Armed with jarring statistics, Patricia Arquette took her famous 2015 Oscar speech on wage equality up a few notches at the inaugural UN Women USNC LA Media Summit in Support of HeForShe in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
“It’s estimated that one half of the 66 million women and kids living in America in poverty would not be if just their moms got paid their full dollar,” she said after accepting an award from the group.
Director Joss Whedon was also honored for his activism at the event held at YouTube Space LA.
When it comes to wage equality, a veil of secrecy needs to be lifted, Arquette argued, telling TheWrap backstage, “If a woman asks in certain states how much her co-workers make she can get fired.”
During her speech, she shared a poignant story about raising her son as a young single mother. “It was really hard,” she told the audience. “There were times when we were living in a converted garage and I didn’t know if I could buy food and diapers… My wisdom teeth came in because I was pretty much a kid. But I was nursing and didn’t want to take any pain medication and I had to wait all weekend so I could get in somewhere that was cheap enough to get my teeth pulled.”
The actress went on to describe why economic insecurity among American women is so detrimental: “There’s a subconscious thing that happens — sometimes women stay in a relationship because it seems there’s more economic stability. We know that in America 10,000 women every day are turned away from domestic abuse shelters — the number one reason they cite is economic insecurity.”
That amounts to 3.5 million women, many of whom have children, who are turned away every year, according to data cited by the Oscar winner.
“Who says the gender wage gap won’t close in next 40 years?” Arquette said during her acceptance speech. “That’s pathetic and that’s not necessary. We can make change come very fast… if we just demand it.”
The HeForShe campaign came out of goodwill ambassador Emma Watson‘s 2014 UN speech, urging men to also take action in the global fight for women’s rights.
Arquette, who is also pushing for changes to the Equal Rights Amendment, outlined the benefit of bringing men into the movement: “When men join change comes ten times faster.”
Whedon, a longtime self-described feminist, was happy to join the effort, recounting to TheWrap backstage that a college girlfriend had spurred him to get involved many years ago.
“Orson Welles had died and I was all sad and drunk about it,” he recalled. “I said, ‘He had this amazing voice and they silenced him.’ And she said, ‘Yeah, that’s terrible. I feel that way about the entire history of my gender,’” he recalled of their conversation. “Good point: Orson Welles and half the people who were ever.”
“I feel like I’ve been a great interrupter,” he told TheWrap before he delivered his own speech urging men to stop and listen to women — admitting that’s something he can work on, too.
“This movement speaks very gently to people on a very simple and personal level,” said Whedon on stage. “There are so many men who are absolutely behind this concept who either don’t know it or don’t act upon it.”
He went on to argue that listening is an extra, necessary step needed to enact change. “It’s not one I’ve personally mastered,” he said. “It’s listening. Count to five every single time before you interrupt — before you interrupt a co-worker, before you compliment someone on something in your workplace, before you reprimand your daughter, before you compliment your daughter… before you explain.
“Take an extra step just to think for a moment, to think what the person you’re dealing with is going through,” he said. “What I would like is to never again win an award just for being a decent person.”