It is often highly contentious when one voice tries to represent oppressed people from all areas of life. Feminism is no exception.
Earlier this year, Boyhood actress Patricia Arquette received major backlash for her Oscar acceptance speech. In an attempt to clarify what her speech meant, Arquette added backstage that it was time for gay people and people of color, who have been fought for in the past, to join her in the fight for women in America’s right to equal pay.
Unfortunately, Arquette’s words only reinforced the reasons for the public outrage against her. Firstly, the actress seems to be suggesting that the struggles of gay people and people of color were somehow over, and it was up to them to take up a new battle. Secondly, her statement displayed the potential for feminism to exclude those who do not fit the dominant, white female narrative.
By virtue of mainstream culture, as well as other systems in place having been historically structured around white privilege, many aspects of our society favour white individuals. Because of this, people falling under this category have somewhat of an upper hand in their various endeavors. However, let me clarify that the existence of white privilege does not exempt minority groups from privileges of their own.
Patricia Arquette’s words only worked to reinforce the reason there was public outrage in the first place.
Take myself for example: an African male. By virtue of being a black man, it would seem as though I have the right to speak on the struggles of oppressed black men — however this thinking is flawed, and something I have previously had to check myself for. Having lived a relatively comfortable life, I cannot wholly communicate the plight of the millions of oppressed black men in the world.
With this reasoning, it is clear why statements like Patricia Arquette’s are flawed. She is indeed a woman, and speaks from the position of oppression — however, she also benefits from white privilege. The point is, the white female experience cannot be used as a blueprint to interpret all possible intersections.
Unfortunately, a lot of people are quick to claim that feminism is all-inclusive and uniformly covers all the bases. However, as white women have a wider platform than other women to speak on the issues, we still encounter this problem of exclusion. As an educated, cisgender person who enjoys relative economic safety, my perspective is similarly limited by my privilege. This is something everyone should consider when formulating an opinion on social issues.
I do not aim to speak for women on what they should or shouldn’t do with feminism. However, I feel like some aspects of the movement can and should be scrutinized, even by non-females. It is up to everyone to responsibly advocate for social causes and consider the space from which they do so.
The complexities of unequal social systems prove that there is still work to be done. Rather than shy away from doing the work, we should embrace these challenges as opportunities to grow.