The Oscars: Patricia Arquette and Sean Penn Become Twitter Fodder

Patricia Arquette and Sean Penn are the latest celebrities to go through the meat grinder that is Twitter. They’ve landed themselves there after making some unfortunate comments that really didn’t need to be made.

After winning the Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Boyhood, Arquette made some remarks that were actually in line with what a lot of people think; that women should have equal pay to men.

It was after she got off stage that she put her foot in her mouth. Backstage, she said:

WHUT? I’m supposed to fight for you for what? I’m still fighting for myself because the last time checked, I’m still black and have a weight of problems that I didn’t ask for on me. Why do I have to help a now-privileged person like Patricia Arquette? I get we’re all supposed to be helping each other with equal pay, but the sentiment Arquette said backstage sounds way too…important. Maybe, if I give her the benefit of the doubt, she didn’t mean it this way, since otherwise, she seems like a nice, free-thinking lady, what with being raised on a commune and all . But, everything she said can be rebutted with what I wrote in my read of Ester Bloom, specifically this part:

If I’m psychoanalyzing her, Bloom seems to be a classic “white feminist,” a term that could be considered a pejorative, but it’s meant to describe a white woman who rightly believes in feminism, but wrongly believes that every woman should adhere to her ideas and philosophies about feminism. Regardless of race, class, or other background markers, this particular brand of feminist believes that every woman should idolize Fey, Poehler, Dunham, et al., be a slave to Girls, and that Beyonce is the only black feminist worth listening to. (I have a separate beef about Beyonce in the feminism discussion, but that’s for another time.)

This limited view of feminism doesn’t even begin to recognize that minority women have very different views of womanhood and feminism. Every woman period has different ideas of what defines them as a woman, to be honest. But white feminism largely ignores that. For instance, instead of understanding a Muslim woman’s decision to wear a hijab or a burqa, they declare the articles of clothing the enemy and proceed to “liberate” (i.e. bully) women from them. Meanwhile, the argument that gets lost in the discussion is that many women use the burqa and hijab as their own form of feminism. Some use the burqa for the literal and figurative cover it provides the user to keep out of the government’s clutches and fight for women’s rights, like Parween, a women’s activist and a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Others use the hijab to focus more on spiritual wholeness and as a way to rail against Western beauty ideals. Women also use the hijab to step away from the hypersexualized world and reclaim their sisterhood. In all of these scenarios, the decision to wear the burqa or hijab took a lot of deep thought, including the consideration of the meaning the patriarchal society has put on these items of clothing.

and this part:

The limited view of feminism certainly doesn’t take into context the fact that historically, white women have had more rights than black women have had. Even though it’s supposed to be a “We’re all in this together!” mindset, white women have and are historically rewarded for being human while black women still have to climb out of the hole of stereotypes the racist past of America (which was also upheld by white slaveowners’ wives) put us in.

Let’s take a trip back to slavery, shall we? We know the basic rules—whites were on top, blacks were on the bottom. But the part that often seems to get left out of the discussions is how white women helped uphold the tradition of slavery. It wasn’t just the slaveowners who were racist; the wives themselves were racist. Don’t even mention the fact that the women were also simultaneously angered of black women’s supposed “sexual ways” and disgusted by their husbands’ raping of these women and fathering children with them.

There will always be that one person who will bring up an anecdote about how a slaveowner’s wife helped a female slave take care of her child or became friends with the slave or something like that. This isn’t the norm, and stories like these, however true, only serve to placate white guilt. The real truth is that these women often doled out just as severe of punishments to slaves as their husbands did.The Guardian‘s Hadley Freeman quotes scholar Thavolia Glymph,who wrote that “physical punishment seems to have occurred much more frequently between mistresses and slaves than between masters and slaves.” The white women had no outlet for power, unlike their husbands, and so to show their superiority, they used the only way they knew how, which was to brutalize the slaves, especially the women who might tempt their husbands. And, just like their husbands, they would exoticize black men, use them, and then cry for help, stating that a sex-crazed, untamed n*gger had raped them, leading the black man to his death. The paper “Sexual Relations Between Elite White Women and Enslaved Men in the Antebellum South: A Socio-Historical Analysis” by Jacqueline M. Allain, gives proof to this fact.

“…an upper-class woman under suspicion of an affair with a slave could ‘readily invoke images of chastity in order to allay trouble for herself’-or in other words, accuse the slave of rape (Hodes, p. 135). Because black men (like black women) were seen as inherently lustful and prone to sexual vice, for an elite woman to have illicit sex with a black rather than a white man might have been a slightly saver bet; it was easier to blame a black man of rape than a white man.”

Michaela Angela Davis’ article for Jezebel, 12 Years A Slave: Privilege, Black Women and White Women takes on the task of succinctly explaining why today’s women’s lib movement can’t gain real ground until black and white women have honest talks about the wound slavery caused.

“The relationship between the mistress and the slave woman was so poisoned from its inception it could never be healed, they could never trust, they could never work for liberation together. Is this our original sin? Could this be at the root of why Black women were cut out of the American suffrage movement when it came time for voting rights for women? Why many white abolitionist women turned their backs on the violence against southern Blacks to secure their own right to vote?…Is this wicked characterization of Black women as illiterate harlots permanently seared into the psyche of white women? Is this why the feminist movement has primarily been reserved for white women of privilege?…Women’s movements can’t move in America until we have courageous honest discourse about the sadistic historic foundation of the relationship. We were systematically cultured to distrust and envy each other. We were never meant to be sisters.”

But, in case you want to cut to the quick and see what the people’s reactions were, here you go:

Sean Penn was also roasted by Twitter as well. Before stating Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s  Birdman as the Best Picture winner, he stated, “Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?” Despite Iñárritu himself saying that he thought the joke was hilarious and that they supposedly have that kind of relationship, Twitter erupted with a mountain of criticism on Penn’s tone-deaf “joke,” especially since a lot of us have had that friend or acquaintance (usually white) that makes an off-color or racist joke, and then expects us to laugh it off as a joke, when the joke is really another example of racial privilege. Here’s what the Twitter denizens had to say:

#OscarsSoWhite already showed how awful people were expecting this year’s Oscars to be, and it would appear that it actually did turn out to be pretty awful. What did you think of these moments? Give your opinions in the comments section below!