of color. According to data from the American Association of University Women, Latina women make 53 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Native American women make 60 cents, black women 64. White and Asian women face the narrowest wage gap, making 78 cents and 87 cents respectively.
Arquette clarified her statements Monday on Twitter. “Wage equality will help ALL women of all races in America,” she tweeted. “It will also help their children and society. Women have been basically paying a gender tax for generations. I have long been an advocate for the rights of the #LBGT community. The question is why aren’t you an advocate for equality for ALL women? If you are fighting against #Equalpay you are fighting for ALL women and especially women of color to make less money than men.”
This is a schism that gets continually exposed — Arquette’s apparent mistake was just the latest in a long line of moments that get called out when someone champions one form of equality while simultaneously trouncing another in the process. Perhaps the most prolific example in recent history was the creation and explosive growth of Mikki Kendall’s hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, which, at its core was an expression of frustration of feminism absent intersectionality.
Some, particularly on the right, found the offense-taking at Arquette to be itself offensive, or, as the headline in HotAir put it, “Outrage brigades turn on Patricia Arquette for not addressing all the grievances properly. … How quickly can the leftist activist outrage industry take you from hero to goat?”