Why Patricia Arquette’s Speech Should Not be Written Off

Photo Credit: Washington Post

With a host that was surprisingly unfunny (who wrote Neil Patrick Harris’ jokes, exactly?) this year’s Oscars quickly a platform for actors, actresses, and screenwriters a like to advocate for what they believe in. One of the evening’s most controversial speeches was made by Best Supporting Actress winner, Patricia Arquette. Making a stand for wage equality, Arquette dedicated her award,

“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.” 

While it may have come out a bit jumbled, a bit flustered (I mean if you were going to thank everybody involved in your film as well as make a statement about wage equality in 45 seconds you’d probably be flustered as well) it began a conversation. Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez almost fell off their seats applauding the actress’ statement, but some were not so thrilled. Amanda Marcotte wrote that Arquette’s speech was a celebrity dip into feminism, a timid wade into the role of a feminist. She states that Arquette’s speech advocates rights solely for white women after stating back stage that women have fought for many other groups’ (“gay people”, “people of color”) and it is now their turn to help women—not recognizing that women make up a large portion of both people of color and gay people.

It’s true that Arquette’s advocacy for wage equality lasted a few seconds on national television. And it’s true that Arquette is known first and foremost as an actress, not a philanthropist. And yes, Arquette is white. The argument that Arquette was leaving out women of color and gay women from her desire to achieve wage equality seems to me like a gross misunderstanding of her statement. Women in both these categories may have rights as people of color or as gay people, but they do not have wage equality as women. Each of us belongs to many different circles, or categories of people. I am a woman, I am white, I am Jewish. I may have certain rights as a Jewish person or as a white person, but I am still missing the right to wage equality as a woman. Arquette’s statement that it is time for these groups to fight for women does not mean that they should be fighting solely for women who are not also in those categories, but that the other members of the group should be fighting for the categorization of women.

We live in a world where the most powerful people are not politicians or the runners of non-profits, but movie and pop stars. To ridicule Arquette’s speech, to say that it was simply a dip into the waters of feminism, or that it really undermined all women’s rights because she is white, is not only a step backwards, but is anti-feminist itself. Why can’t an actress make a statement about wage equality, exactly? Feminism has been understood by many to be an exclusive position; in order to be a feminist one must avoid all forms of femininity and hate men. The stigma that in order for someone to be a feminist they must be radical is a mindset that many women have tried to overcome in the past years. Celebrities such as Beyoncé or Emma Watson have been more than a little vocal about their feminist beliefs. Does a celebrity have to make a speech about feminism to the United Nations to be considered a good enough advocate? Must they sample a feminist writer in their music? Every woman can be a feminist, and whether it is exercising the right to vote, supporting a fellow woman when she needs help, or advocating for equal pay at the Oscars, the small actions are just as important as the big ones. So go ahead and dip your toe, Patricia. You’ll never know when it can lead to a cannonball.

Post by Katrina Margolis (CLAS ’15)

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