Patricia Arquette’s Feminism Has No Room For Me

by Casey Bruce

The fact remains, LGBTQ and women of color are not included in feminism.

I watched the 87th Academy Awards with the understanding of who would be celebrated that night—white men.

Diversity in Hollywood is a huge issue—we all know this. Reading the comedic and serious Tweets online from the brilliant #OscarsSoWhite hashtag reminded me of one specific Malcolm X quote: “…the South is no different from the North. Let me tell you the only difference. The white man in the South is a wolf. You know where he stands…Well, the only difference between the white man in the South and the white man in the North is that one is a wolf and this one is a fox. The fox will lynch you and you won’t even know you have been lynched. The fox will Jim Crow you and you don’t even know you’re Jim Crowed…”

For once, there was no pretending. The Academy did not pretend to honor talented actors and actresses of color with awards from just alright films and scripts as it had previously done. It touted its diversity problem loud and proud, as the whitest Oscars since 1998. I was prepared to watch the Oscars on Sunday night because I knew what I was getting myself into.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the stark reminder from Patricia Arquette that I did not belong in the feminist space she occupies. As a 20-something woman who found feminism early in my adulthood, I was disheartened by Arquette’s words that described achieving equality for women I was not privy too. After Arquette’s perfect acceptance speech for winning Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood, she had this to say backstage when asked to expound upon her speech: “It’s time for all the gay people and all of the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”

Pause. Like a literal pause.

I’m a young, African American woman. What does Arquette assume I do with my time besides fighting to obtain and maintain my basic human rights every day? And not just the singular right of being a woman, as Arquette does, but my rights as an African American and literally as a person.

What Arquette fails to realize is that people in the LGBTQ community and people of color are constantly defending our sexual orientation, culture, heritage, or identity. Complex issues of race and sexism make it so that we have to fight to be recognized as people who are worthy of life.

As a black woman I am up against health issues, where our maternal mortality rate is 3 times greater than white women; where we are 3 times more likely to attend a school that does not offer college preparatory classes; where we are 3 times more likely to experience death from domestic violence than white women; and despite being the largest group to occupy the labor force, we are more likely to work for poverty-level wages.

Where Arquette discussed her issue with the wage gap and fair pay, white women earn an average of 77 cents to a man’s dollar, where black women earn an average of 64 cents, and Hispanic women 54 cents.

In the summer of 2010, while interning at a feminist nonprofit, I officially declared myself a feminist, and I was so proud. I had longed desperately to feel included in a community of women who cared to lift one another.

That was 5 years ago, and to my own dismay, I have been disappointed with the movement and what it claims to be ever since.

That summer, one of the interns and a good friend of mine said to me, “I am a womanist because the feminist movement has no space for me.” Those words have stuck with me ever since.

I thought she was wrong. I knew the history of the feminist movement and it’s exclusion of LGBTQ and women of color, but my pride in belonging to this community kept me from truly appreciating her thoughts at that time. I thought feminism was for all of us.

I thought there was a space for her and for me.

The problem with Arquette’s feminism is that it puts white women’s needs before any other person’s needs, including LGBTQ, people of color, and even men.

The feminist movement isn’t about putting any other person’s needs before a woman’s, it’s about creating equality. It’s also not a tit-for-tat movement. “We fought for [you], fight for us now.”

This is not feminism.

The feminism I believed in had room for everyone to feel safe, included, and equal.

Arquette later clarified what she meant to say while interviewing backstage at the Oscars. We all expected it. I feared her response would continue to alienate the groups of people we should recruit for the movement, as she had alienated me.

There’s this quote I love from a white feminist, Clare Boothe Luce; it reads: "Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, 'She doesn't have what it takes,' they will say, 'Women do not have what it takes.' What Boothe Luce understood about the feminist movement was that her day-to-day actions, failures, and triumphs affected the movement intimately and deeply. Arquette failed to realize how a woman of her stature, with a long-running career of 28 years, being worth over $24 million, and being white, would affect how outsiders viewed feminism.

I thought of my friend and imagined her nodding her head in my direction saying, “See, Casey. I told you.”

As an African American woman, I am fighting every single day for people to respect my choice to identify as a feminist. I’m constantly prodding people to identify, to join the movement, to claim the title.

I wanted LGBTQ and women of color to forgive the movement for our exclusion in its past. I wanted them to know feminism was accepting of all of us, presently.

Listening to Arquette’s speech reminded me we are in fact, not included.
Casey Bruce is nonprofit communications professional by day, and an early-career freelance writer by night. She is passionate about women and girls rights, poverty issues, and storytelling.

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