Patricia Arquette Stirs ‘White Feminism’ Pushback

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Patricia Arquette during her acceptance speech at this year's Oscars.

Credit: ABC/Craig Sjodin, Disney|ABC Television Group on Flickr, under Creative Commons.

Patricia Arquette during her acceptance speech at this year's Oscars.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)– Patricia Arquette’s use of her Oscar-winning moment as Best Supporting Actress to call out the gender wage gap brought down the house in Hollywood, with an outbreak of applause on Twitter immediately after her remarks during her acceptance speech.

"Patricia Arquette is right about the importance of achieving full economic equality for all women," New York Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney said in a press statement. "And one of the best ways to do that is to put women in the Constitution for the first time by at long last passing the Equal Rights Amendment. We need to make it clear, that in America, equal means equal."

On Tuesday, Labor Secretary Tom Perez also tweeted a video of himself thanking Arquette for her message.

In California, a group of female lawmakers felt boosted by Arquette’s speech and proposed Tuesday legislation aimed at helping female workers in California get the same pay as male colleagues, The Los Angeles Times reported. The bill has long been in the works, but state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson said she was inspired to act now by Arquette’s acceptance speech at the Academy Awards.

However after Arquette elaborated her thoughts backstage on Sunday night, a set of more mixed reactions began rippling through the headlines and blogosphere. Many have denounced a "white feminism" discourse.

"Arquette’s remarks are another reminder of the many reasons why some African American women do not identify themselves as feminists," writes Nyasha Junior in The Washington Post. "The link between the term ‘feminist’ and white women’s activism on behalf of other white women is such that some African American women shun the label, though they may be deeply committed to women’s equality."

Smaller Group of Enthusiasts

In her acceptance speech for her role in "Boyhood," Arquette opened by saying: "To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody’s equal rights, it is our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America."

No arguments there.

However, later in the night, the big tent of enthusiasts got smaller.

"Equal means equal," she told the press after the Oscars. "The truth of it is the older an actress gets, the less money she makes. It’s inexcusable that we talk about equal rights for women in other countries and yet we don’t have equal rights for women in America. 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 color that we’ve fought for, to fight for us now!"

That’s when the fissures formed.

Dave Zirvin, a self-described fan of Arquette, picked her comments apart in a piece for The Nation. "When you speak of equal pay for women and call upon ‘all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve fought for, to fight for us now’ it states pretty clearly that you see your struggle as one of straight, white, native-born women for equal pay, as if there aren’t masses of people who live beneath the weight of multiple labels that would benefit from such reforms," writes Zirvin.

Zirvin goes on: "It would have been so easy for Ms. Arquette to say something like, ‘If we had laws in this country ensuring equal pay for women, it would mean equal pay for all women of color and all of our LGBT sisters.’ But she chose instead a ‘we fought for you now you fight for us’ approach to fighting oppression."

Imani Gandy, senior legal analyst at RH Reality Check, told Think Progress why she thinks it’s important to challenge portions of Arquette’s comments. "If we don’t challenge the people who have these large platforms, who are talking about issues that affect women of color more than they affect white women, then what are we doing? Why are we even listening to public figures if we’re just going to accept their facile explanations of women’s equality?"

The online publication Global Grind, founded by hip-hop magnate Russell Simmons,emphasized that women of color should be at the center of any discussion of the wage gap since they bear the brunt of it. "By failing to address that ‘all the women in America’ include women of color both cis and queer, Arquette unintentionally erased them from the wage gap fight. The truth is, women of color earn less than white women on average and to ask a group of people to fight for you when you disproportionately make more is…insulting," read a Global Grind piece attributed to the staff.

Hollywood Wage Gap

While Hollywood incomes dwarf those of most people, there is still a well-known gender wage gap issue in the film industry, which came into high profile view after the recent Sony leak. The leak, however, permitted Charlize Theron to negotiate a $10 million raise for her role in "The Huntsman."

Arquette’s award-winning performance in "Boyhood" as a struggling "do it all" single mother hindered by "bad choices" about men also gives her a symbolic platform for this cause. From her personal life she draws street cred from her background as a child who, by her own account, grew up living below the poverty line.

All of that might have been OK if not for the backstage comments that opened an "us and them" rift.

In response to those who don’t understand the furor caused by Arquette’s remarks, professor Brittney Cooper started hashtag #AskAWhiteFeminist.

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