Last night at the Oscars, Patricia Arquette won the Award for Best Supporting Actress. During her speech 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,” shouted a fiery Arquette. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America!”
Ms. Arquette is absolutely right about the wage gap, women earn, on average, about 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns, and that number decreases even more for women of color. Her call for wage equality is certainly not a problem. However, I have to question the phrase, “we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights.” Although I’m sure it could be interpreted various ways, what this phrase says to me is that Ms. Arquette sees those other oppressed groups, the “everybody else” as having won their equal rights, and that women are the only ones left behind.
Later, during in the press room after her Oscar win, she went on to say:
“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.”
Her statement in the press room makes it clear that the “everybody else” she’s talking about are (among others) people of color and the LGBTQIA community, which is problematic on multiple levels. First, when Arquette claims to speak for all women, she is only speaking about white, straight, cis women. Because any other women were fighting for their own rights as part of the “everybody else.” Second, her statement implies that “everybody else” has achieved equal rights, which is absolutely untrue. There is still plenty of oppression to go around for various races, genders and sexualities, abilities, religions, and a number of other marginalized classifications.
Ultimately, the problem with Ms. Arquette’s statement is that it ignores the intersections of these various identities. Her statement does not acknowledge that women are also people of color, disabled, queer, and a long list of other unprivileged identities. The statement also ignores that these social justice movements cannot be separated out from each other, they must be examined together. People do not only inhabit one of their identities at a time, and oppressions overlap in ways that cannot be taken apart. We have to work together to bring about social justice for all marginalized groups. None of us are free until all of us are free.
-Sarah Tucker Jenkins
Women’s Center Program Coordinator