So last night was the Oscars, and brothers Common and John Legend won big, making black history, while we’re still celebrating Black History Month. Their award-winning song “Glory” from Selma was positive and deserving, and I regret not watching the event to see them walk across that stage and do the damn thing. They gave a wonderful acceptance speech, but sadly for me, the joy over their win was overshadowed by another winner.
Patricia Arquette also won an Oscar for her role in Boyhood, and she created quite a furor with her passionate acceptance speech calling out the pay inequities women suffer. But it was her comment during a press conference later that struck a sour note with me – and with many.
I can’t say whether she intended to slight women of color or to lump all men and all women into the same buckets as though their life experiences match like lost puzzle pieces. I can’t confirm what her intentions were beyond shining a light on the fact that women are unilaterally not paid the same as men, and there’s no reason for it. I agree with Arquette – about that. But this whole “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.” – that’s 50 shades of crap.
It’s not complete crap – all women do need to stand together to get our money – but there are some big time issues with her statement. All the people of color that we’ve fought for? A, the fight’s not over, baby, and everyone hasn’t been fighting hand in hand for the same things at the same time for the same reasons. B, who exactly is we? Arquette may be a vocal proponent for diversity and inclusion, I don’t know, but she doesn’t appear to know that feminism and race and pay inequities often – to their detriment – operate on three completely different planes.
Now I’m gonna stop right there and let a white woman win this argument for me. Political reporter Andrea Grimes broke down Arquette’s blunder very well:
“Let’s start with the most basic of basics: White women, as a group, do experience stark wage disparities, but the gap between the earnings of white women and white men is smaller than it is for any other group besides Asian-American folks. That means white women as a whole do better in terms of wage equality than almost any other group. Got it?
Now let’s break it down:
- Some women are not white, and some women are not straight. People’s multifaceted identities and embodiments in the world are not separate from their womanhood or their personhood or their humanity. This is the basis of what’s called “intersectionality,” which is more or less the thing where you do exactly the opposite of what Patricia Arquette did on Sunday night—you acknowledge that people don’t stop being gay, or a woman, or whatever just because they’re not white.
- White ladies aren’t the wage-equalest, but they’re closer to white dudes in terms of their earnings than are Hispanic, Native, or Black women or even most men of color. To demand, as Arquette did, that gay people, who are also more likely to be fired because of their sexual identity or orientation, and people of color “fight for” straight white women erases the fact that straight white women, in fact, are better situated to lift up their workplace colleagues of color than the other way around.
- Homophobia, transphobia, and racism are alive and well today, February 23, 2015! Straight white women didn’t end homophobia and racism back in the day. In fact, trans women of color are especially likely, in the year of our lord right fucking now in 2015, to be targets of violence. And even if straight white women had ended racism and homophobia and transphobia—and they emphatically have not—it sure as hell doesn’t mean that “gay people” and “people of color” owe them some sort of backsies for doing, like, the very most basic thing that a human being can do, which is treat other human beings like human beings.
- It is not divisive to point out that straight white women are doing better than their sisters and brothers of color and to demand that white women start acknowledging that fact instead of demanding that less-privileged people “fight for” them. If you’ll recall, the person who actually started dividing people into groups here was Patricia Arquette, who drew a not-at-all unclear line between “us” (ladies like Patricia Arquette) and “gay people” and “people of color.” Let me repeat that: There’s “us,” “gay people,” and “people of color.” If you think Arquette needed to have said “white women” instead of “us” to make it clear that she was talking about “white women,” you need to get your television set adjusted.”
Thank you, Andrea.
I’m a staunch advocate for equal pay. I’m an advocate for darn near equal everything. A woman’s $.77 to a man’s $1, is crap. And that’s $.64 for black women and $.53 for Hispanic women, which is even crappier. I see and hear about the inequities every single day in the course of my work, and I live with them personally. I know these pay inequities have a critical impact on not just individual household finances but on dreams deferred, delayed or crushed. But it’s just not true that black and white women are fighting the exact same battles when comes to money, or other things gender specific. Our battles have been and continue to be quite different, and white women have not and are not always on the black woman’s team.
I’d like to think Arquette was simply asking for solidarity. But what she said suggested something else entirely. Still, I won’t bash her. Her comments opened the floor to this discussion, and hopefully some who were not in the know will understand better what women of every shade and stamp have to deal with, and why it is important that we respect each other’s struggle as we fight together to get equal pay for equal work.