In addition to her Oscar speech, which called for gender equality in pay, actress Patricia Arquette showed her lack of understanding of intersectional issues backstage. She demanded that gay and people of colour pay “women” back for all the work “women” do to advocate for equality. The problem is, of course, that not only was a privileged White woman asking oppressed groups to fight for her rights, but Arquette’s remarks also show her lack of awareness that women of colour, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women are all women too.
When Arquette was crying for wage equality, she meant for White women, not all women. When she demands that gay and people of colour fight for White women, she does not understand how sexism, homophobia, transphobia, class and other issues impact on the wage gap.
Professor Brittney Cooper notes that on top of wage inequality and systemic racism and sexism, women of colour also do other forms of unpaid labour – by continually being forced to educate White women about social justice.
“Some of my academic colleagues of colour call this ‘the Black or people of colour tax’ — the extra, and often unacknowledged labour, time and resources we give to institutions, that our white colleagues don’t have to do and for which we are uncompensated, in order to help struggling students of colour navigate our institutions and insure diversity at the levels of faculty and administration.” [My emphasis]
Unfortunately, Arquette still hasn’t apologised for her comments nor has she adequately addressed the critique. Immediately after the backlash, she took to Twitter to acknowledge that women of colour are the most disadvantaged group. But then she promptly went back and kept tweeting about equal pay as if all women have it equally bad, thus erasing racial and other inequalities that she had evoked in the first place.
Most problematic of all, she is denying she has privilege because she says she lived “below the poverty line” as a child and because she was a single mother at age 20.
This still misses the point that no matter how tough she had it, women of colour have it much worse, with racism and other discrimination on top of gender inequity. Women of colour are twice as likely to be poor as White women. It is possible to use one’s privilege to shine a light on the pay gap, and still acknowledge intersectional inequalities without denying privilege. Arquette is simply ignoring power dynamics and racism, by lumping all the criticism she received as being unsupportive of equal pay.
Whatever good she thinks she’s doing, she’s also perpetuating other inequalities.