Patricia Arquette Wasn’t Excluding Anyone In Her ‘Equality’ Acceptance Speech

When Patricia Arquette accepted her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress last night, she brought up equality for women and said,

“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

Later, backstage, she gave a statement to reporters. The sentence that has sparked debate is emphasized:

“I hugged her [Meryl Streep] afterward,” she said, “And she’s the queen of all actresses, patron saint of actresses. So, it’s amazing, but it is time for us. It is time for women. Equal means equal. And the truth is, the older women get, the less money they make. The more children ‑‑ the highest percentage of children living in poverty are female‑headed households. And it’s inexcusable that we go around the world and we talk about equal rights for women in other countries and we don’t ‑‑ one of those Superior Court justices said two years ago in a ‑‑ in a law speech at a university, we don’t have equal rights for women in America and we don’t because when they wrote the Constitution, they didn’t intend it for women. So, the truth is, even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are applied that really do affect women. 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.”

Oh my GAWD! The drama that followed.

We can expect it from the right. They pretend to embrace equality while they make up reasons why it will lead to the downfall of everything, blah. blah, blah. They will always protest.

Arquette is getting slammed by many from the left who are are not looking at the bigger picture. The arguments picking apart her comments are diluting the positive aspect of her overall message – the positive that we all need to run with.

She was talking about the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The text of the ERA:

Equality of rights under the law shall naot be denied of abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Many people believe the ERA was ratified into the Constitution decades ago. It wasn’t. When Arquette told reporters that “people of color” and “gay people” must fight for us now – she meant fight for the Equal Rights Amendment. Do you know who will benefit from the ERA? Everyone. Not one group. EVERYONE WILL BENEFIT. But not everyone is fighting for it. Only pockets of people scattered across the U.S. are currently fighting, and those groups are inclusive: men, women, African-Americans, Hispanics, gay people and on and on. They are fighting but we need more high-profile groups to specifically make it a part of their public platform.

What big, established LGBT group is pushing for the ERA? Have you heard the NAACP talking about the ERA? I haven’t. This isn’t a criticism. It’s an observation. Too many Americans have NO IDEA it wasn’t ratified. The ERA is what Arquette was specifically addressing.

I wish she would have said the words “Equal Rights Amendment.” But she didn’t. I am not going to waste time criticizing her. What’s the point? Who wins? Women? No. Black people? No. Hispanic people? No. Gay people? No.

Amanda Marcotte, a feminist writer for Slate, illustrated the feminist against feminist argument in her piece, Patricia Arquette’s Feminism: Only for White Women. Marcotte picked apart Arquette’s words and inferred that Arquette meant that gay people and people of color have not worked for women’s equality. While one could narrowly assume Arquette’s words were an indictment against those groups in their entirety, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand the point she was making – the point that I got as soon as I read her statement. And her point was that there has been no unified effort on the part of gay rights organizations or civil rights organizations that are presently and  vocally supporting the ratification of the ERA into the United States Constitution. Arquette was saying that women’s organizations have supported LGBT rights and the rights people of color, now it’s time for (all) women to have a place in the Constitution and for high-profile groups to publicly support it.

I imagine that I will be attacked because I am a white feminist defending another white feminist. But before you decide I am the devil, please look at my record. I believe all people, no matter who they are, deserve equality. I am not suggesting in ANY WAY that any one group is more deserving than another. The ERA is one leg of equal rights that will help the overall economy and help women and men who face gender discrimination. Especially those who are discriminated against the most – poor women of color.

Arquette had JUST WON AN OSCAR, and was met with reporters shoving mics in her face asking her questions. She was in a whirlwind. She didn’t know she would win. She was prepared in case she won. And when she did, she was nervous. She spoke for all women and we know this because she said, “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights…” She didn’t say “every white woman.”

Feminists do themselves a disservice when they nitpick people who are on their side. Her last sentence (again said in a whirlwind moment) could have been said differently – with that same intention – and not caused a stir. Have YOU always said exactly what you meant? Have you ever wished you could go back and re-word something? Especially when you have only good intentions, and people jumped to anger because they didn’t hear exactly what THEY thought you should have said?

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Patricia Arquette believes that every human being, no matter what color or sexual orientation they are, deserves equal rights. I’m also going to guess that she doesn’t think equality should only be enjoyed by white women or that white women are the only ones who have fought.

Arquette has done something that no one else has done in a LONG time. She has brought the Equal Rights Amendment back into the national conversation. That’s a GREAT thing. Now that it’s out there, let’s all be part of the dialogue. Let’s all work to make equality inclusive. Let’s not focus on nitpicking each other. There’s too much at stake.

And last, for those people who complain there are more important things to focus on than women’s equality, I’ll refrain from cussing you out and remind you that it’s an economic issue that affects everyone. When women are guaranteed equal pay in the Constitution, families earn more money. Women earn more money and thus receive more in retirement. The Equal Pay Act contains loopholes that allows employers to base a current salary on what was earned in a former position – it’s a legal manuever to get away with paying a woman less for the exact same job.

Rather than fight amongst ourselves, let’s use this as an opportunity to renew a national push for the ERA. All of us. It’s long overdue.

Arquette made a PSA for the Equal Rights Amendment a few years ago and you can see it HERE.

Equal Means Equal is a documentary by Kamala Lopez and it should be ready for public consumption sometime this year. It looks like a winner. Take a look at the trailer:


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Kimberley Johnson
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