I watched Patricia Arquette's Oscars Speech this morning, and was glad to see somebody using their status and fame to advocate for an issue as urgent as women's rights. Equal pay for women is something that demands a serious amount of attention in the global press.
The problem is, it's often demonstrated that the issue of equal pay only extends to white, middle class women. The pay gap between actors and actresses and CEOs is a headline grabbing topic. The pay gap between women and men working in the service industry? Not so much. As well as this, the pay gap in terms of race is consistently ignored or treated as a separate issue to the gender pay gap, which serves to erase the existence of women of colour. The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation found in 2014 that whilst white women in the USA experienced a pay disparity of 77 cents to the dollar for white men, black women experienced a pay disparity of 68 cents to the dollar. Due to people failing to acknowledge that people with intersecting identities endure multiple levels of disadvantage, this fact is often ignored.
Arquette all but confirmed the blindness to these issues in the comments she made in the press room following her acceptance speech.
'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 colour that we've fought for, to fight for us now.'
How can I begin to talk about how many things are wrong with this comment...
To start with, continuing the notion of multiple identities - LGBT+ people and people of colour are not a separate entity to women. Many women are queer. Many women are of colour. Many women are of colour and are queer, and much more. Where does this leave them? Arquette seems to presuppose that all women, or the women who are in the direst need to be fought for now, are white, cisgender and heterosexual. Hello, default woman! For too long, people have been treating race and LGBT+ activism as if they are detached realms from feminist activism. They're not. Many people occupy space in several groups that are fighting for liberation, so it's crucial that these groups work together and reinforce the importance of each other. People should not have to choose which facet of their identity is worth fighting for.
Second of all, did I miss something? Is racism over? Has the LGBT+ rights battle been won? Judging by the ongoing activism and conflict in Ferguson, and the fervent transgender rights activism that has been present for decades and has finally been pushed into the spotlight following Leelah Alcorn's suicide, it's certainly not time to abandon our fights and trudge over to the equal pay fight. We can, and do, have the ability to fight for many issues at the same time. There is no hierarchy of oppressions, so suggesting that people's 'time has come' to stop what they're doing and campaign for something for else, is naive and ignorant to ask for.
Finally, the notion that people of colour and LGBT+ people have been 'fought for'... What does this suggest? You've got the vote, there's same-sex marriage in a few states, there's your concession!
Fight for us now!
That's exactly what it feels like - minor concessions. There is a very, very long way to go until we can be considered truly liberated. It smacks of a privileged position to dictate to a group from an ivory tower that they have been 'fought for', especially when these groups continue to be erased and sidelined in favour of causes considered more 'worthy', and to insinuate that their oppressions have been lifted. They haven't. The amount of names on the Transgender Day of Remembrance memorial should shock you. The amount of unarmed people of colour being killed by the police should shock you. For a lot of these people, nobody is fighting for them. So consider that before you assume that marginalised groups have 'had their time'.
Although I commend the fact that equal pay for women is becoming such a publicised issue, the fight is constantly let down when it is treated in isolation from other factors. Discrimination Acts in the past have been of a poor standard because of their failing to acknowledge and deal with people who are affected by several uncontrollable factors, such as race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability. Arquette massively let herself down when she assumed that women of colour and LGBT+ women did not exist within the definition of 'woman', and she idea that multiple forms of discrimination act and can be seen in isolation from each other is one that is doing damage to these movements. But most of all, it is doing a disservice to the most marginalised people in our societies.