Patricia Arquette’s Comments Draw Praise, Unleash Controversy

Patricia Arquette Wins Oscars Supporting Actress

“Boyhood” supporting actress winner Patricia Arquette catapulted gender equality and the wage gap between men and women to the forefront of the media landscape while accepting her award at the Oscars on Sunday.

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

Those remarks touched off a debate that advocacy groups hope will rally the public to their cause and will put pressure on legislators, particularly at the federal level, to pass laws designed to end income discrimination. They note that women on average make 78 cents for every dollar a man earns, and the gap widens with age and extends to nearly every industry.

“We were very pleased to see her use the bully pulpit to take a stand on that issue,” said Lisa Maatz, VP of government relations at the American Association of University Women. “That’s a huge audience. The only thing that could do more to get the issue of gender pay equality in front of the whole country is if she had given her speech during the Super Bowl half-time show.”

Arquette’s remarks inspired loud applause from the likes of Oscar-goers Ethan Hawke, Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez and instantly went viral as the millions of people watching the telecast at home weighed in. Women’s groups say that the only times they have seen more buzz around the topic of income disparity was when Lilly Ledbetter, the activist who sued Goodyear for paying her less than male counterparts, addressed the Democratic National Convention in 2008 and 2012 and when President Obama took up the mantle of equal pay in this year’s State of the Union address.

Initially, Maatz said the Twitter and social-media buzz around Arquette’s comments was largely positive, but remarks the actress made backstage at the Oscars press room, during which she implied that gay people and people of color should throw their weight behind the issue because of women’s past support for civil rights issues, struck many as tone deaf. The resulting backlash has been intense.

Slate’s Amanda Marcotte wrote that Arquette’s comments ignored the fact that lesbians and women of color also struggle with the issue of pay inequality.

“That’s a troubling message to send at any point, but it’s particularly disturbing right now, when some of the ugliest attacks on women’s rights, particularly when it comes to reproductive health care access, are aimed at low-income women who are disproportionately women of color,” wrote Marcotte.

The Nation’s Dave Zirin also faulted the Oscar winner for getting her history wrong.

“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,” he wrote.

Activists hope that the furor over Arquette’s subsequent comments won’t drown out her message.

“Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished,” said Maatz. “There was a lot of truth and passion behind her statement. She’s not an expert, she’s not a policy wonk who lives and breaths the ins and outs of this issue. She said what she felt, even though she may not have articulated it perfectly.”

The actress herself has also tried to clarify her remarks, taking to Twitter Monday to argue she had not meant to be exclusionary.

“I have long been an advocate for the rights of the #LBGT community. The question is why aren’t you an advocate for equality for ALL women?,” she tweeted, adding, “Wage equality will help ALL women of all races in America. It will also help their children and society.”

Pay equality hasn’t been an issue that’s been widely discussed at awards shows and on red carpets, but it’s one that has the entertainment industry’s attention after leaked Sony Pictures emails revealed that actresses such as Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence earned less than their male co-stars.

“I don’t know if the speech would have happened had there not been the leaks of those emails highlighting that Hollywood is paying women less,” said  Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center.“One of the things that’s hard about fighting pay discrimination is it’s difficult to get hard numbers.”

In the aftermath of Arquette’s speech, groups such as the American Association of University Women have used social-media platforms to draw attention to her comments while simultaneously offering statistics about the pay gap.

Not everyone has been receptive. There have been snarky commentaries, such as one Washington Examiner op-ed entitled “Female millionaire claims American women don’t have equal rights,” that imply that Arquette’s wealth nullifies her message.

Maatz vehemently disagrees with that logic.

“People should get paid the same wages for the same work,” she said. “Even women who are making millions of dollars, are making millions of dollars less than their male counterparts.”

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  1. joshuasweatt says:

    As much as I appreciated the work of art created. I really get turned off by using an acceptance speech for a platform for a cause. Now to her point, I work at Robins Credit Unions and the transparency of pay is a none issue. Would like to see real world comparisons before we use such a platform.

