On Sunday night, Patricia Arquette took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her 12-years-in-the-making performance in “Boyhood.” Afterwards, she made an impassioned speech calling for wage equality for men and women. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” she said.
And in the day-plus since- in which should be probably the happiest days of her life- she’s done nothing but catch hell, all for sticking her neck out on behalf of a political cause:
A few thoughts on this:
1. Patricia Arquette winning the Oscar SHOULD be a great story. She’s had a long career, and this is her first Oscar. She won “Boyhood”‘s only Oscar. She’s from a huge family of actors, none of whom have won a statue before. She was in a murderers’ row of great actors in “True Romance,” and besides Christopher Walken, she’s the only one to win an acting Oscar (Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman, James Gandolfini, Dennis Hopper, Samuel L. Jackson, Christian Slater, Val Kilmer- all Oscar-less.)
2. On top of that, one of the things we hear most from women in Hollywood is that there aren’t enough good roles for women, especially not for women of a certain age. This is true and has been for a long time. And now, here’s Arquette, whose career hasn’t exactly been on fire lately, winning an Oscar at age 46.
3. What Arquette said is right, and because she said it, we’re talking about wage equality today when we may not be otherwise. For that, she deserves at least some measure of credit.
4. However, the backlash has been swift. For one critique of Arquette’s comments from the left, we turn to the New Republic’s Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, whose piece is titled, you guessed it, “The Problem With Patricia Arquette’s Oscar Speech.” Her argument is that Arquette’s comments should have been directed more towards overall class equality, rather than merely gender:
And there’s more. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and to fight for equal rights for women in America,” Arquette went on, evidently referring to the struggle to match women’s wages to men’s in the American labor market. The gender wage gap certainly exists, with working women making on average 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. On the other hand, Wonkblog reports that the average CEO makes 350 times what the average worker does, and America still has no federally mandated living wage. Consider Wal-Mart’s well publicized wage hike, for example: If in 2016 all its lowest paid male and female employees make $10 per hour as pledged, none of them would be making enough to raise a child alone even in my disaster zone of a hometown in Tarrant County, Texas. For women to have any kind of genuine economic independence, wage equality will have to be predicated upon either a living wage or transfer programs that raise everyone’s income to a reasonable standard.
So in other words, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig is saying that Patricia Arquette should have made Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig’s argument, instead of making Patricia Arquette’s argument. Because, in the short time allotted for an Oscar acceptance speech, Arquette made a specific liberal political argument instead of a specific other liberal political argument, it’s a “problem.”
5. I’m really not enjoying this liberal tendency to let the perfect be the enemy of the good and smack down allies for not making the exact right word choice at every moment. It’s hard to imagine a more effective way to turn off potential allies.
6. Arquette’s other Oscar night comments- in which she called on her African-American and gay allies to back her cause when she backed theirs, were somewhat more tone-deaf and less defensible:
“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.”
Tone-deaf, yes. But it sounds to be like someone who’s probably relatively new to this particular strain of political activism and feminist thought, and may not have read the relevant texts. It doesn’t strike me as someone arguing in bad faith or dismissing the concerns of others.
7. Of course, the right-wing backlash to Arquette’s comments has been even worse. It’s been a combination of the usual anti-Hollywood and anti-feminist resentment to denialism about the gender wage gap to the old anti-limousine liberal charge that Arquette has no standing to call for equality when she’s wealthy herself.
This tweet from Philadelphia hockey writer Sam Carchidi was typical:
Patricia Arquette demands equal pay for women. She has a net worth of $24 million, per published reports.
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) February 23, 2015
Come on, man. Arquette wasn’t claiming hardship on behalf of herself (not that she hasn’t been underpaid in her career.) And isn’t being a wealthy person speaking out on behalf of the afflicted preferable to being a wealthy person who doesn’t?
8. Everyone seems to be citing that $24 million net worth figure, which comes from Celebritynetworth.com. Uh, who the hell is Celebritynetworth, and how do they arrive at their figures? They don’t show their work, and unless the site somehow has access to Patricia Arquette’s bank statements, I have no reason to believe their estimation of her net worth is in any way accurate.
9. What’s the result going to be, of Arquette raising what should be a relatively un-controversial political opinion, and getting attacked from all sides as a result? The next time a prominent person decides to speak out about a political cause, maybe they’ll decide it’s not worth it and keep their mouth shut instead.
10. In all, what would you consider more “problematic”- Patricia Arquette, in her pro-equality speech, not perfectly capturing all of the nuances of intersectional thought, or this?
Somehow, I just don't feel as bad about that beating Gandolfini gave her in True Romance. #Oscars
— Anthony Cumia (@AnthonyCumia) February 23, 2015
I don’t think it’s particularly close.