Patricia Arquette came under fire after her acceptance speech at Sunday night’s Academy Awards. The freshly minted Best Supporting Actress stated, “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.” The statement was instantly applauded by some for its promotion of feminist goals, and decried by others for its implication that other social justice movements have had their turn and it’s time to move over.
Arquette is hardly the first renowned actress to spur discussion with her vocalization of feminist ideas. If you are ever in need of a laugh, a smile, or a spine, just listen to some of Katharine Hepburn’s old interviews. Emma Watson, famous for her role in the Harry Potter franchise, gained fame last autumn when she spoke as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and launched the He for She campaign, an effort aimed at mobilizing a billion men and boys against violence and discrimination toward women and girls. Both celebrities’ actions prompt the same question, one that has simmered in the feminist movement since its inception: who gets to be a feminist? Inclusion and exclusion from the movement has been an issue since feminists opposed the 14th Amendment that granted former male slaves the right to vote in 1868. Here’s how I see this issue, in the two contexts that have been garnering media attention:
- Racial Minorities
It should be obvious that pitting feminists against activists striving for racial minorities is a death sentence for both. Legislators and private sector leaders interested in maintaining the status quo will find it much easier to do so if collective action is focused on one-upping the “other,” rather than pursuing our policy goals. Feminism is about our identity as humans; women should be experience equal economic, political, and social opportunities as men do because we are all humans. How do you separate being a woman from being a person of color? Or separate being lesbian? Or coming from a high socioeconomic background rather than a low one? Or being an adherent to a religion, or a believer in none at all? Philosophies and their associated activists who strive for equality should not be making humans choose which parts of their identity are the most worth fighting for. Newsflash: they all are.
I have talked to many men who are genuinely interested in achieving feminist goals. Some of them have read every text available, attended dozens of marches, written their representatives a thousand times, and regularly engage in challenging discussions. Others of them have never touched feminism, the ideas just make sense to them. As feminists, I don’t think we should bar the gates to the movement and only admit men who can recite at least 3 pages of The Feminine Mystique. Meet people where they are. The first thing someone must do to be a feminist is believe that women deserve the same political, social, and economic opportunities as men. Period. Being well versed in the issues and unafraid to discuss them is a critical next step toward effecting change. But step one is to care. If you don’t care, and you don’t acknowledge that I should not be denied opportunities for which I am qualified based on my gender, then I don’t care how intellectually qualified you are to be a feminist. You are not my ally.