In the scheme of celebrity feminism, I think Patricia Arquette’s disastrous backstage speech at the Academy Awards on pay equality will eventually become a verb. Think: Oh, she just “Arquetted” all over the place. It will be a new way to describe foot-in-the-mouth, probably-had-good-intentions-but-who-knows syndrome. As a refresher, here’s what Arquette said backstage in the press room after accepting her award for Best Supporting Actress:
And 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.
Many typing fingers have spilled blood on their laptops over those thirty-seven words as if the very foundation of feminism’s new moment had crashed and burned among the botoxed and hangry of Hollywood’s elite.
Arquette, however, has doubled-down on her cause. Last week U.N. Women launched its Planet 50-50 by 2030 — an initiative that aims for gender pay equity within the next fifteen years. Speakers at the New York event included Hillary Clinton, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Melinda Gates, Ban Ki Moon and, you guessed it, Patricia Arquette — who, I might add, didn’t Arquette all over herself this time. She nailed it.
As reported in The Cut, she talked about growing up in poverty without shoes and being a young, hungry mother:
People have asked me why I’m doing this, and it’s true, today I’m blessed, having some material success, for which I’m extremely grateful. But I have other truths, too. If I were to tell you as a child, there were times where I lived below the poverty line, literally not having shoes to wear that fit me, that would also be true. If I told you that I was a single mother at 20, and lived with my baby in a converted garage, and that I would worry about my baby’s nutrition while nursing, because I could only afford to eat macaroni and cheese mixed with water for a week so I could afford diapers, that would also be true.
And how the gender gap affects poor women of color:
So let’s be honest: We have in place fair-pay laws that are not ensuring fair pay to women. The effect of the gender gap is most oppressive for women of color. In the United States, Latina women working full-time are taking home 56 cents to every dollar earned by her male, white co-workers. In California, which is the seventh-largest economy in the whole world, that number dropped last year to 44 cents on the dollar. African-American women earn just 64 cents. White American women may now average 78 cents on the dollar.
And the LGBT community:
Countless lesbian women and women in the transgender community also suffer wage penalties that hurt them and their families. And the women in our transgender community are suffering even more; most are not even able to get a job.
Then, declared the movement:
This is about supporting families, and getting women what they have already earned for their own hard work. Hold your lawmakers accountable … We are a movement, and we are making changes for our daughters. We matter.
It’s important to note — especially for white women — that poverty doesn’t negate racial privilege. If you’re poor and white, you may be poor but you’re still white. You can come up faster, pass easier, and bootstrap in a way that’s not available to everyone else. Poor whites do have a specific experience — one that’s rarely acknowledged — and if you’re lucky enough to have a platform, use it to unite instead of divide folks into the Oppression Hunger Games. Essentially, that’s why so many fingers were typing: Arquette knows better so she has to do better.
I think she got that message, and she did better.