By Jackeline Durón
The Academy Awards on Feb. 22 made headlines because of Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress in “Boyhood.” In her speech, she advocated for wage equality and women’s rights stating, “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s rights, it is our time to have wage equality, once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
In a backstage interview she added, “It’s time for all the women in America and all the men who love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve fought for, to fight for us now.”
As a feminist, I was overjoyed to hear a woman fighting for equal rights on a huge platform like the Oscars, but as with most mainstream feminism, she was advocating for white, heterosexual, cisgender women — women whose gender identity matches their assigned sex at birth. Mainstream feminism is the type of feminism that is almost exclusively talked about in the media and almost always focuses on white women at the expense of women in other socially stratified groups.
It is the feminism that celebrates the sexual freedom of Miley Cyrus and Lena Dunham but tears down Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé. It is the feminism that thinks Muslim women need “saving from their oppressive hijabs” without acknowledging the cultural differences that exist. It is a feminism that disregards that whiteness is a privilege that many women do not possess.
By stating that “gay people and all the people of color that we’ve fought for, to fight for us now,” Arquette is advocating mainstream feminism. She’s stating that both of these groups have somehow gained equal rights in our society, and it diminishes the combined collaborative efforts between the groups.
Furthermore, it excludes women of color and LGBT+ women from the conversation. As a Latina woman, I fight for women’s rights in addition to fighting racism and the racist institutions that hinder people of color. I am not solely my ethnicity or my gender, but a combination of the two. Women have intersecting identities that cannot be viewed only through one category.
In fighting for wage equality, mainstream feminist media advocates resort to the default statistic that women make 77 cents to a man’s dollar, but again, this is only for white women. According to Service Employees International Union, African-American women earn 61 cents for every white man’s dollar, and Latina women earn merely 52 cents.
Likewise, the Center for American Progress found that same-sex couples make about 20 percent less than straight couples, and transgender people have a poverty rate that is four times that of the general population. Income inequality needs to be addressed, but it has to take into consideration the many identities of women.
In addition, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, between 25 and 50 percent of women experience gender-based violence; women of color are more likely to experience this form of violence than white women. Furthermore, bisexual women are more likely to experience sexual assault than other women, and according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, transgender people are 28 percent more likely to experience physical violence than cisgender people.
However, mainstream feminist discourse is centered on white, heterosexual women. By not recognizing multiple oppressions, mainstream feminism erases and fails to address the issues of women whose multifaceted identities make them even more vulnerable to inequality.
Mainstream feminism does not reflect the realities of all women. What it accomplishes is silencing the voices of women in other oppressed groups while catering to white, cisgender, able-bodied, middle and upper class, heterosexual women. Through the use of intersectional feminism, different systems of oppression are recognized and combated for the benefit of all women.
Feminism is a movement for the social, political, and economic equality for women, but mainstream feminism is catered to white women only. That is not feminism; it is not a “one-size-fits-all” movement. A movement for women cannot exclude women of color, queer women or any other women in marginalized groups as Arquette’s feminism does. As feminists, we must recognize our privileges and use them to aid those who are ostracized. Intersectional feminism is the only way to truly build solidarity between women and to include all women in this movement.
Jackeline Durón studies Spanish. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.