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Patricia Arquette and White Feminism

At this point, if you are one of the few who has not heard Patricia Arquette’s speech from last weekend’s Academy Awards, you may either be living under a rock, or embarked on that one-way mission to Mars.

 

Celebrities are given access to platforms where their voices can be heard, and their opinions can be vocalized. Yes, in the past some have either passed up this opportunity or used to it to voice some…er…controversial or unsavory opinions (here’s looking at you, Mel Gibson). So, I applaud you, Patricia Arquette, for using a spotlight where millions of people can hear you, to advocate for an important political issue. It is absolutely time for equal pay in America. There is no denying that the gender wage gap has existed for far too long.

However, Patricia Arquette’s remarks, while well-received, important, and relevant, faced some backlash due to further remarks she made backstage: “Equal means equal…[the] truth of it is the older an actress gets, the less money she makes. It’s inexcusable that we talk about equal rights for women in other countries and yet we don’t have equal rights for women in America. It’s time for all the women in America and all the men who love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve fought for, to fight for us now!”

“We,” she said. She encouraged “all the gay people and all the people of color” to fight for…white women? Arquette’s wording, whether intentional or not, isolated gay women and women of color from white women. It would have perhaps been more prudent and more accurate to say something along the lines of “All women, regardless of race or sexual orientation should be ensured equal pay.” Frankly, she could have just said “all women should fight for equal pay” and it would have been fine – more than fine, it would have been incredible. Women should unite under one banner. Equal pay is not just a white woman’s issue.

The American Association of University Women identifies the pay gap for women of color as being worse than it is for white women – Asian American women’s salaries show the smallest gender pay gap, at 90 percent of white men’s earnings. Hispanic women’s salaries show the largest gap, at 54 percent of white men’s earnings. Women of color should be at the center of such an important discussion, seeing as it clearly affects us just as much, if not more.

Patricia Arquette’s speech highlights a key issue – that of intersectionality versus white feminism. Nyasha Junior wrote in The Washington Post that “Arquette’s remarks are another reminder of the many reasons why some African American women do not identify themselves as feminists…the link between the term ‘feminist’ and white women’s activism on behalf of other white women is such that some African American women shun the label, though they may be deeply committed to women’s equality.” Arquette also excluded “gay people,” and as the writers at Global Grind put it, “[by] failing to address that ‘all the women in America’ include women of color both cis and queer, Arquette unintentionally erased them from the wage gap fight.”

We can’t effectively fight an issue that affects nearly half the population in this country if we categorize them into arbitrary divisions like race and gender. Women are underpaid. Not specifically white women, straight women, cis women – all women are underpaid.

While Patricia Arquette’s intentions were noble, and I absolutely stand by her choice to speak out on such a critical issue in such a public way, I hope that next time a celebrity chooses to speak out for justice, she or he chooses their wording a little more carefully. 

 

Photo Credit: 1, 2, 3, 4

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