Feminists fought hard for the English language to acknowledge that not all humans are male ..., so why do we fight women of color who balk at defining women as a similar monolith? - Shannon Drury
by Shannon Drury
As a parent of a certain age, I haven't had the stamina to watch award-worthy films since the 20th century, so when "The Lego Movie" was snubbed for Best Animated Feature, I knew I would probably skip watching the Academy Awards in February.
But as a feminist keeping up with the 21st century, I witnessed my Twitter timeline explode with the news that Patricia Arquette, an award winner for her role in "Boyhood," used her 30 seconds in the worldwide spotlight to call for "pay equity once and for all." Wow! When was the last time you heard someone talk about pay equity on television? Network television?
Behind the scenes, as she faced the press with the Oscar in her hand, Arquette expanded on her remarks, saying: "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."
Uh oh. I was immediately reminded of Gloria Steinem's Jan. 8, 2008, New York Times op-ed that declared "Women Are Never Front Runners." It was a lament against Barack Obama's ascendancy that included the observation that "gender is probably the most restricting force in American life," which probably made sense to Steinem's (male) editors but didn't resonate with anyone of any color or gender who has ever tried to support a family with wages from Wal-Mart. I would venture to guess that this op-ed introduced more people to the concept of "intersectionality" than an army of tenured women's studies professors.
Intersectionality is the understanding that various forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, classism and/or homophobia, do not exist independently of one another. The idea demands recognition of what should be terribly obvious: that many of the "gay people" and "people of color" Arquette mentioned in her speech are women, too. When these intersections are erased, so are lives, histories and truths that are essential to a healthy, vibrant movement.
Erasure occurs when the figure cited about the gender pay gap is 78 cents to every man's dollar, when that figure is what is earned by white women. The latest research from the American Association of University Women reveals that black women make 64 cents and Hispanic women make 54 cents. Feminists fought hard for the English language to acknowledge that not all humans are male (when was the last time you heard the term "fireman"?), so why do we fight women of color who balk at defining women as a similar monolith?
Writing in response to the controversy for the website The Broad Side, Veronica Arreola stated plainly that "white feminists need to remember that intersectionalism is a requirement, it is not optional." I learned that lesson myself in 2008 when I wondered why Steinem, one of my heroes, was getting bashed all over the Web. "She meant well," I said. But when I stopped defending and started listening, I realized how much harm was being done with noble intentions.
Casting a harsh light on the comments of an excited Hollywood star might seem the worst kind of nitpicking, and many accused critical feminists of "eating their own," but I would rather spread Arquette on toast than disengage from the tough work of dismantling oppression in all its forms.
As Tegan and Sara (twin sisters who happen to be "gay people"!) sing on "The Lego Movie" soundtrack: "Everything is awesome! Everything is cool when you're part of a team!" As the feminist movement evolves, the feminist team expands.
THAT is awesome.
Shannon Drury's political memoir, "The Radical Housewife: Redefining Family Values for the 21st Century," was published recently by Medusa's Muse Press. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.