Gender-Neutral Oscars?

Kim Elsesser maintains that we should stop having separate categories for actors and actresses in the Oscar awards.  I’m really not so sure. 

Elsesser argues that the separate categories are insulting, perpetuate stereotypes and, given the growning success of women in other aspects of film-making, unnecessary.

But separate is not equal. While it is certainly acceptable for sports competitions like the Olympics to have separate events for male and female athletes, the biological differences do not affect acting performances. The divided Oscar categories merely insult women, because they suggest that women would not be victorious if the categories were combined. In addition, this segregation helps perpetuate the stereotype that the differences between men and women are so great that the two sexes cannot be evaluated as equals in their professions.  (My stress.)

Today, the number of female-run production companies, female directors and great roles for women continues to increase. Four of the five films represented in this year’s best actress category center on strong female characters.

Here’s a worry:  Will they be evaluated as equals?  Remember Publisher’s Weekly’s list of the top ten books of 2009; all were by men.  One plausible explanation is that those making the decision regarded what the men had written about as more serious and weighty.  The typical concerns of half the human race – supposing there are such – might just not count as all that important and interesting.

If that’s a way implicit bias works itself out in artistic judgments, it would surely be right to expect it to happen in the selection of awards for the film industry.  And it might well apply to actresses more than it would to women directors, for example. 

Now, the thing that puzzles me is whether this is a good enough reason for supporting keeping the oscars the same as they are, explicitly gendered for actors.  And if it is, are there other areas of evaluation where we might push for separate evaluations?

Now the last seems to me so problematic that it could provide an argument  for introducing gender-neutral oscars.  You know the sort of argument:  “But if you do approve of that then by similarity of reasoning you should support X; but X is not acceptable; therefore you should not approve…”.  If X  is making the author’s gender explicit on doctoral theses (“outstanding woman’s doctorate thesis”), then there are obvious downsides, perhaps offput a bit by the category of “outstanding man’s doctorate thesis.”

What do you think?

EU to tackle gender pay gap

The EU Commission is starting a Gender Pay Gap Campaign 2010 in order to do something about the fact that in European countries, women earn over 17% less than men for every hour worked.

The campaign will address the following questions:

  • How is gender equality perceived in the EU?
  • Is the EU doing enough?
  • What are priority areas for action?

According to the announcement, in 1975 an Equal Pay Directive has been implemented in all Member States, which makes pay discrimination on the grounds of sex illegal. If there is still such substantial gap, then it is good that action will be undertaken. I just wonder what they are going to actually do about it, but let’s hope that that will become clearer soon.

The following quote from the announcement puzzled me though (emphasis added):

Against the current economic backdrop, gender equality has a key role to play in boosting competitiveness, economic recovery and growth. Only by employing all the smart brains and committed workers that Europe has will the EU make a successful exit from the current crisis.

I am probably nitpicking, but does this imply they are only interested in those women who either are “smart brains” or who are committed workers (I immediately worry about how being committed to raising your children bears on that)?

It also seems to be the assumption that if the pay is more equal, women will join the workforce where now they do not. Participation of women in the workforce seems to me to be quite a different kettle of fish than the equal pay issue though.

Another way to see that women participate: Apply!

I know, dear friends, that travel costs money, and that money may not be falling from the sky on you right now, but sometimes, at least in my experience, it’s best to try for an amazing conference in Europe first, and worry the details such as how to pay for the plane ticket second:

The Fifth Cologne Summer School in Philosophy on “New Perspectives in Epistemology” will take place in Cologne, August 23 – 27, 2010. This year’s visiting professor will be Ernest Sosa (Rutgers University, USA). The main focus is the intersection of epistemology, theory of action and philosophy of language. We will discuss foundational issues in epistemology (the analysis of knowledge and justification, the controversy between internalism and externalism), as well as more specific issues in the current debate: virtue epistemology, knowledge as a norm of assertion, is there a normative link between knowledge and action?, intuitions and armchair philosophy, the  philosophy of disagreement, and epistemic agency. The Summer School mainly aims at professional philosophers and advanced graduate students.

The attendance is free, but limited to 50 participants – on the basis of motivation and qualification. Online application is possible through April 30. Please add a brief letter of motivation where you explain your academic background and your main motivation for participating in the Summer School. Soon after the deadline we will inform you about the success of your application. 

Please send your online application to the following email address:
For more information visit our website:
Prof. Dr. Thomas Grundmann
Philosophisches Seminar
Universität zu Köln