Oluwa Jones '15
Assistant Opinions Editor
While accepting the award for best supporting actress at last Sunday’s Academy Awards, Patricia Arquette said, “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” Wealthy white woman Meryl Streep and neoliberal politician Hillary Clinton praised the speech. When interviewed backstage, Arquette added, “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’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”
Arquette’s statements are not only factually inaccurate; they also assume that only straight white women deserved to be called women. She implies that women, gay people and people of color are three distinct groups. She also offers a potentially transphobic and ableist praise of women who can give birth. She continues to use the same exclusionary wording feminists have been trying to eliminate for decades. Additionally, her statements imply that the struggle for equality is over for gay people and people of color and that everyone should now focus only on white women. She makes no mention of trans women, who continue to be killed just for existing.
Historically, white women have been the least interested in solidarity and including other women in their struggles for equality. Women’s history is filled with examples of white women cutting off ties with people of color, lesbians (the so-called lavender menace) and trans individuals in order to achieve their own goals. Also, white women have not always been forces for good. Many white women have been forces for extreme right-wing and anti-feminist action.
Women’s history has largely focused on women’s political movements, from the progressive, pacifist, social welfare and women’s rights angle. However, this assumption posits that white women are more peaceful, moral and life-affirming because women are the opposite of men. This is still a commonly held, sexist view of femininity. Historically, white women have embraced fear and hatred at a similar rate to white men. There have been many white women who have joined the KKK, participated in lynchings in the South, opposed school desegregation and worked and continue to work in the anti-feminist movement. This is why many were confused and angered by Arquette’s claim that white women have solved racism and homophobia and that we should be repaying them.
Arquette continued to dig a deeper hole on Twitter by both backtracking and defending her statements. “Don’t talk to me about privilege. As a kid I lived well below the poverty line. No matter where I am I won’t forget women’s struggle.” This comment started the hashtag #poorpatty as people expressed sarcastic sympathy for a white woman claiming to have no privilege while being valued at $24 million. Arquette went on to argue, “I was a working single mom at 20. I know how hard it is to pay for diapers and food. Explain why women should be paid less?” No one is saying women should be paid less. People are saying that she should acknowledge that her comments were not intersectional. The wage gap has always been a popular talking point for white feminists, even though this gap favors white women over men and women of color. White women continue to be the biggest recipients of affirmative action. The reality is that women don’t make less than men; white men make more than everyone. According to a widely read 2012 study, black and Latina women earn between 64 and 53 cents to every dollar white men make. White women earn 78 cents, which is more than the 75 and 67 cents earned by black and Latino men, respectively. Arquette has yet to make a call for action for men of color to receive equal pay.
Some people can appreciate celebrities taking time to use their privilege and platform to advocate for equality. However, these shallow pleas do not change the fact that her status as a celebrity is inherently problematic, as her fame and class are based on massive wealth inequality. Arquette also happens to work in Hollywood, which is one of the most racist industries in the United States. Hollywood remains one of the few industries where racial hiring practices still exist and individuals are paid according to gender. Individuals like Arquette have an interest in maintaining this status quo, which has provided them with wealth and fame. It’s important to be critical of Arquette and her unacknowledged privilege, even if her heart may be in the right place.