In Defence of Gendered Awards | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

In Defence of Gendered Awards

Comment Editor Kat Smith argues that the entertainment industry doesn't need non-gendered awards, it needs more representation

When MTV scrapped gendered awards for their upcoming ceremony, my initial reaction was elation. Women and men should be seen as equal; they shouldn’t pose a challenge to only those who share their gender. All sounds reasonable and necessary, right?

However when I realised the pattern of women being overlooked in mixed categories, the plans for a gender-neutral award ceremony revealed itself as a superficial and idealist approach that will sadly just see women even more underrepresented in the list of winners. It also misses the necessity to solve arguably a bigger problem in the entertainment industry: racism. Inequality needs to be battled using representation, and superficial attempts at putting women and men on a level playing field potentially undermine true equality.

Alterations to awards shows need to recognise the effect of race too. The commendation for the likes of MTV scrapping gendered awards overlooks the fact that 16% of male Oscar winners pre-2017 were non-white, as well as a mere 11% of female winners. Let’s not cheer for the ‘steps forward’ in equality through gender-neutral awards, when even in 2016 the Brit Awards saw a nominees list consisting of only white acts.

Inequality needs to be battled using representation, and superficial attempts at putting women and men on a level playing field potentially undermine true equality

And how can we forget this year’s Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel’s casual racism throughout the ceremony? He mocked Best Supporting Actor Mahershala Ali’s name straight after his win and used Sunny Pawar (star of Lion) as a prop for a re-enactment of The Lion King . The entertainment industry needs to give people of colour the respect and recognition they deserve, not merely side-line them to being a punchline of a bad joke at possibly the most prestigious entertainment award show.

Okay, so the concept of removing gender from awards doesn’t do anything to stop the issue of racism. ‘But,’ you may say, ‘at least it’s doing something? At least it’s helping women? It’s putting women as equal to men?’ No… it’s really not.

Consider the amount of movies that fail the Bechdel test. Think about the extensive reports of sexual harassment in the music and film industries. Remember the constant sexualisation or under-representation of women in action movies. Removing gender from entertainment awards would merely push women to the side rather than place them in a position of equality. In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow collected her Academy Award for Best Director, being the fourth women in the award show’s history to even be nominated.  It’s shocking to see that the Spice Girls, Girls Aloud and Little Mix, acts that have dominated the charts and popular culture, are missing from the list of Best British Group winners at the Brits. Apparently female empowerment and chart-topping hits aren’t deserving of reward.

The lack of female representation in many mixed categories shows why we need to highlight that women too can succeed in these professions. We don’t need categories for women because they’re subordinate to men and so can’t be compared, but rather because people don’t realise how level the playing field is in terms of talent, vision and work ethic. We need to give people no choice but to recognise the talents of women.

No, it’s not that women or people of colour are less talented. Did you know that white men don’t carry a gene that makes them better than everyone else at everything? I know, shocking. Viola Davis is as equally brilliant as Leonardo DiCaprio. Denzel Washington’s acting is just as emotive as Brie Larsson’s.

So if gender-neutral awards fail to target the important issues, what will? One word: representation. This is what these award shows should be aiming to change, not the titles of the awards. When Oscar winners thank ‘the Academy’, a 2012 report found that they are thanking a body consisting of members that are 94% white and 77% male. In 2013 the former figure only decreased to 93%.

We need to give people no choice but to recognise the talents of women

Furthermore, there aren’t enough roles for women and people of colour. A diversity report on Hollywood found that although ethnic minorities account for more than 40% of the US’s population, they remain underrepresented in broadcast leads (such as on Fox, ABC, PBS etc.) by six to one. When there aren’t enough roles for women and actors belonging to ethnic minorities, they don’t get as many opportunities to be nominated for the awards. This needs to change.

Women and non-white people need be given their well-deserved places on the lists of nominees. They need to be given a voice in who wins awards. They need to be written roles so they can get the jobs that will win these awards.

Until the panels behind these award shows and the cast of our favourite TV shows are more representative of the society we live in and the talent we see on our stages and screens, gender-neutral awards will merely ensure women’s efforts remain unrecognised and do nothing to further the position of people of colour.

I can only hope that I see the day where those I see on screen, on stage and on a nominees list represent the true scope of talent the world has to offer. Because for the moment, this clearly isn’t the case.

Opinionated second-year Philosophy student and houmous enthusiast. (@katlouiise)


14th April 2017 at 10:00 am

Last Updated

13th April 2017 at 8:09 pm

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ABC Television Group