The XX Factor

And the Award for Best, Uh, Directress Goes To …

In partnership with The Washington Post Magazine, DoubleX contributors debate a new question each week and invite you to join in. This week: With Hollywood awards season in full swing, we wonder: Should men and women be honored in separate categories?

Dana Stevens : One possible answer: Yes, because if they weren’t men would just win every year. Best Director is a unisex category and no woman has ever won it. Only three have ever been nominated.

Kerry Howley : Dana rightly points out that the nongendered category of Best Director leads to a mostly male list of honorees. But does anyone think the best response to this is to add an award for “Best Directress”? Doesn’t that smack of condescension, or at least of accommodation? Is the division between actors and actresses acceptable just because it’s traditional? The division bothers me because award shows are yet another arena in which gender is seen as the dividing line around which human beings must sort themselves. We lavish actors with praise for mutability on the screen, but then demand that their “authentic” identities conform to old categories.

Dana Stevens : Agreed, which is why I wanted to qualify that with “one possible answer.” Kerry’s example of Best Directress illustrates how unsatisfying the actress category is. It’s also worth noting that many female performers now call themselves “actors,” which I admit sometimes occasions an eye roll (like when Jessica Alba or someone does it) but makes perfect sense. I know I wouldn’t want to be referred to as an ’”authoress.”

Nina Rastogi : Above and beyond whether gender makes sense as an organizing category for human identity, Kerry, there’s the question of whether gender specifically is the best divider for judging excellence in acting. This makes for a fun thought experiment: What about separating the nominees by age? Or by how physically demanding their role was? Frankly, I’d love to see “Best Acting in a Film With a Terrible Script” awarded separately from “Best Acting With a Decent or Better Script.” Now there’s a way to separate the wheat from the chaff. At least the Golden Globes acknowledges this by separating nominees by gender and then by genre.

Amanda Marcotte : It’s not in anyone’s best interests to combine the categories. Fewer women winning statues would mean many fewer glamorous women crossing the stage in glamorous dresses, and that would drive down the show’s ratings. No one wants to watch a sea of tuxedoes. Sadly, while women aren’t as respected for their work, they’re kept around for visual interest.

Photograph of Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images.