I think we can all agree that, for the most part, celebrity feminism is pretty shallow. As a culture, we are overly preoccupied with the things that those possibly most-unqualified to comment on political movements have to say about political movements. But they are our idols and so we insist on asking… As a result, the responses we get tend to be terribly disappointing.
Sunday night at the Oscars, as about 80 billion identical(ly boring) think pieces published yesterday in liberal feminist medialand informed us, Patricia Arquette said a thing about women’s rights. Kiiillll herrrrr.
What Arquette said was bold, due mainly to the fact that American celebrity culture is often so pathetically apolitical and dim-witted.
What she said, during her acceptance speech, was this:
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.*
And it’s true. Women have fought for everyone else’s rights. We were a part of the New Left before realizing that, within that male-led movement, we were never going to be treated with respect. We supported gay rights (and still do) despite the fact that there is still a hell of a lot of misogyny that exists in gay male communities. Women were central to the civil rights movement as well. Yet we find ourselves in a situation wherein we can’t even get the bare minimum — the least radical of all achievements, as far as “equality” goes (and many of us are looking at liberation, not equality, in any case) — pay equity. We literally are not being paid what men are to do the same work. Not that my particular concern, with regard to feminism, is ensuring those who are making millions as actors are all making the same millions, but just this year, the Sony hack revealed that Jennifer Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars. I mean, it’s ridiculous that, in this day and age, we are still fighting for these basics.
The funny thing is, for many Americans, this is an offensive, far-too-radical thing to say.
While Meryl Streep and J Lo were thrilled at Arquette’s statement, Fox News pundit, Stacey Dash, was appalled, saying, “Patricia Arquette needs to do her history. In 1963, [President] Kennedy passed an equal pay wall. It’s still in effect. I didn’t get the memo that I didn’t have any rights.”
Whoever smelt it, dealt it — amirite?
But right-wing Americans weren’t the only ones upset by Arquette’s call for equal pay — the vitriol came primarily from your friendly social justice warrior, perpetually starved and on the hunt for the next woman to devour.
It wasn’t her initial call to action that got Arquette into trouble, but rather her comments to the press, who asked her to elaborate backstage.
Not only did many liberal commentators gloss over the very-relevant point Arquette made about ageism in Hollywood (solely reserved for females, of course) — “Actresses, the older they get, the less they get paid” — but they ignored her critiques of the “lean in” approach as well. When asked to respond to former Sony head Amy Pascal’s remarks on wage disparity, who said, in effect, that women simply needed to “negotiate better” in order to rise above systemic inequality, Arquette insisted on holding the system accountable, saying,
I think we need federal laws that are comprehensive… People think we have equal rights. We won’t until we pass a Constitutional amendment in the United States of American where we pass the Era once and for all.
Arquette also challenged the popular myth that the west is some kind of progressive utopia and that it’s just “over there” we need worry about, when it comes to women’s equality. “The truth is,” she said, “even though we sort of feel we have equal rights in America, right under the surface we have huge issues… It’s inexcusable we go around the world talking about equal rights for women in other countries.”
But all of that was erased the moment Arquette asked for solidarity, saying, “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.”
Now, I’ll admit that statement is imperfect. It is very difficult to speak clearly and accurately, off-the-cuff, to the media, all the time. You should try it and see how many of your sentences come off in the way you intended or would have liked. Either way, I don’t for one moment believe that Arquette thinks or meant to convey that lesbians and women of colour don’t count as “women,” as her progressive critics claimed in order to justify their missile launch.
I read her comment, instead, to say that it was time for all of us to fight for women. We, as women, are always supposed to put everyone else first, and called selfish when we don’t. Women’s issues have been thrown under the bus in every other progressive movement to date — we have been raped and abused by the men whose movements we joined, and relegated to doing menial administrative tasks and to the role housewife and mother, rather than leader. While liberals everywhere will fight for gay marriage, they still refuse to fight back against the sex industry, and men who will fight class and race wars continue to insist on objectifying women despite their otherwise liberatory politics.
It’s our time, is what Patricia Arquette said.
I have a hard time believing that Arquette’s critics truly believe she was only advocating for white, straight women when she was talking about about wage inequality, but even if they did, the actress clarified her position on Twitter:
There are certainly more exciting, more powerful messages I would have preferred to hear about women’s liberation, but her message is true. The wage gap is real and it impacts the real lives of women and their children, and speaks to the global status of women. And if your contribution to feminism is waiting for women to misspeak so you can paint them as the enemy and order them to “shut up” (as countless people did on Twitter today), your message is far more problematic than anything Arquette said.
*Updated, 02/27/2015 — Previously we quoted Arquette as saying, “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.” It seems the more accurate quote is this: “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.” (Comma-placement can make all the difference.)