During a night jam-packed with the biggest names in Hollywood, it was one winner’s acceptance speech that made television viewers and award show attendees alike stand up and take notice.
After winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a single mother in Boyhood, Patricia Arquette took to the stage to send a message:
“To every woman who gave birth to every tax payer 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 spirited call-to-action was applauded by the audience and earned an enthusiastic reaction from the one and only Meryl Streep. Arquette’s speech comes at a moment when the issue of equal pay and rights for women is at the forefront of many minds, particularly after the Sony Pictures hack that released droves of emails some of which revealed dramatic pay inequality between leading women and their male counterparts, including even blockbuster stars like Jennifer Lawrence.
In the U.S., that pay gap is hardly restricted to Hollywood. A 2014 report from the World Economic Forum revealed that American women make only 66% of what their male equals do, ranking the U.S. 65th out of 142 countries when it comes to wage equality.
Last year, the University Press of Kentucky released an updated edition of a path breaking classic: A Woman’s Wage by Alice Kessler-Harris. The book explores the meanings of women’s wages in the United States throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and explains the historical reasons behind the unequal treatment of women in the workforce and strips away the arguments in favor of this discrimination.
Kessler-Harris focuses on many of the same issues that Arquette pointedly raised in her speech as well as in other interviews including the battle over minimum wage for women, the argument for equal pay, and the debate over comparable worth, exposing the relationship between family ideology and workplace demands and how the notion of the traditional family has changed over time.
In a new chapter for the updated edition Kessler-Harris goes even further. “A Woman’s Wage, Redux,” argues for a social wage that responds to a working family’s needs. This new social wage would help relieve the so-called double burden on women and make it easier for both men and women to successfully balance work and family life.
While there is still an unreasonably difficult battle ahead, Arquette’s speech is another reminder that while the arc of history may bend toward progress, it only does so at the behest of those who fight for it.