Although last night’s Golden Globes celebrated the silence breakers who spoke up about sexual abuse and assault, the entire conversation was dominated by white women, and more importantly, controlled by a white narrative.
This is unsurprising given the historical dominance of white women in American feminist movements, but with the recent discussions of intersectionality and greater public awareness of the disproportionate impact of sexual harassment and assault on women of color and working-class women (as well as LGBTQ women, which were not mentioned at any time in the night), I had hoped that these complicated conversations would have appeared in the actual content of the show. Instead, they were red carpet fodder at best.
The overwhelming whiteness of these protests (despite the contrasting visibility of #whywewearblack) was particularly evident in three themes throughout the night:
1. Women of color and working class women were used as props.
Leading up to Sunday night, much was made about the fact that eight actresses would be bringing activists as their guests to the Golden Globes. In looking through the actresses and the activists, all of the actresses were white and most of the activist were not white.
The guest activists were brought to draw attention to sexual harassment within industries for whom the victims are not household names: domestic workers, farmworkers, restaurant workers, and political prisoners, as well as Native American women and minority women outside the US. Although these women had an opportunity to speak to press on the red carpet, when the time came for their hosts to take the stage, their names, their efforts, and their messages were functionally absent. Instead, they served as the Black/Asian/Latina friends when the camera panned to these white actresses.
To further demonstrate the lack of representation and education in this spectacle of visibility, Connie Britton’s shirt “Poverty is Sexist” was widely mocked on Twitter. The statement is true: poverty disproportionately impacts women more than men, but audiences’ inability to ask (or Google) the information behind her statement reveals that visibility is not enough; the meaning behind token gestures go unexplored even when all of the world’s information is literally at our fingertips.
2. Most of the best actress categories featured all white women, a fact that went unacknowledged.
This sidekick status of women of color was reinforced by the disparity in diversity in the categories themselves, a point raised superbly by Viola Davis in her Emmy acceptance speech in 2015: “You cannot win an [award] for roles that are simply not there.”
All of the nominees in 5 out of 7 best actress categories were white (i.e., Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama; Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy; Best Actress in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for TV; Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for TV; Best Actress In A TV Series, Drama), whereas the Best Actress in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture featured mostly women of color (NOTE: the other 2 nominees were white women over 55; age is an important intersectional category). In addition, shout out to Issa Rae who was the only woman of color nominated for Best Actress in a TV Series, Musical or Comedy.
Although this was discussed by some prior to the event, the lack of discussion on stage became even more evident when Natalie Portman was celebrated for her seemingly unscripted remark about all-male director nominees. I don’t recall anyone at the event commenting about the all-white nominees in these best actress categories.
3. The rhetoric of the wage gap continued to only describe disparities between white women and men.
Although not the focus of the night, the wage gap featured prominently in several red carpet interviews and in presenter banter. According to Jessica Chastain, the winner of Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama would “receive the 23% of her salary that went missing in the wage gap.” I immediately yelled back at the television, “The white wage gap!”
The wage gaps between Black, Latino, Asian, and Native/Indigenous men and women are much smaller, and, compared to white men, Hispanic women earn 46% less and Black women earn 37% less. Furthermore, Black, Latino, and Native/Indigenous men earn less than white women on average. I constantly ask my students to think about this every time they hear “the number“ that supposedly represents the pay gap among all women. But upon further reflection I realize that they were only white women in this category so maybe it was appropriate.
In the end, Oprah cannot save us all.
This colorblind (or maybe just blind) approach to sexual harassment, assault, opportunity, and justice, became glaringly evident when the great Oprah took the stage. Centering a story about the intersectionality of racism and sexism, Oprah used her time not just to talk about the experiences of the women in the room, but to raise awareness regarding the experiences of women who could not be in the room. Of course, this is the greatness that is Oprah. #thankyouoprah
I am glad this conversation has begun, and I’m glad that the arguments against sexual assault had such a presence in Hollywood, which is literally the most visible industry. I hope that the protest of wearing black on the part of women and men and speaking out on these issues will continue throughout the entire 2018 award season. However, we must acknowledge the massive gaps in the conversation that go unspoken: different women are impacted differently by the abuse of power, which is in itself intersectional.
Sadly enough, SNL called out these disparities better in one skit than the Hollywood Foreign Press did in three hours of rotating celebrities.