As Patricia Arquette took to the stage at the Oscars on Sunday night, where she received an Oscar for her performance in Boyhood, she delivered a powerful battle-cry for gender equality: “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 time to have wage equality once and for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
On the surface it was a moving cry and one that needed to be said. It is absurd that in 2015, almost a century since women were granted the right to vote, that there is such a pay gap between genders. Last year a government report showed women in the UK were on average paid 19.7% less than men. In the United States this figure could be as high as 22.5%. Gender inequality, especially regarding pay, is a pressing issue and Patricia Arquette was right to use her speech as an opportunity to call for wage equality.
That’s why it was such a shame that she ruined it in a follow-up speech backstage, when she said: “It’s time for all the women in America and all the men who love women and all the gay people and all the people of colour that we’ve fought for, to fight for us now.” While she was quite right to suggest that men get behind the wage inequality cause, to suggest that gay people and black people should now fight for women now, as though their respective fights for equal rights had been fought and won, was wrong.
For one it took the assumption that these groups weren’t doing so anyway. Was she trying to suggest that black women had somehow avoided feminism altogether, as though being black was separate to being a woman? Was she suggesting that the gay community were completely divorced from feminist theory, as though, yet again, you couldn’t be a lesbian and a feminist too?
American blogger Heather Barmore explains this well when she says: “I am a woman, but I am a black, bisexual woman; those things operate together to disprivilege me. Ending discrimination against white women doesn’t end discrimination for me; history has show us instead that it can actually make the unique discrimination I experience as a black woman – not simply a black person – worse.”
Also, in terms of the pay gap itself, to suggest that the poorest in society should throw all their energies behind calls to increase the pay for rich white women seems very wrong. While women as a whole make 77.5% less than men in the US, this figure drops to 64% for black women and 53% for Hispanic and Latina women. One in four lesbian and bisexual women live in poverty, compared to one in five heterosexual women.
Patricia Arquette would be right to follow in the footsteps of Harry Potter actress Emma Watson, whose HeForShe campaign really addresses the important need for men to stand up for women’s rights. It is those of us with privilege that must stand up and say “no more” and pressure those in power to change things. For gay people and people of colour the fight for equality is far from over.