Monday, February 23, 2015

Equality for All, and Compassion for Allies Who Need a Little Help Expressing Support

At last night's Oscars' Patricia Arquette received the award for her performance in Boyhood, and used the podium as an opportunity to highlight the need for equal pay for women saying, "It's our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women", resulting in re-tweets and love across the internet.  Unfortunately, when she was asked to elaborate on that proclamation, her follow-up left some subtlety and understanding of ongoing issues to be desired.  She said

"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 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."

First, I'm not sure who, besides religious watchers of Fox News believe that the laws that are meant to give us equal rights are actually getting the job done, and following the events in Ferguson, I think anything that was below the surface is not.  Whether the attention has provoked the right actions remains to be seen, and I think is doubtful.  But I think the language everyone's really keying into is how Arquette has asked "gay people" and "people of color" "to fight for us now". 

Pundits leaning to the far right of the political spectrum have already chimed in to tear Arquette down for raising this issue at all.  Just look at Stacey Dash saying she was “appalled” by Arquette’s comments.  Meanwhile, more distressingly, at the same time pundits on the right dismiss her comments as too left leaning, those on the left of the political spectrum have fallen over themselves to tweet, write articles, and in other ways tear down, or "attack" Arquette for flubbing her followup comments and implying positions that any . In the same way that Stacey Dash suggests that equal pay for women is not something that needs more attention because of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Arquette seems to exclude gay women and women of color from the pool of women fighting for pay equality, as well as imply that since gay rights and the civil rights of people of color have received a lot of attention in the past year, that those struggles are "done" so all those people should now turn their attention to women. While that implication is troubling (and to my mind, patently false), I don't think what she implied was what she meant, or that what was implied are beliefs she actually has.

 Instead I think this is a symptom of an actor, who possesses earnest intentions, yet is not a scholar of equality issues, and flubbed an unprepared follow-up statement.  Not that Arquette believes that the issues of race, gender, and sexuality in our country have been "fixed", though almost certainly her comments demonstrate that she could use a more nuanced understanding of equality issues so she can frame her advocacy better. At the same time I think people who feel they understand these issues better need to be careful and empathetic in how we address that shortcoming.  

So it troubles me that in Dave Zirin’s response to Arquette’s poorly framed words, he sets his concerns up by saying “part of me is very hesitant to attack an actor I deeply respect”.  To me the liberal response to Arquette's words has felt a little too much like twitter-shaming, and I'm reminded of the article on Justine Sacco's tweet that Jon Ronson wrote earlier this month.  It seems everyone fighting for justice is just a little too eager to jump on people, even people who are really allies, who simply need more education to be better allies.  How about keeping the respect and ditching the “attack”? Far too much of what I’ve seen of the coverage of Arquette’s comments has been about people’s frustration and anger or desire to “correct” and “revise” Patricia Arquette’s words or attack her as a person.  Even if she didn't get things quite right last night, it's clear that she's aware of the struggles gay women and women of color face.  As she confirmed implicitly by the latest posts on her twitter account, what her quote seemed to imply is not what she meant.

Over at Slate, Amanda Marcotte even goes so far as to say that Arquette's words are "bad for the cause".  How can anything that generates as much press and discussion, on twitter, in articles, on facebook, and other places about feminism and equal rights, such as Patricia Arquette's words be considered bad for the cause?  It strikes me that what's really bad for the cause is the rush to berate and belittle and name call people who are clearly allies, but are not as well-informed and well-spoken about these issues.  

I think we can acknowledge that, even if she did not do it in the best way, or if her comments bear clarification, Arquette is worthy of praise for using the platform that winning an Oscar gave her to address an important social justice issue.  Rather than taking a caustic approach to Arquette’s comments, I think this provides us with a wonderful opportunity to address and properly frame the dire need for equal pay for all, and highlight other struggles for equality.  

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