At Sunday night’s Academy Awards, Oscar winner Patricia Arquette used her moment at the podium to speak out for women’s equality. Accepting the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Boyhood, Arquette said,
To every woman who gave birth to every citizen and taxpayer 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.
Backstage, Arquette elaborated on her plea:
It is time for women. Equal means equal. It’s inexcusable that we go around the world and we talk about equal rights for women in other countries and we don’t … have equal rights for women in America. … People think we have equal rights; we won’t until we pass … the [Equal Rights Amendment] once and for all.
Here at Ms., we were thrilled to see Arquette throw her weight behind the ERA. We wrote about the renewed fight for the Constitutional amendment in our most recent issue—and we’re fighting hard to see it pass.
Arquette’s ideas about women’s equality are on point, but she did continue with some unfortunate remarks backstage: “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.”
Hold up. Oppression isn’t cordoned off by race, class, gender or sexual orientation; it’s structural and multi-layered. That means women of color, queer women and gay black men, for example, face multiple oppressions—and experience those oppressions concurrently. Arquette seemed to overlook the fact that there are women in those groups of “gay people” and “people of color.”
Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in an intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination. … But it is not always easy to reconstruct an accident: Sometimes the skid marks and the injuries simply indicate that they occurred simultaneously, frustrating efforts to determine which driver caused the harm.
We all must keep feminist writer Flavia Dzodan words in mind while we’re fighting for women’s rights: “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!”
But Arquette is certainly right: What American women—of every race, class and sexual orientation—need now is Constitutionally enshrined equality, and that means an Equal Rights Amendment.
The ERA was first introduced in Congress in 1972 and was approved by the House and Senate. But because Constitutional amendments require ratification by 38 states—and the ERA fell short by three—the amendment never became part of the Constitution. Now, Rep. Jackie Speier (D.-Calif) and Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) have proposed resolutions that would remove the ratification deadline, creating an opportunity for three more states to ratify the ERA and reach the 38-state threshold. Also, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) have authored bills that mirror the language of the original ERA. Theirs would require Congress to pass the ERA again and send it to the states for ratification (in other words, start the process over).
Feminists support both proposals—how we get the ERA doesn’t matter, but enshrining gender equality in the Constitution does. It’s the beginning of a strategy to untangle the intersectional web of oppression that ensnares so many Americans. Equal pay doesn’t just affect the upper echelons of Hollywood—low-wage workers, disproportionately women of color, deserve fair wages.
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