Gender-Neutrality: O Canada and The Oscars

by | March 7, 2010
filed under Can-Con, Feminism, Politics, Pop Culture

Maybe everyone’s caught up in the International Women’s Day spirit, but it suddenly seems like gender-neutrality’s being debated more than usual in the mainstream media.

The recent wave started when Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives announced in their Throne Speech that they were considering re-writing the words to the National Anthem, O Canada,  in order to make them gender neutral. Reportedly they were considering changing the words “in all thy sons command” to “thou dost in us command.”

Even though I’d be happy to see a change to that line, I agree with the many other commentators who objected to the move as a tactic to divert attention from Harper’s complete mismanagement of other key issues, including substantive issues relating to women’s equality.

And putting this forward in the same week it was revealed the government had cut mentions of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage in Canada’s Citizenship Guide, I doubt it made anyone think the Conservatives were actually socially progressive. I sure didn’t see them looking at the issue of religion in the national anthem.

But anyway, Harper backed off two days later, citing the “public outcry” against changing the lyrics. So now I’m annoyed, because even though it was a stupid diversionary tactic from an anti-feminist government, it wasn’t a bad idea, and the least they could’ve done is stayed behind the idea of one measly, symbolic policy change. But that would be too much to expect from this government.

Another area where we’re seeing a debate on gender neutrality is around the Academy Awards, which will be hosted tonight. Kim Elsesser from UCLA argued in the New York Times on Wednesday that the Best Actor and Best Actress categories should be combined, contending that segregating awards by gender implies the actresses aren’t doing the same job as the actors.

Melissa Silverstein at HuffPo looked at the 2009 Oscars and noticed some interesting gender and racial divides, especially in directing. It’s clear that there are some significant issues with equality behind the scenes and in terms of the ways in which women are represented, as I talked about on About-Face back in January. But I’d never really thought about gender-neutral Oscars before.

On the one hand Elsesser’s argument pointing out how ridiculous it would seem to have separate awards for men and women writers or makeup artists was pretty convincing. Why would we claim acting is a fundamentally different enterprise for men and women? Also, having separate categories reinforces gender norms and doesn’t leave a lot of room for trans actors.

But Nick Cox at Equal Writes has some qualms, pointing out that amalgamating the awards while women still experience marginalization in Hollywood might just reinforce gender inequality. Cox also argues that we inhabit sexed bodies and that doing away with the gendered acting Oscars would be ignoring this fact. I can somewhat understand Cox’s argument as it relates to things like sports competitions, but even in sports biological sex is not the sole determinant of athletic ability, and segregating people by sex and excluding intersexed people has led to some tragic situations.

I don’t have any great solutions for sports, but I would definitely argue that biological sex does not affect one’s ability to be an actor. Even so, the point about the potential of women to be sidelined were the awards combined might be fair.

What do you think?


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