You know what they say about the road to hell…
In this case, the intentions under scrutiny are those of Patricia Arquette calling for wage equality at last night’s Academy Awards.
Many have identified Arquette’s backstage remarks as the moment that they noticed a problem with her message. The privileging of white womanhood was certainly very explicit backstage. But to be honest, she lost me when she was still on stage. When she said, “We..have…fought for everybody else’s equal rights.” She read that from something she penned in advance.
Cut to me in my living room: *face-palm* I was immediately reminded of the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag and the critiques of racism within white feminism. As implicitly biased as Arquette’s onstage remarks might have been, that piece of paper she held in front of her is a problem for me. For that paper implies contemplation and composition. And in all of that contemplating and composing, she does not seem to have questioned what she meant when she said the word “We.”
Yes, wage equality is a critical issue. But it is clear from her remarks both onstage and backstage (included below for those who did not see them) that Arquette’s “we” is white women. You pretty much have to not be paying attention to not realize that the wage gap is even more egregious for women of color. And from your position of relative privilege, it shows an extreme disconnect from the reality if you are willing to ask that people of color prioritize gender over race, and that LGBTQ folks privilege gender over sexuality, in the fight for equality. That is not a sacrifice that you get to ask for. Ideally we are fighting on all fronts, but in reality, that is not always the case. And you don’t get to demand this.
There are those who say that Arquette should not be “torn down” for her remarks. Or that people are overreacting.The truth is, she had a pretty big megaphone last night and she got it wrong. So yes, we can recognize her intentions, but we get nowhere without willing to be thoughtful about why good intentions don’t lead to equality for all.
Brittney Cooper’s response in the following tweets has started people posting to the #askawhitefeminist hashtag
I know some Black feminists will prolly write some amazing think pieces about this shit…but frankly, I’m mad that we keep having to.
— Brittney Cooper (@ProfessorCrunk) February 23, 2015
#AskAWhiteFeminist to tell you why they think all “the women, the men who love women, and all the gay people” are white.
— Brittney Cooper (@ProfessorCrunk) February 23, 2015
I started a Storify of tweets and posts inspired by Cooper’s hashtag and also connected to Mikki Kendall’s hashtag #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen that started back in 2013. As time allows, I may get over to Storify to update with new material, but I can’t promise.
So here’s what I found so far:
Bummer. After a good 30 minutes of fighting with it, I’ve learned that non-VIP users of WordPress.com can no longer embed Storify into their posts. Here’s a link instead: https://storify.com/purplekimchi/askawhitefeminist-responses-to-patricia-arquette
**Edited to Add the text of Arquette’s backstage remarks:
“It’s time for women. Equal means equal. The truth is the older women get, the less money they make. The highest percentage of children living in poverty are in female-headed households. It’s inexcusable that we go around the world and we talk about equal rights for women in other countries and we don’t. One of those superior court justices said two years ago in a law speech at a university that we don’t have equal rights for women in America and we don’t because when they wrote Constitution, they didn’t intend it for women. 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 at play that really do affect women. 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.“
Comments on: "Why I Can’t Fist Pump with Meryl and J-Lo" (5)
Actors care about things besides acting, but that doesn’t make their opinions about politics, history, economics or religion qualified. There’s no reason for people to weigh in to tear down unqualified opinions.
Thanks for reading.
Not being qualified certainly did not stop a figure like Jenny McCarthy from speaking out and having a negative influence on social attitudes regarding vaccinations. So “qualified” or not, that does not mean that actors don’t have a loud megaphone to which people pay attention. Arnold Schwarzenegger was not qualified to become the governor of California. But it happened.
On the question of Arquette’s qualifications, I’d say that as a woman who works and whose work is likely valued less than her male counterparts, she is qualified to speak on the issue. If, by qualification, you mean whether she has a degree in this area, I’m not sure I can agree with you in this case. If she were talking about an area where a certain amount of technical or specialized knowledge were required, I’d agree that perhaps she was not qualified (though that may not stop her from having an influence). However, in this case, and in others, lived experience counts. One of the ways oppression sometimes works is by dismissing the lived experience of those who may not have all of the requisite degrees and certifications.
As I said at first, actors do care about issues they aren’t experts in. I happen to agree with Patricia Arquette about the issue, but in this situation that agreement is irrelevant. It’s going to be damn hard to take any woman seriously who is complaining about income inequality while in possession of a $170K “swag bag” AND an Academy Award. Using the example of Jenny McCarthy supports my point. If no one took her opinion about vaccines seriously, the world would be better off. She doesn’t know jack about medicine.
You and I will have to agree to disagree about the validity of lived experience. I was trained never to take individual anecdotal data as being indicative of anything. There’s too much variance in individual experience. You have to measure trends based on what many thousands go through, and every aspect much match, or it proves nothing.
Thanks for your response.
I don’t think we are disagreeing about McCarthy. That you wish that she had not had such an effect does not change the fact that she did. The truth is that celebrities have tremendous influence in U.S. culture. And so long as they do, I consider that worthy of response as a feminist and public scholar. For more on the assertion that Arquette is “just an actress,” I’d direct you to Imani Gandy’s piece over at RH Reality Check (http://rhrealitycheck.org/ablc/2015/02/23/patricia-arquette/) She addresses it with nuances that I had not addressed in my initial response.
With regard to methodology, my training tells me that abstraction and averaging often lead to erasure and oppression. There is room and a purpose for work that operates as you describe, and there is room and a purpose for work that values lived experience and individual ways of knowing. They serve different ends. One of the benefits of working in a highly interdisciplinary program is that I get to see firsthand the strengths and drawbacks of multiple methodologies.
[…] Kim Knight, The Spiral Dance, Why I Can’t Fist Bump with Meryl and J-Lo […]