Last night Patricia Arquette won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. The film itself was beyond reproach. A triumph of modern filmmaking. Arquette did a masterful job and her award was much deserved. She’d prepared ahead, reading a pre-written speech. After the general thank yous and a plug for her charity, she said,
“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.”
Which is terrific. It’s elegant and eloquent. Short, succinct and accurate. She played it well, not calling anyone out or blaming anyone in particular but asking everyone to fight. In a dreary awards show that celebrates the exact same kinds of people saying more or less the same things year after year, this was brilliant and lovely. Unquestionably one of the evenings highlights. It even prompted this reaction, which was tailor made for the pop-feminists of the internet:
But, sadly, it of course did not end there. After leaving the stage she was swept off to answer reporters questions in front of a step-and-repeat where she said:
“It’s inexcusable that we go around the world talking about equal rights for women around the country and we don’t have equal rights for women in America. When they wrote the Constitution, they didn’t intend for us to be equal. It’s time for all the women, all the men who love women, all the gay people and people of color, who we fought for equal rights for, to fight for us.”
She obviously tried and what she said in the Q&A was likely a misstep among a flutter of excitement. It was not, to my understanding, part of her prepared remarks. She certainly meant well, and she’s an actor, not a trained activist, so we shouldn’t necessarily expect intersectional perfection from her. Or even a well rounded understanding of what it means to be a feminist or any kind of equal rights activist. That’s not her job and she clearly spent the last 12 years making a phenomenal movie so it’s no like she had time to read feminist critiques of Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance. As Bust notes – ” Arquette spoke with the verve of a woman who’s recently discovered feminism” so perhaps we should cut her some slack and weigh the positive positives over the negatives. Any attention to this issue is good attention – that sort of thing.
What she did was also incredibly brave. She got up in front of a room of not just her peers but her potential future bosses. This could have been disastrous career-wise. True, the mood of the nation is currently leaning more towards feminism at the moment but people on public platforms need to keep talking about it.
On the other hand, every time LGBTQ women (and men and gender non-conforming people) and POC (especially, for this argument, WOC) get forgotten or swept aside it does nothing to help feminism or any movement striving for equality. To fight only for the faces that resemble your own is at best unhelpful and potentially destructive. Famous white feminists, while doing a lot to bring attention to the plight of white women, continue to fail when it comes to anybody else and if we don’t get angry every time then it will just keep happening. We NEED to be intersectional. We MUST be united.
I have no doubt that what she said came from a place of ignorance, not malice. But we need to continue to fight to erase that ignorance. We need to say every single day, “No, that’s not alright, reexamine your idea of what we’re fighting for and truly look at the people you’re talking about.” As a human being, I of course, am imperfect.But I recognize that and work to untangle myself from my assumptions and what society proscribes. Any intersectional feminist who is also white (myself included) needs to be careful about what is being said and what the consequences are. Arquette failed to do that. While we can’t entirely blame her for it, we cannot let it go unnoticed.
Income inequality cuts across race lines as well as gender lines and becomes even worse when you compare WOC to just about anybody. It is insulting to all of us when you diminish anyone’s struggle.
Some other reading on this: Dear Patricia Arquette: Blacks and gays owe white women nothing
And some of Arquette’s reactions to the backlash: Patricia Arquette Defended Her Controversial Comments From The Oscars Press Room On Twitter