  2. God, so sick of this MYTH. Women do NOT make much less than men for the same job. In fact, it’s like 5 cents less that can chocked up to variables, such as hours, skill-set, and training (never mind that little biological fact called maternity). The 70-whatever cent to the dollar thing is sheer and utter rhetoric.

    • John Cowan says:

      It’s true that “equal pay for equal work” has been substantially achieved. The glass ceiling, however, is still very much intact, if slightly more porous than before, which means that *in aggregate* women still make less because they are less likely to get the high-total-compensation jobs.

  3. Every time says:

    Why did I have the feeling when reading the title of this article that a story about gender equality would be quickly followed by a string of backlash comments?

  4. kinoeye says:

    Instead of worry about Hollywood paying women too little, why not focus instead on the fact that Hollywood is paying all actors too much?

  5. rico says:

    I’ve worked for large corporations for the past 30 years. I have worked for women executive and male executives. I have been in positions that allowed me to see payroll information for all employees. I have never seen a situation where a woman was making less than men in the same position. I have never seen two salary scales, one for women and one for men. I have hired women in positions whose starting salary was higher than men in the same position. I do not know how they calculate their statistics that show women paid less than men, but it usually is not for the same work and with the same qualifications. If more women are in lower paying clerical jobs as a percent of the total workforce than the statistic will show women getting paid less than men on an overall basis. People who work should and must get paid the same regardless of who they are and I believe that it is the norm today so why say that something is wrong when it is not.

  6. John Miller says:

    Advice to actors: Act. If you want to be in public policy, get your hands dirty and run for office, or become a member of an advocacy group. When you are advocating, you need to think through what you say before you say it. Actors work from scripts. When they go off script, you get what you get.

    • Inga McGrath says:

      Stop parroting that foolish comment. Actors/actresses who work in Hollywood have EVERY right to speak freely on political issues. The twits who run for public office should be called out for ias someone who runs for publicoffice to shape public policy. That’s the democratic process. Together we stand and every voice counts. Running for office is not a pre-requisite to free speech and influencing public policy.Nobody in their right mind would get involved in such a dirty business. Public servants who are only interested in serving themselves don’t get their hands dirtiy. I’m tired of people being dismissive towards celebrities who give their views. What Arquette said is true and anyone who slams her for speaking out should stop criticizing others when they are too lazy to step up to the plate. Lazy apathetic people are like a disease that’s been spreading all over the U.S. Lots of complaining while people sit back and expect others to fix what’s wrong. Is it any wonder the U.S. has been in a steady decline? Dumb and dumber isn’t just a movie title. It’s what the U.S. citizenry has turned into.

  7. occultology says:

    ‘Mo Money Blues’.

  8. Nope says:

    No. White women have disproportionately benefitted from Affirmative Action programs, but are the group the most likely to sue when some ‘undeserving’ minority gets that last spot in University admissions they may have just barely qualified for. I’m not fighting your causes for you, I have my own to worry about.

    • Nope says:

      I really need to clarify that – it just annoys me when I hear any ‘you owe us’ sentiment, especially when most people I know vote their conscience on individual issues and should be able to. Women are more likely to vote D, as are gays, and minorities. If you make that part of the platform you will get the support you desire without sounding like you are bullying people into it. The obvious overlaps already work in your favor. But personally, I don’t think rich actresses are the best people to deliver this message, as it looks like they are really just trying to get more money for themselves.

  9. Bridger says:

    Talk with Hillary. She underpaid the women on her staff. So……

  10. catherbo says:

    Dear Patricia Arquette, Thank you for saying something. Now, please DO something- on your next TV or film project, insist that your Director is a woman, your Producer, your writer, your editor, your sound mixer. You have the power.

  11. arteatromexperu says:

    Reblogged this on Arteatromexperu's Weblog.

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