The Academy Awards were filled this year with political messages and causes important to the winners. Iñárritu dedicated his Best Movie award to his fellow Mexicans living in and out of the US. John Legend reminded everyone the fight for equality is still not over, but none was better received by the audience than Patricia Arquette’s claim for equal wages and rights for women in United States.
"To every woman who gave birth to every tax payer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights. It's our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America."
Arquette has continuously received positive feedback for her performance in Boyhood, including praise of her bravery for not opting for plastic surgery during the 12 years it took to finish the film. Few were surprised when she took the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and while the intention of her cause is noble–tagged quickly at the end of mentioning her other charity work- there was something about the way she said it and the camera quickly cutting to Jennifer Lopez and Meryl Streep enthusiastically cheering that was genuinely bothersome and possibly counterproductive.
The next morning, images of Arquette kept showing up on social media containing some of the quotes from her speech. And just like that, overnight Patricia Arquette became the face of women’s rights in America.
It’s difficult to bring up the subject without sounding like you are minimizing the cause that women are not being paid equally to their male colleagues. Even though raising awareness for any issue, especially in a platform where the whole world is watching, is always a positive thing, it’s not Arquette’s call for equality what is in question here. The real trouble behind it is how and when she decided to generically address it. Her odd phrasing applauding mothers of ‘citizens’ and ‘taxpayers’ could be attributed to a moment of pressure and excitement but she had a written speech in hand and seemed certain in what her intent was. The flood of opinions comes mostly from when she elaborated on the matter at the backstage press room:
"It's inexcusable we go around the world talking about equal rights for women in other countries ... and we don't have equal rights for women in America.The truth is even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, there are huge issues that are at play that really do affect women. It's time for all … the gay people and people of color that we've all fought for to fight for us now."
Arquette was unable to provide any facts for the issue she seems so passionate about, only spurting nonspecific statements about women being affected by ‘huge issues’. Her message also seems undefined in who the victims are and the oppressors. While the obvious answer is that all women are the victims, her statement implies exclusion of gay people and people of color, as if they haven’t been fighting this issue all along and must do so now. Have women of color not suffered this inequality and should now join after Arquette’s calling? Have bisexuals and transgenders ignored an injustice that surely affects them just as much? Arquette’s words are careless and accusatory, implying that the LGBT community and people of color have already achieved their equality and now need to help out those who assisted them in that victory.
The insinuation of ‘you owe us’ is dangerous because it makes it seem like the fight of other oppressed groups is over and it excludes people of said groups from the fight for women’s right and gender equality. Fight for us instead of fight with us ends up sounding self entitled instead of a call to unity. It can easily be misinterpreted as ‘fight for white women’s equal pay, gay people and people of color, whom we have helped so much in the past.’
The award winning actress has continued her internet campaign for #EqualPay with ceaseless tweets and infographics after the ceremony yet her Twitter page says nothing of such cause previous to Oscar Night:
It’s easy to stand in a room full of the highest paid women in America –possibly the world- and emphatically mention women deserve equal rights. It is for cheap applause and a statement a ten year old studying history can make. ‘Oh look, she understands. Bravo!’ It’s easy to type 140 characters demanding equal wages for women and add a hashtag at the end. It’s not so easy to act according to your word. Being aware of something and doing anything about it are two very different things. We live in a time where awareness is applauded and self gratified and in turn, a cause is hurt when diluted words are added and nothing was achieved.
The fight for equal pay deserves true recognition and action, not just sympathetic applause and praise for the messenger.
What were your thoughts on Patricia Arquette's Oscar speech?