The Major Problem With Patricia Arquette's 'Feminist' Oscar Speech
Patricia Arquette was largely lauded for her Oscar speech Monday night. She called out the gender wage gap, stating, “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.” But honestly, her speech—not to mention her subsequent comments backstage—have left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
“But Trip!” you say, shocked at my callousness, “Do you NOT care about the wage gap? Do you NOT spiritually identify with the GIF of Meryl Streep’s fist-pumping reaction? Have the meninists gotten to you?”
Listen, reader, I hope you know I care tremendously about the wage gap, and recognize the many, many, many gendered issues that plague Hollywood. I recognize what a tremendous political opportunity the stage at the Academy Awards is, and it warms my heart that women can stand on it and speak to their issues.
But does no one else find it a little uncomfortable that Arquette, a straight white woman with a net worth of $24 million was the one speaking about the wage gap when, as of 2014, the women most affected by the gender wage gap were women of color (as the chart below shows)?
|Asian American Women||$0.90|
|Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Women||$0.65|
|African American Women||$0.64|
|American Native Women||$0.59|
“Okay, Trip, but she’s got limited time on that stage to talk so maybe for efficiency’s sake she doesn’t want to read that table out loud?” you say.
Valid! Which is why I was so happy about her backstage interview—no, wait, why I was SO ANGRY when she went backstage and instead of illuminating the issue further, said that it was time for “all the gay people and people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”
Because this kind of language acknowledges no intersection, and asks for solidarity where solidarity has not been given in the first place. If you’re going to center your own experiences at the expense of others, you’re going to deal with your oppressions without the support you need from others
I guess what I’m really feeling instead of seething rage directed at Patricia Arquette is the pervasive frustration I have with a feminist movement that continues to center the experiences of straight white (economically privileged) women. I am speaking of that kind of movement that seeks to add the experiences of women of color to the larger narrative, rather than recognizing that intersectional identities have their own narratives; that, fundamentally, my experience as a queer woman is its own, that I experience my gender and am the target of sexism in ways that are irretrievably linked to my sexuality, and that frequently have little in common with the experiences of women like Patricia Arquette.
To simply try to sweep parts of my narrative that are different from yours to your own movement ignores the totality of an intersectional identity. I am never just a woman. I am never just queer. To speak of either of those things as removed from the other, as separate groups when speaking about systemic inequalities that affect me directly, is to belittle my existence. To speak of a wage gap without involving race, gender, and sexuality is to ignore the most dangerous manifestations of economic inequity.
It is this kind of erasure that necessitates separate movements from feminism, such as womanism, that are not just inclusive of but centered on people with no space to exist in Arquette’s backstage comment, until feminism and feminists can actively seek to embody multiple identity narratives and reduce or silence the essentialist thread of some kind of universally shared female experience.
I guess what leaves the bitter taste in my mouth is actually the lack of ideological spaces in feminism in which I actually exist. That feminism just happens to be wearing Patricia Arquette’s face right now.
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