Feminism | Posted by Trip E on 02/24/2015

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)?

White Men $1.00
Asian American Women $0.90
White Women $0.78
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Women $0.65
African American Women $0.64
American Native Women $0.59
Latina/Hispanic Women $0.54


And hold on! This doesn’t even take into account the wage gaps between straight men and gay men or how trans women find their incomes dropping by nearly ONE THIRD after they transition.

“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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  • Patricia Arquette and Her Particular Brand of Feminism | thefeministblogproject @ at 11:50 pm, February 26th, 2015

    […] http://thefbomb.org/2015/02/the-major-problem-with-patricia-arquettes-feminist-oscar-speech/ […]

  • Jan Elliot @ at 2:45 am, March 2nd, 2015

    We speak of one issue here:
    Women get paid 3/4 of their male counterparts.
    Why must you complicate it. Why cannot you accept the simple fact without complicating it or wanting to problem solve ‘the kitchen sink’ – as we say in the mental health field.

    Stop dragging in other injustices to dilute the issue.

  • OLynch @ at 10:44 pm, April 13th, 2015

    While I can agree that Arquette has no understanding of what it means to be a minority in any sense, I can’t help but feel like saying ‘right on’ in response to her acceptance speech. The fact of the matter is, the gender wage gap does affect all women and I feel as sense of hope that if anything, her comments at the Oscars sparked discussion on the topic at the very least, and discussions can start a great many things, including change. I am reminded by your article about something similar I read in response to the ‘He for She’ campaign lead by Emma Watson. Many argued that she was an inappropriate figurehead for feminism; someone whose beauty was more inspiring than her words. I am hesitant to disagree and yet, I cannot help but to admit that in our society it takes someone charismatic and beautiful to get the attention of large groups of people, it is from there that we must take the issues and move them forward. Once there is awareness, we can then refocus that awareness to the bigger picture, where intersectionality plays such a great role. It is unfortunate that it takes celebrities to make us care, I cannot be more saddened by that, but in our media driven world that is the way. Arquette’s backstage comments were out of line, yes, and I am sorry that they have caused you offense. But still, they have gotten people talking more about the issue and to me that is what matters. As a college senior, the job market and therefore the gender wage gap is looming before me like a dark cloud. Now that her speech is on the radar of many, it is our chance to give this topic a real voice from women who can act as the right voice, giving a chance for the message of equality to be heard. I must admit I was more than shocked by the statistic listed in your post, that Hispanic women make $0.54 cents to every white man’s dollar, especially now that women have begun to outnumber men as college graduates. If there is one thing Arquette’s backstage comments make clear, it is that we have a long way to go; many think that the work is already done. The problem with the term feminism is that it implies women over men when the issue is really equality, for everyone. And that’s what we tend to loose sight of; we are all people worthy of equal pay, worthy of being recognize not as ‘He for She’ but as ‘We for We.’ Like Patricia, I cannot and should speak on your behalf or anyone else’s for that matter but we should be empowering one another and recognizing each other’s differences in a way that makes them all encompassing for any person whom identifies in any way. To quote your post “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…” then we cannot make the changes I previously referred to. It is difficult for us as human beings to not automatically try to connect ourselves with one another. Bonding is in some ways a defense mechanism; there is safety in numbers. But as you mentioned it is the way we place ourselves into check boxes as women, straight or gay, black or white, etc. that limit how we can change our culture. That change must come from recognizing that there are things we share and things we do not, and to speak about equality, be it pay or otherwise is to speak about the best version of our humanity. And to summarize, that all starts with the conversations and blogs and opinions such as this. #scom348

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