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Sunday 17 December 2017

Deirdre O'Shaughnessy: What do Patricia Arquette and Noirin O'Sullivan have in common? Quite a lot ...

Patricia Arquette
Patricia Arquette
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan

"To every woman who gave birth...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 USA."

Ok, so it wasn't very eloquent. But Patricia Arquette's Oscar acceptance speech was an impassioned battle cry for women everywhere.

Women who are sick of being paid less than their male colleagues because they didn't push harder, were passed over for promotion because taking maternity leave showed a "lack of commitment", or were sacked because they got pregnant.

While Hollywood luvvies engaging in politics can sometimes look silly, box-office record-smashing female actors know better than anybody else about wage disparity between men and women.

Take Jennifer Lawrence, the golden girl of 2014. Fresh from winning an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook and breaking the box-office record for sales on an opening weekend with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Lawrence starred in American Hustle.

All three of her male co-stars in that movie - Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner - were paid more than her. They were also paid more than four-time Oscar nominee, Amy Adams.

So, while none of us scrabbling in our wallets are going to feel too sorry for multi-millionaire actors, this is pure injustice, and if women at the top are not going to talk about it, who will?

Personally, I don't expect Hollywood actresses to be experts on feminism, so I think her core point is still a good one.

Women are women, and the fact is that women all over the world, of all races and income levels, are subject to appalling injustice when it comes to a whole host of things, including pay.

America, land of the free, doesn't have any entitlement to maternity leave. The gender pay gap there is 18.2pc. In Ireland, it's 13.9pc.

Pay isn't the only thing Arquette's speech was highlighting. The Oscars itself gives us a couple of great examples of what feminism is about.

Take, for example, the pictures we've all seen of John Travolta creeping on Scarlet Johansson.

Johansson's face had that expression most of us are familiar with adopting when forced into an uncomfortable situation by some idiot who can't stick to his own space.

It's either a frozen mask that is hiding homicidal intentions or a mindfulness trick that lets you temporarily leave your body. Find me a woman who's never been there.

In making her stand, in the most public way possible, Arquette has joined the ranks of well-known women who are sick and tired and just not taking it any more.

sandwiches

Closer to home, look at the example of Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, whose refusal to make sandwiches - when asked, as the only young woman in the station, to make them for the men - probably changed the course of her career.

Speaking up is brave in a world dominated by those whose male privilege blinds them to your experience of bias - and it can take somebody unique to hear you when you do it.

O'Sullivan, who spoke last week of the sandwich episode, was lucky her refusal to get buttering fell on the right ears. If it hadn't, she'd be stuck at a desk in Ballygobackwards Garda Station, stamping forms.

Back to Arquette, judging by the response her speech got from Meryl Streep and plenty of others, equal pay is a hot topic in Hollywood.

The Oscars resulting in a conversation about feminism and not about a drunk starlet falling over? I call that a result.

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