Patricia Arquette, Patricia Arquette, Patricia Arquette

by profmagpie

Fredrick Douglas once told Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony, essentially, “Not now, ladies. It’s not your time.” This was while testifying in Congress for the ratification of the 15th Amendment, which gave the right to vote to black men. Patricia Arquette has been lighting up the cyber world since her comments at the Oscar, that maybe, just maybe, now it was our time. It is said that when folks react so strongly to someone’s political action, the actor is doing something right. Well, it seems Ms. Arquette is doing something right. Reaction to her comments have spanned the political spectrum. While the usual suspects have responded negatively, the most vocal group appears to be those who would logically support her claims. The main criticism is that she acted in an “anti-intersectionality” manner. Does the average person even know what that means?

It is a term that comes out of the post-modern feminist critique of feminism that didn’t address the oppressions of women all along the race, sexuality and class spectrums. In other words, it was a criticism of white, middle and upper class feminism. The liberal feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s did a lot to deserve that criticism, no doubt. But, Patricia Arquette isn’t a scholar of post-modern feminist theory. She is a woman who has an experience. Yes, her experience may be different than if she were a black woman or if she were a lesbian or if she were childless, but nonetheless, she has an experience. Her experience counts as much as anyone’s and to suggest otherwise is as demeaning as those white middle/upper class feminist of yesteryear (or today) who ignored the experience of women unlike themselves.

The fact is intersectionality called for an analysis of experience by using the varying status levels and the accompanying privileges that do or do not accompany those status levels. It did not, in any stretch of the imagination, call for a dismissal of certain women’s experience because they may (or may not) have enjoyed more privileges. To suggest otherwise demonstrates a novice understanding of intersectionality. It seems, actually, that several people took a women’s studies class in college and pulled out a big word to use as club. To what end, though, is puzzling.

Oppression, in these criticisms, appears to be understood as a zero-sum game, that there is only so much equality to go around and people who already enjoy some level of privilege will only take away equality from someone who enjoys less privilege. The fact is, in the words of Roxane Gay, if you live in the United States of America, you pretty much enjoy some level of privilege. Of course, it doesn’t take some kind of genius to know that there are plenty of people who enjoy very little but using the theory of intersectionality, there are many different ways one could be oppressed and still enjoy certain privileges.

To scapegoat Patricia Arquette because she chose to use some of her privilege (an actor at the Oscars) to point out some of her oppression is unfair, and in-fighting over who is most oppressed is counterproductive. The fact is there are many white middle/upper class women who fight vigourously for the rights of people of color, for the rights of lesbians and gay men, for the rights of working class people and people in poverty. The fact is equal pay for women means equal pay for all women regardless of race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or motherhood status.

The motherhood criticism is particularly interesting, that Arquette “left out” women who are childless or didn’t “give birth” to their children. Once again, the expectations are pretty high here, to demand a woman speaking passionately remember every particular category of woman and experience there could possibly be. In all honesty, even scholars aren’t good at that. But motherhood is a particularly salient status when it comes to equality. No matter how well meaning or intentioned men and women are about egalitarian parenting, the facts remain that it is mothers who still do the majority of child-rearing and mothers who are more likely to stay home with a sick child, take time off for rearing young children and to leave the workplace all together because of family responsibilities. Mothers make less in the workplace than childless women. Yet, mothers are necessary to a functioning economy- as Arquette pointed out in her allusions to taxpayers.

Criticism was levied about Republican Motherhood, that Arquette appealed to the citizenship of mothers, or more accurately, their children. This criticism misses because Republican motherhood required mothers to raise good citizens as a matter of patriotic duty. Arquette, in contrast, argues that women should be taken seriously as actors in the economic well-being of this country, and compensated appropriately.

Ultimately, none of these criticisms leads anywhere productive. Conservatives who might have vocally opposed Arquette’s call for equal pay don’t have to do anything except sit back and let traditionally oppressed groups fight it out amongst themselves. Who benefits from that? Those who benefit most from the status quo. Arquette called for a banding together of political actors in the fight for equality for the benefit of all. That she wasn’t as eloquent or exact as some would like her to be doesn’t mean what she said was invalid.