The MTV Movie Awards are scrapping gender-specific categories in 2017, according to a report from the Toronto Star. The move follows the Grammy Awards going gender-neutral in 2011, and will, among other things, replace the Best Actor and Best Actress categories with a gender-neutral Best Actor in a Movie and Best Actor in a Show.
Under normal circumstances, I’d be all for this; I’m very proudly and openly a feminist and a person of non-binary gender, and I ultimately champion the dismantling of the gender binary.
But Hollywood, and movie awards, are a special case. As the Inquisitr has previously reported, studies have repeatedly shown that Hollywood has a serious gender bias issue: according to the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, only one in three speaking characters are women. That number goes to one in four when the character is over 40. Out of 11,306 characters, two percent were LGBTQ-identified; seven were transgender, all trans women, and four were from the same trans-focused series: 0.06 percent of all speaking roles.
Going up the chain, it doesn’t get any better; 85 percent of directors, 71 percent of writers, and 77 percent of series creators are men. 3.4 percent of Hollywood films are directed by women. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have, over the last few years, been investigating claims of women being specifically discriminated against in Hollywood. As the study put it: the movie industry “still functions as a straight, white, boy’s club.”
All of this means that women are at a disadvantage for having their efforts recognized straight out of the gate. That’s pretty easy to see, looking at the Oscars, and their gender-neutral Best Directing category: as the Huffington Post notes, only one woman has ever won that award. That was Kathryn Bigelow, in 2010, for 2008’s The Hurt Locker – and let’s not leave out that The Hurt Locker was a war movie; the only woman director ever to win Best Directing won it with a movie intended to appeal primarily to men.
Now, in fairness to the MTV Movie Awards, winners are chosen by the public at large, unlike the Academy Awards and other big awards shows, where all voting is done in-house – although this can create its own problems, as we’ve seen with online troll “brigading” tactics wielded against prominent women in the past. But MTV still chooses nominees via selection committees, but the nominees are selected by MTV producers and executives, and they suffer the same diversity problem as Hollywood in general.
And therein lies the problem. While, ultimately, it is desirable to break down the gender binary, the nominees are chosen by a pool of, by and large, older men, from a pool of, by and large, older men. The fact that there are three to four men to every woman in a speaking role makes things difficult enough; the barrier is even higher when men are doing the choosing.
I couldn’t tell you why gender-neutral categories in awards have always existed, beyond a vague “old-timey sexism,” but the fact that they exist now is an essential part in giving women a fair shot at recognition alongside their male peers, and that recognition is important. It’s important for the women whose achievements are often overlooked or dismissed, and even more, it’s important for the next generation of women to see that women’s achievements are considered worthy of recognition. Not to mention, getting an award has a genuine effect on an actor’s career.
This isn’t a matter of merit; nobody is saying that men aren’t equally deserving of awards, or that they might genuinely have been the best actor of the year – although, of course, that is subjective; people judge a performance by different merits, which also factors into this discussion. When men are doing the picking, then the category is more accurately “best acting according to men.”
But when it comes to getting a fair shake at recognition, gender-specific categories are what we might call, for the moment, a necessary evil.
[Featured Image by Christopher Polk/Getty Images]