Movie critics are squabbling over the dichotomy of best actor vs. best actress. Many say male and female performers should be evaluated as equals, maintaining that separate categories perpetuate stereotypes and suppress the growing success of women. In a New York Times op-ed piece, Kim Elsesser noted that it would be an abomination to segregate categories based on race; therefore, why do they exist for gender?
As a society we like our two nice, neat boxes: man, woman. We see this division not only in film awards, but also in music video awards, sports competitions, clothing stores and most bathrooms. And while Elsesser advocates for competition based on genre, not gender, Derek Thompson of The Atlantic says that Elsesser missed the distinction between sexist and sexual. The latter, he notes, is a descriptive term. But Cox, too, misses the point that both terms divide actors from actresses based on performances that pander to conventional gender roles. Nick Cox of Equality Writes asks:
“Should our binary conception of gender be preserved, or does it deserve to be done away with once and for all?” Many people argue that gender is an essential paradigm that maintains symmetry, stability and order based on obvious biological differences. Others criticize that gender is a narrow, unnecessary and oftentimes arbitrary social construction. Cox asks: “Should we strive to think of ourselves and each other purely as equal, gender-neutral human subjects, and ignore as much as possible the fact that we remain enfleshed in sexed bodies?”
My answer to that question is yes, and no! The bodies in which we are enfleshed manifest along an elongated spectrum of shape, size, color, proportion and genital configuration. Rather than have genderneutrality, how about gender-inclusivity — conceptualizing gender on a continuum? For example, I can appropriate certain clothing and props to distinguish whether I am feeling feminine or masculine, or somewhere androgynously inbetween. Like Kinsey’s scale for sexual orientation, we can have a horizontal axis for gender. Zero equals super feminine, 6 equals super masculine, and 1 through 5 indicate various levels of androgyny.
The YES Institute in Miami, Fla., also incorporates a vertical axis. The vertical axis allows an individual to feel masculine, feminine or somewhere in the middle at various times.
The genitals symbolize our biological sex, while gender is a social contrast of how we express ourselves. However, like our gender, our genitals do not always fit into little, square boxes. Besides the typical variation in length of labia and girth of penis, we have a whole spectrum of intersex genitals.
Intersex is a term for people with genital and/or chromosomal configurations outside of the XX/XY, male/female designation. One intersex condition is androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS), whereby a person typically has DNA of a “male” (XY), but is unable to partially or fully metabolize androgens. People with AIS usually have an external female genital appearance with a vagina, but internally lack a uterus, cervix and ovaries. With complete AIS, a person will have partially to fully undescended testes, of which he/ she may never be aware of having. Yes, many of us out there may be intersexed and have no idea. In fact, 1 out of 2,000 live births are intersex!
So, that puts us back full circle with Elsesser, Thompson and Cox, advocating for the Academy to award based on genre, not gender. But not because it’s high time to be politically correct. The Academy is an instrumental leader in our country with a great deal of cultural buyin power. Imagine if they said sexuality is your biological sex and your gender identification/expression and your sexual/erotic orientation and the lifestyle and community to which you belong. And, we are willing to make room to honor everyone in all their glorious diversity.
Then the cross-dressing Dustin Hoffmans in Tootsie, the transgendered Hillary Swanks in Boys Don’t Cry, the transvestite Tim Currys in Rocky Horror Picture Show and the drag queens of Priscilla Queen of the Desert could compete on pure talent … while simultaneously celebrating the full scope of sexuality.
Jenni Skyler, PhD, is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist. She runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder, www.theintimacyinstitute.org.