DEBATE THIS! Should awards shows be gender neutral?
Our two columnists slug it out over whether stars like Taraji P. Henson should be competing with the likes of Hugh Jackman for a gender-neutral best actor award. WENN
SARAH HANLON and SHAUN PROULX/ 24 HOURS
AND THE ENVELOPE PLEASE ...
The MTV Movie Awards recently made headlines for going gender neutral. Nixing "female" and "male" categories puts Emma Watson, Hailee Steinfeld and Taraji P. Henson up against Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy and Daniel Kaluuya for Best Actor. For the cutting-edge MTV, the decision sounded like a no-brainer for MTV President Chris McCarthy, who said, "This audience actually doesn't see male-female dividing lines, so we said, 'Let's take that down.'" The intersection of gender and award shows in recent years saw Billions and Orange is the New Black star Asia Kate Dillon - a person who identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them instead of he/she - question the Emmys regarding category placement. Told by the television academy that anyone can submit in any category, Dillon chose "Actor" because historically the word is gender neutral.
24 Hours asked our two duellers to tackle this latest hot topic:
Shaun: It's important that powerful people like Chris McCarthy stop speaking for all of us. I wish he were right, but male-female dividing lines are still very visible. The gender movement and the growth of the idea that gender is fluid is magnificent, but our finish line won't be crossed because of generalizations and broad-stroke decisions like MTV's. We aren't where we want to be yet. People like him force possible allies - who are countless but still l lack understanding - to resist this gender-eless revolution. This kind of talk does the movement zip. He reminds me of a meme I've seen often: "Some men have a vagina - get over it!" Millions need to catch their breath with these issues - because they very much are still divided and often confused.
Sarah: The Intersex Society of North America estimates about 1 in 100 people have "bodies that differ from standard male or female." This includes people with ambiguous genitalia, people who aren't XX or XY, and a multitude of other natural biological outcomes that fall outside of male-female classifications. Then, there are people who may not have any biological variance but who do not identify as male or female. The reality is, when we talk about gender in a binary way (meaning two categories - man or woman), we are excluding a huge number of people. By gendering award show categories, we prevent intersex, gender-queer and other individuals from seeing themselves represented in pop culture. This exclusion is a huge hurdle in fighting their continued oppression.
Shaun: The idea of inclusivity for all is beautiful and so is the idea of getting to it fast by taking huge hurdles. But you are less likely to fall flat on your face when you take things one measured step at a time. The three hours in one evening that make up an award show won't be big hurdle moments because these shows - first and foremost - support the business part of show business. Making money and advancing the careers of all involved is the intention, period. If Taraji P. Henson beats Hugh Jackman, the mindset of society isn't going to shift just because Taraji was deemed an actor instead of an actress. What genderqueer individual would see that and say: "Wow, that's me." Dillon's personal Emmy move is a far greater hurdle, so are discussions like this one. MTV is just getting a good brand rub and good for them.
Sarah: While the fear that by doing away with a specifically female category may result in men dominating the nominations is a valid one, women's advancement cannot come at the expense of those even more marginalized. The solution to #OscarsSoWhite hasn't been separate categories for black actors and people of colour. Awards shows will have to be diligent to make sure they are being inclusive and the public will have to continue to pressure them to do so.
Shaun: I want a win-win and that can't happen when the more marginalized group slows down a less marginalized group or groups who have been fighting their own battles too - and perhaps longer. And that's where so many of today's minority movements trip themselves up: they get to a tipping point where they have people's attention and understanding; and then, instead of each individual being the change they want to see (as Dillon was), mob-mentality takes over. All of a sudden, the whole rule book is supposed to be rewritten but the whole thing blows up in everyone's face.
Sarah: Awards shows are dying and they need to try something new. If we do away with the trite male and female categories perhaps we may start seeing a wider variety of roles and categories represented. Many roles are historical or autobiographical roles - maybe these would be better categories. Or perhaps more genres could be added. There has been a plethora of new and exciting media forms developed in the last decade that were often forgotten at these old-school award ceremonies. Why not divide categories into Best Newcomer, for example, because it seems weird to judge the Meryls with the newbies.
Shaun: Trite is harsh. Again, the anti-gender dividing lines speak can be a little gentler. But you help me make my case when you say, "Awards shows are dying and they need something new." If they are dying, are they the platform? Call me cynical but are these gender issues of great human significance or is it a trend to capitalize on because "they need something new?" I feel MTV smells of the latter, Eau de Insincere, and I think we all: male, female, non-binary, deserve better, more considered and authentic approaches. But of course, I'll still watch: just to see what the actresses wear on the red carpet.