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?