The American political Right has come to expect that Hollywood’s annual excess of self-congratulation will, as a matter of course, feature intermittent exhibitions of tired left-wing politics. Glamorous multimillionaires who win top honors in the most glamorous profession in America then transform stage into soapbox to complain about [insert faddish societal injustice]. So it was little surprise when Patricia Arquette took the occasion of her Best Supporting Actress victory Sunday evening to tout the need for wage equality: “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s rights. It’s time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” Backstage, she expanded: “It’s time for women in America and all the men, all the gay men, the people of color, to fight for us now.”This time, though, the inanities came later, and from people who you'd think would be supporters of the causes of the women of the fevered brow.
Set aside its historical illiteracy and generally sanctimonious air: Arquette’s comment was not much to get riled up about, and conservatives merely rolled their eyes.And it quickly degenerates. Here's fifteen minutes of fame for one Andrea Grimes.
But the remarks earned a fierce response from various quarters on the left, which knocked Arquette for what was evidently a basic ideological failure: “Patricia’s comments show the danger in not being hip to this whole intersectionality thing,” tweeted Tracy Clayton, a staff writer at Buzzfeed. “Women of color get erased.” Who is hip to “intersectionality”? A not insignificant number of Twitter users, apparently, who made sure to pile on.
There are four groups of people who exist in this speech. There are “women,” and there are “men that love women,” and there are “the gay people,” and “people of color.”Must be some kind of culture-studies dog whistle. Once upon a time, the Perpetually Aggrieved used to speak of the "multiple oppressions of race, class, and gender." This "intersecting iterations" jargon might mean the same thing, or there might be some new subtleties. There has to be a research opportunity for a regression-happy social scientist looking at income and wage inequalities: to the usual kitchen-sink of regressors add dummy variables for "identifies as lesbian" and the like; to get at the intersectionality interact the regressors, and if you're worried about closeted lesbians, well, we have latent variable techniques for that. Thus, a proper research project might capture within a margin of error the income penalty membership in some set of the oppressed identities bears.
That’s pretty bad in and of itself. Arquette thoroughly erases gay women and women of color and all intersecting iterations of those identities by creating these independent identity groups as if they do not overlap—as if, ahem, “all the women are white, all the blacks are men.”
But Arquette goes on to do even worse, which is to demand that “gay people” and “people of color” fight for “us,” a group that Arquette has specifically identified as non-gay and not of color—as very specifically straight and white and “woman.”
That's not something Tara Culp Ressler could follow up on.
Arquette probably intended to communicate that everyone should help each other progress, which is a nice enough sentiment. But, regardless of her intentions, her comments communicated that women have been left behind while progressives were too busy successfully advancing issues of LGBT equality and racial equality. And that form of “oppression olympics” rings especially hollow for women of color, since the very feminist issue that Arquette is talking about has clear racial implications.Or not, once attachment to the labor force, school completion, the rest of the Becker-Mincer kitchen sink enters the discussion. But hey, while the Perpetually Aggrieved are turning on each other, they're not making life more difficult for normal Americans. Heck, there's so much in this proto-Hillary speech that a man (gasp!) feels compelled to weigh in. First he issues a disclaimer.
Part of me is very hesitant to attack an actor I deeply respect for having the courage to say anything about the important issue of equal pay for women, and to judge her views on the basis of what surely must have been an adrenaline-spiked high backstage at an awards show. I’m also hesitant as a man to say something when a woman—or anyone—actually has the courage to even raise these issues on such a profoundly elevated public space. But something really does need to be said about this.But we apparently have an Oppression Olympics with non-overlapping rings.
What is so aggravating is that Ms. Arquette’s comments could best be described as “anti-intersectional.” When you speak of equal pay for women and call upon “all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve fought for, to fight for us now” it states pretty clearly that you see your struggle as one of straight, white, native-born women for equal pay, as if there aren’t masses of people who live beneath the weight of multiple labels that would benefit from such reforms. It would have been so easy for Ms. Arquette to say something like, “If we had laws in this country ensuring equal pay for women, it would mean equal pay for all women of color and all of our LGBT sisters.” But she chose instead a “we fought for you now you fight for us” approach to fighting oppression.We're a long way from the days of "an injury to one is an injury to all" and of the United Front.
Unfortunately this is not only cringe-inducing, but it’s also historically negligent. Saying “we fought for you, now you fight for us” implies that battles against racism, anti-LGBT bigotry and other forms of oppression owe a massive debt to the heroism of straight white, middle- and upper-class women.
It also blatantly ignores—instead of owning—the ways in which white-led middle-class feminist movements have in many instances historically ignored or even opposed the movements of workers, people of color and other oppressed groups. There are so many scholars and activists trying to actually own this history and change the ways in which people interact and organize in the future. It was difficult not to feel the pain of every person carefully trying to build those fragile alliances, only to have Ms. Arquette remind many precisely why those alliances need to be constructed in the first place.There's something of the Big-Endians and Little-Endians, or perhaps of the Upper Judea Liberation Front, in that sort of sectarianism. So I put it to you again: why are the social scientists letting Hollywood and the left media and the culture-studies types hijack the discussion?
This is a moment when the need for people to come together, fight with and for each other and most critically listen to one another, has never been more vital. No one is going to come together if they feel that they are not being heard. We should hear Patricia Arquette’s righteous and urgent call for fair pay. We should hope Patricia Arquette hears why that message will need a rewrite if she wants the support such a movement will demand.
It's all too much for Oliver Willis.
Along that way, it seems so often as if the left is not happy because while they got 70-80% of the cake, they didn’t get that 20% so nobody should have cake forever — until the mythical day we can get 100% cake (which is never coming and has never happened, ever in history).It's also too much for Brooke Sopelsa.
I'm being sarcastic. But on a serious note, this lesbian has been pushed to her breaking point by factions of our community launching attacks on well-meaning straight people. We are making many of our allies and potential future allies feel as though they have to walk on eggshells because they don't know the latest LGBTQIA lingo (full disclosure: neither do I), aren't properly addressing their "privilege" when doing something positive for the queer community or -- here comes the most egregious insult -- are asking gay people "When did you know?"I thought the latest aggregation was BLTGQUINOA but apparently even that has been overtaken by events.
Whatever. It's apparently easier to compare the perceived weight of vectors of oppression and throw around accusations of insensitivity or privilege, than it is to quantify them, or demonstrate the existence of intersections, or to characterize equations of motion and basins of attraction.