Thank you Patricia Arquette!
Technically, Women’s History Month was created to pay tribute to the generations of women whose commitment to nature and the planet have proved invaluable to society. But I think the celebration should also salute women who are advocates of Women’s Rights.
Equal Rights Amendment: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex” – these words are the heart of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). In 1923, Alice Paul, a women’s rights activist whose suffragist campaign culminated in passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, wrote the ERA. Congress passed the amendment in 1972 and sent it on to the states for ratification. In 1982, it came closest to being ratified when thirty-five of the thirty-eight states required for inclusion in the Constitution passed it. The amendment has been reintroduced into (and defeated by) every Congress since then. In the 113th Congress (2013 – 2015), the ERA was reintroduced as H.J. Res 56 by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who continues to call for the prohibition of “denying or abridging equal rights under law by the United States or any State on account of sex” as it was originally proposed in 1923.
Equal Pay Act: On June 10, 1963, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, into law. The EPA “prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women in the same establishment who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions.” Administered and enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the EPA attempts to fulfill the aspiration of equal pay for equal work and reduce the gender pay gap.
Notwithstanding the EPA, in 2013, the gender pay gap (unadjusted), or “a measure of unequal pay for women compared to men,” is still prevalent and persistent in the U.S. When the EPA was signed in 1963, women earned on average 59% of what men were paid – that is, 59 cents for every dollar men made. Fast forward 50 years: women earn on average 77% of what men are paid, or 77 cents for every dollar men make. That is an increase of less than 4 cents per decade. A recent analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research on the trajectory of the gender pay gap from 1960-2012 is an excellent illustration of how progress in shrinking the gap has stalled since 2002. While many blatantly sexist discriminatory practices in the workplace might have dissipated or transmutated over the years, unequal pay has not.
Fair Pay Act of 2013: Introduced on Jan 29, 2013 in the 113th Congress, 2013–2015. Status: Died in a previous Congress and was not enacted. The Act sought to end wage discrimination against those who work in female- or minority-dominated jobs by establishing equal pay for equivalent work; it would have prohibited wage discrimination based on sex, race, or national origin. The Fair Pay Act made exceptions for different wages based on seniority, merit, or quantity/quality of work and contains an exemption for small businesses.
The gender pay gap affects all women, though it has never affected all women equally. According to a study that compared cross-racial/ethnic gender pay differentials in 2012, the median weekly earnings of women of all racial/ethnic groups were less than that of their male counterparts: 12% less among Hispanic or Latino/a, 10% less among African Americans, 19% less among Whites, and 27% less among Asian Americans. The median weekly wages of white men are higher than all others, as can be seen in this chart.
Brava to Patricia Arquette for raising awareness about this issue during the Academy Awards! She had the floor. It was her moment. She had just won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and she was giving her acceptance speech. She had less than one minute to thank her body of people but instead of focusing exclusively on her “Thank You’s”, she put on her activist hat and brought up the issue of wage and gender inequality. Here’s what she said:
“Jesus. Thank you to the Academy, to my beautiful, powerful nominees to…[portion omitted]…my heroes, volunteers and experts who help me bring ecological sanitation to the developing world with Givelove.org.
To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen 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.”
After she left the stage, later that evening she said to the press, “Equal means equal. The truth of it is the older an actress gets, the less money she makes. It’s inexcusable that we talk about equal rights for women in other countries and yet…we don’t have equal rights for women in America. 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.”
To those of you who criticized Patricia Arquette’s speech and post-show comments, Shame On You!
She was not complaining about her life and she was not being “anti-intersectional” [intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another]. This was not a keynote speech on feminism and gender like the one Emma Watson presented at the U.N. headquarters in New York this past September. Patricia Arquette earned her public platform at the Oscars and she CHOSE to speak up on behalf of ALL WOMEN, irrespective of color, sexual orientation, economic status, etc. And those of you who referred to her as a “wealthy woman wearing an expensive designer gown” instead of a “crusader” and analyzed her statements more deeply than a Shakespeare sonnet, shame on you even more! Come on everyone…you know what she meant!
Yes, she read her speech from a scribbled note and her post-show words may not have been as eloquent as they could have been but her message was clear. In order to end wage and gender inequality, everyone needs to be involved to make a change, including men, boys, women, girls, both genders! Patricia Arquette was not excluding or critiquing anyone. She was simply asking all individuals in our country, particularly those people who are part of groups who have likewise experienced inequality, to fight for wage and gender equality.
I guess it’s true that no good deed goes unpunished.
We need to stop holding equal rights advocates to an impossible standard of inclusiveness that is not applied to other social movements. Society’s expectation that when a woman like Patricia Arquette speaks about an issue of inequality that she herself has experienced, she must be speaking about the experience of all women, puts these women in a double bind that would have us not speak out at all.
Instead of tearing down women who raise awareness about important issues, let’s add more voices and perspectives to the conversation.
Lidia Szczepanowski, Esq.