So, the Oscars were a thing that happened yesterday. I’ll be honest, I turned it off about 30 minutes after the red carpet fashion show - Neil Patrick Harris joked about how white the audience was and everyone laughed at acknowledging their privilege in a way that was too “yes I’m an asshole but at least I know it” for my taste, so I decided to read Issa Rae’s new book instead.
Not to be too out of touch with the social media zeitgeist, however, I woke up this morning and went online to scan the biggest highlights of the evening. I rolled my eyes at Wes Anderson being rewarded for his Wes Anderson-iness, found myself stirred by the performance of “Glory” while simultaneously amused by Common’s newly minted orchestra conductor rap hands (when are we going to admit that besides John Legend’s hook and bridge, this song is just mediocre? Look up the lyrics and get back to me), and started furiously moisturizing my face when pictures of Lupita came across my screen.
I also read Patricia Arquette’s contribution to social justice and groaned out loud.
Patricia Arquette won Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood – a movie which, as far as I can tell, is about that oft-untold story of growing up as a middle class White male in suburban America – and used her acceptance speech to champion equal pay for women, which elicited a church stomp from the audience. And, for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why Arquette’s statement was being viewed as so groundbreaking.
Equal pay for women is not an unacknowledged issue in America. We have a President who consistently acknowledges the wage gap and signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as one of his first acts of his Presidency. The phrase “Lean In” has been sprayed on social media like confetti for the past two years – to the point that Jessica Williams of The Daily Show was forced to defend her statement that she wasn’t qualified to transition into hosting the show post Jon Stewart’s retirement. And frankly, the reason why the wage gap is still so wide is largely due to the disparities for women of color. Black and Hispanic women get 64 and 56 cents on the dollar respectively – but I guess Ms. Arquette didn’t have time to point that part out.
She did have time to elaborate on her statements after the awards ceremony, however, saying the following:
“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.”
Put down your #BlackLivesMatter t-shirts everyone! The fights for both Black and LGBTQ civil rights are apparently over and it’s White women’s time to shine.
What is it that she thinks Women of Color do, exactly? I don’t assume that Patricia Arquette has read all things Audre Lorde, but she does realize that there are women who are Black and maybe even queer who fight on several of these fronts? Why does she think that Black women have been getting more and more advanced degrees at a higher rate than our male counterparts? They certainly don’t keep us warm at night.
The biggest rub of all is not just her assumption that intersectionality is a nonexistent thing and POCs don’t fight for feminist issues every day; it’s that in 2015 marginalized minority groups are in any position of power to exact change to help the prestigious Hollywood families of the world negotiate more equitable Sony contracts.
The next time someone asks me why Black Feminism and Intersectionality are distinct groups and efforts in the Women’s Rights Movement, I’m just going to refer them to Patricia Arquette’s words. I was unaware that we owed White women for Civil Rights, much less Patricia Arquette, who I’ve never seen utter the words Trayvon or Michael Brown. I understand that Ms. Arquette may identify as a woman first, but to demand that other marginalized communities stand beside you at the expense of their other struggles that pose just as much of an imposition on their day to day life and ability to progress in society is a level of conceit that is as mindboggling as…well, as making a movie a week every year for twelve years just to say you did it.