Patricia Arquette’s Flawed Feminism

Actress Patricia Arquette’s call for wage equality at Sunday’s Oscars produced a teachable moment about intersectionality in progressive movements.

Arquette, who won the Best Supporting Actress trophy for her role in “Boyhood,” took a powerful stance during her acceptance speech, using the opportunity to focus attention on the gender wage gap.

“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,” she said. “It is our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America!”

It was a moving moment, one that got both Jennifer Lopez and Meryl Streep out of their seats. It was, however, derailed soon after by comments Arquette made when she stepped offstage.

“It is time for us…We don’t have equal rights for Americans. The truth is even though we sort of feel like there is, there are huge issues that are at play and really do affect women,” she said in backstage comments to reporters. “It’s time for all the women in America, and the men who love women and all the gay people and people of color we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”

While Arquette’s remarks were no doubt well meaning, they reveal familiar blind spots to the intersections of gender with race and sexual orientation that often stall progressive movements.

The actress is on the money about the wage gap. It’s estimated that women get paid 77 cents for every dollar men earn. The fight for fair wages, however, is not one just waged by white women that gays and people of color need to be pulled into. Women of color, for example, know all too well the perils of income inequality with black women earning 64 cents and Latina women 56 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

More than 160 years ago, abolitionist and suffragist Sojourner Truth stood before an audience at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio and famously asked the mostly white audience, “Ain’t I a woman?” About 30 years ago, a trio of black feminists advanced this critique in a collection of writings entitled, All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men but Some of Us are Brave. In 2015, it’s about time we get the message that real, lasting progressive change will come when we center the margins.

Patricia Arquette’s call for wage equality on Hollywood’s biggest stage was powerful but its power was undercut by its erasure of queer women and women of color. Somewhere, she’s hopefully running last night through her mind, remembering that queer women of color—for example—exist and cringing.

Donovan X. Ramsey