At last night’s Oscars, Patricia Arquette gave a rousing, if brief, speech in favor of equal pay. “It’s time for us to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women,” Arquette said. Twitter cheered. Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez loved it.
Then Arquette went to the press room and elaborated.
“So the truth is, even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are applied that really do affect women,” she said. “And 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.”
To that, Twitter jeered — and rightly.
The group we refer to as “women,” Arquette seemed to fail to notice, includes gay people and people of color, who tend to be worse off economically than white women. Women as a whole make 78 cents to a man’s dollar. But when you break it down by race, a Latina woman makes just 54 cents to every dollar a white man makes. A black woman makes 59 cents. And despite Arquette’s phrasing, women (and many men) of color have been on the front lines of feminist, womanist, and other movements for women’s rights for centuries. The people Arquette asks “to fight for us now” are already here, fighting for themselves — and all women.
While no American movement for equality has progressed as quickly and as visibly in recent years as the gay rights movement, it’s also jumping the gun just a bit to say that “we” have all fought for gay people, and now it’s their turn to fight for us. In states across America, LGBT people have no protection against getting fired for their identity; whether same-sex couples have full rights to adopt children and, of course, marry, depends on where they live. Transgender people and LGBT people of color face endemic violence, including astoundingly high murder rates.
What civil rights victories people of color and the LGBT community have gained also didn’t come from the activism of all American women. While of course many white men and women fought for or were at least loosely in favor of first ending slavery and then according civil rights to all Americans regardless of race, many other white men and women were some of the loudest opponents of racial equality — all the way back to Martha Washington. Even today, there are plenty of white women who don’t believe racism exists and oppose measures that would promote equal rights.
So yes, it is time for all the women and men in America to fight for women, and it’s laudable that Arquette is using her platform to talk about an issue as pressing as wage equality. But it’s time to fight for all women — not just the ones who look like the folks onstage at the whitest Oscars in 20 years.