A Mixed Oscar Moment
For me, the high point of the overall tedious Academy Awards show this year was Lady Gaga channeling Julie Andrews in her 50th anniversary tribute to the release of The Sound of Music. She was nothing short of amazing, demonstrating her classical voice training and her love of American musical theater. It was pure entertainment, soaring and joyous.
Using this hugely viewed ceremony as a platform to draw attention to issues, Oscar winners talked about ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, and government invasion into the private lives of citizens and the status of Mexicans in their own country and as immigrants in the United States.
And there was Best Supporting Actress recipient Patricia Arquette, who read from prepared thank you remarks, which in addition to the usual shout outs to family and fellow cast members, included a plea for “wage equality once and for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.” At the moment she finished this sentence, the cameras panned on actresses Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez, who nearly leapt from their seats in support of her statement.
Even these few words have drawn some sharp critique, for example in the Vent column in our local daily newspaper from a reader who responded: “Sorry, Hollywood ladies, no sympathy here. If you don’t think you’re paid enough for a role, hold out for more or turn it down. But please stop whining while the rest of us are struggling.”
Background. While major Hollywood stars, male and female, are pulling in millions of dollars per movie, a hack into and then leak of Sony Pictures e-mails last year disclosed that A-list actresses Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were paid less than their male co-stars for the film “American Hustle.” The Wall Street Journal subsequently reported (Feb. 23) that women in the entertainment industry earn 85% as much as men, only slightly better than American women in other jobs, who last year made 82.5 cents for every dollar paid male workers.
The Journal published Labor Department data which showed that while the widest gap in weekly earnings are in law, with women bringing in 56.7% of what men earn, “gaps are found in nearly every profession, ranging from chief executive (70%) to food preparation (90.5%).”
In the same article, Brookings Institution economist Gary Burtless observed “I have never seen anyone who has done a fair-minded study who fails to see there’s a residual amount of discrimination against women.”
However, it was Arquette’s off-the-cuff remarks backstage at the Oscars that have caused far more negative reactions. Expanding on the need for equal wages and other rights, she called for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights (the ERA campaign many years back failed when it went to states for ratification), urging “all women in America and all the men who love women and all gay people and people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”
It was the last part of this comment that has distressed those of us who are working for justice and equity for all women and girls, ignoring and diminishing the rights of women of color and non-straight women, disenfranchising them from our common struggle.
This is what the Unitarian Universalist Association study and action initiative on reproductive justice is all about: including all women in our work, as well as welcoming male allies.