Patricia Arquette’s onstage comments from the Oscars were a meme before the show even finished airing. She was lauded for speaking up for equal pay for women, and bringing up the “Women earn 78 cents to every dollar a man earns” which sounds really awful. But which men? Which women? The answers of course are to a white man’s dollar and that white women make that 78 cents, while Asian women make an average of 90 cents to that dollar. Black, Latina, and Indigenous women make substantially less from 65 cents all the way down to 54 cents. So it’s important to talk about equal pay in a context of the reality that some women are making substantially less than others. And that white and Asian men and women earn more than many other groups including Black, Latino & Indigenous men. If we’re going to talk about equal pay in this age of demands that women “Lean In” let’s talk about who is getting hired, and for what jobs. Let’s talk about racial bias in hiring that means that qualified people of color (and yes that includes women, because despite the clumsy alienating phrase women and people of color, women of color do exist) may not get hired at all, much less have a chance to fight for pay equal to a white man’s.
Of course that takes us into the rest of Patricia Arquette’s comments at the Oscars. The ones made backstage in the press room that said “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.” because that’s where things go sideways. While a federal amendment guaranteeing equal pay for women sounds great, it doesn’t do much to get marginalized people any closer to actually being hired. It doesn’t do anything to correct structural inequalities that make it harder for some people to get hired at all. It certainly doesn’t address the fact that calls like Arquette’s which specifically cite stats based on white women aren’t actually inclusive, or respectful of the work that marginalized people have been doing to get the minimum wage raised to a living wage, to get better protections for transgender people in the work place, to make child care affordable, to get better protections for people in care giving positions, to keep programs like Job Corps alive etc. Where are those voices when women veterans are facing higher rates of homelessness, or when low income women are penalized for being poor?
White women are the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action, yet more than one lawsuit against it has been filed by white women who claim that the limited success of POC unfairly disenfranchised them. So it rings incredibly false to see not only Arquette’s speech demanding the support of marginalized people so that white women can achieve pay equality, but the words of organizations lauding her for saying white women’s pay is an issue that everyone should be focusing on, as though white women are the ones who have been waiting the longest for access to opportunity. Equality doesn’t trickle down, liberation rhetoric isn’t meant to be the lubrication for the advancement of white women at the expense of everyone else. So why are we still having these same teach ins about the facts of inequality? Intersectionality isn’t a difficult concept with hard to grasp tenets that fly above the heads of people in positions of power. It is literally taking the step back and asking yourself, “If X affects me and people like me in this way, how does it affect others?” and then doing the (not at all) heavy lifting of listening to the lived experiences of people who are not like you.
Arquette’s most ardent defenders will laud her as a feminist, call any critiques of her words last night divisive and short sighted. It’s the same routine every time, yet those same feminist voices are mysteriously silent when discussions of a living wage, discriminatory hiring, educational and other social inequalities that primarily impact POC and other marginalized people come up. Equal pay for equal work is incredibly important, of course so is equal access to opportunity. So is equal protection under the law, and equal respect for the work being that done that actually has helped white women all along. If your calls for solidarity aren’t informed, inclusive, and intentional in focusing on ending inequality for everyone then all you’re doing is demanding that you be supported in your quest to be an equal oppressor. I’m certain Arquette’s intentions were to be feminist, but that doesn’t make what she said intersectional, that doesn’t negate the harmful impact of her behavior or that of her supporters.
Flavia Dodzan said it best, “My Feminism Will Be Intersectional Or It Will Be Bullshit” and it still applies today. What is Patricia Arquette’s feminism? What is yours? What equality can be found when the face of feminism is all about leaning in to making as much as a white man, and not about making sure that every woman can afford to eat, can access education, healthcare, affordable housing and other basic needs? It’s great to pursue your dreams, it’s even better when everyone else can pursue theirs too because they’re not struggling to to gain entry to a living wage. Equal pay is one of the last steps on the road to equality, not the first one for all women so stop insisting that it matters more than anything else, stop demanding that other people struggling to survive drop what they’re doing in fights you don’t participate in, to support your desire to have even more than you already do. Or you know…keep going with the bullshit feminism that hurts far more people than it helps.
The sad reality is that Arquette’s comments were just the latest in a long line of such incidents. They aren’t going to be the last examples of this problem either. Whether we’re talking comments made on E!’s Fashion Police about Zendaya’s Oscar night look or the way that some of Arquette’s defenders have used offensive rhetoric against any critics of her speech the reality is that in many ways a refusal to hear that feminism isn’t one size fits all is actively hurting progressive causes. Imagine what could be done with this kind of feminist star power if it was actually used to benefit the most vulnerable people in the progressive movement instead of being used against them? Everyone’s feminism is imperfect, because everyone is imperfect but if you’re not trying to be more inclusive, then what exactly are you doing calling yourself a part of any progressive movement?