If you were one of the 36 million viewers watching the Oscars this past Sunday, you probably saw Patricia Arquette’s award speech for Best Supporting Actress in her role for Boyhood.
It was what some would call an “impassioned plea” for equal pay for all women in America: “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s rights! It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez were seen cheering her on from the crowd, along with many other women from home cheering with them. I even found myself clapping at and agreeing with her powerful words. It’s amazing to see someone speak so passionately and so openly about feminist ideals, especially on something so widely viewed as an award show like the Oscars. However, her plea leaves much to be desired.
After the show, Arquette went on to say “It’s time for women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve fought for—to fight for us now!”
This incredibly unnecessary elaboration turned what could have been a possibly iconic moment in feminist history into a debate about race and gender in terms of fighting for women’s rights. Feminists everywhere who initially praised her words began critiquing the underlying message Arquette was conveying, intentionally or not.
Blue Telusma of The Grio was instantly critical, saying “Did this fool just use her Oscar win to tell gays and black people they now owe white women assistance?”
She added:“If you say black people need to stand up for you—that means you are asking every person in the room who is both black and a woman to choose her gender over her race in order to suit your agenda.”
This also introduces the question of gay women of color: which side are they supposed to choose? And more importantly, why should anyone have to choose at all?
Arquette completely disregarded the fact that people can simultaneously support multiple causes at once. She essentially says to these people “I cared about you, now it’s time to stop and focus on me,” as if you’re only allowed to focus on one feminist topic at a time.
Absolutely we should be focusing on the wage gap. Despite what some right-wingers think, the wage equality bill passed years ago has done little for women, and even less for women of color, who desperately need the help, and should have been the main recipients of Arquette’s message in the first place, as shown in the graphic below:
On the other side, Lizzie Crocker of The Daily Beast defended Arquette, saying “nowhere did she imply that she was not fighting for equality for everyone.” This isn’t entirely true, though. She pretty clearly did imply that she was talking about white women when she asked people of color to fight for her cause, as if it wasn’t about them and they needed to turn their attention to it.
Crocker also posed the question: “Why must a brief speech about women’s rights be parsed to death?” I think a better question would be: why do feminists have to settle for sub-par role models?
Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig made another important point about Arquette’s use of “every woman who gave birth” and “every taxpayer…of this nation,” saying “the feminist project in general tends to be suspicious of attributing women’s political significance solely to their role as mothers, as in old-fashioned reactionary visions of Republican Motherhood. Further, addressing people as taxpayers is a rather unsavory (and typically right-wing) habit that advances the notion people are worth what they pay in taxes.”
So basically, every word of Arquette’s message was bullshit.
However, after receiving the backlash, Arquette went to Twitter to help clarify her original statements. “I don’t care if people are pissed,” she writes in one tweet, “The truth is that wage inequality adversely effects women,” and added this picture:
“Guess which women are the most negatively effected in wage inequality?” she writes in another tweet, “Women of color. #Equalpay for ALL women. Women Stand together in this. “ If you say so, Patricia.
Arquette’s message was probably put together quickly, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of the critique it received.
However, people make mistakes, and her tweets are helping to prove that maybe she is fighting for equal pay among women of all races. At least she is trying to right her wrong, which is more than I can say for most other celebrities in similar situations (looking at you, Sean Penn).