The Academy Awards – why sex-segregated for acting?

Why is the acting category of the Academy Awards sex-segregated (Best Actor in a Lead/Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Leading/Supporting Role)?  We don’t have separate awards for male and female directors. Or screenwriters, cinematographers, costume designers, film editors, soundtrack composers, or make up persons.

Is one’s sex really relevant to one’s acting ability? In a way that justifies separate awards?

Of course not.

My guess is that it’s because the award isn’t really for the actor/actress, but for the character portrayed.  Probably partly because most people can’t distinguish the two.  I’ll bet George Clooney still gets asked what to do by moms whose kid has a fever.

Even so, why do we have separate categories?

Because if we didn’t, women would never win.  Not because they’re worse actors (remember the award isn’t for acting ability), but because we honor the heroes.  And women never get to play hero.

 

“What is Wrong with this Picture?” – short film script

This film consists of a collage of scenes, five to ten minutes in length), in which women are always the superordinates and men are always the subordinates.  Dialogue isn’t that important, so once the scenes are decided upon and roughed out, the cast can probably improv rather than follow a script.

 

Suggested scenes:

Office: Woman in executive office summons her secretary, who is a man, who enters and politely inquires “Yes, m’am?”  She says something like “Ask Ms. Jordan to come to my office, then bring us coffee, please, and hold all calls.”  He nods in subordinate fashion and exits.

Boardroom:  Seated around the table discussing important matters are, every one of them, women.

Hospital scene: Female doctors and male nurses and clerks.

University: Female faculty and male support staff.

Bank:  Male tellers; occupants of individual offices are all women.

Courtroom: Judge, lawyers, and security are women; clerk is male.

Golf course:  Only women are playing.

Office:  Woman executive directs her male assistant to call her husband and tell him she’ll be late for dinner.

Home:  Househusband answers the phone, surrounded by cloying, annoying kids, and shows irritation at the message.

Fancy restaurant:  Several women dine together and discuss business.

Doctor’s office: Female doctor giving embarrassed man a physical, which includes a close examination of his penis as well as a rectal examination.

Househusband taking kids to the dentist: The waiting room is full of fathers and kids; the receptionist is male, as is the dental hygienist; the dentist, who breezes in for the authoritative final check of the hygienist’s work, is female.

Househusband grocery shopping:  All of the other shoppers and all of the checkout cashiers are men; a woman is in the manager’s office.

Home:  Husband sets the table and brings out the dinner he has prepared; kids and mother sit waiting; perhaps the woman offers to help, but the offer isn’t really genuine and is brushed aside. with a smile.

Guests for dinner: Two male-female couples are sitting at a dinner table; the conversation is dominated by the women who talk about politics; the two men are silent, though they look supportive from time to time and interject supportive comments, questions to let the women shine; one of the women says something like “Let’s let the boys clean up, shall we?” and the two women retire to the living room for drinks and more conversation.

Office lunchroom: All and only men sit in small groups talking about their kids, the need for an on-site daycare, their failure to obtain promotions, their bosses; a sweet male voice comes over intercom “Danny, Ms. X would like to see you right away”, at which Danny grimaces but gets up and leaves the room.

Car:  Woman at the wheel, man in the passenger seat.

Women Discover Life on Mars

“Should we fund a mission to Mars?  Sure.  Give us a bit of time and we can make that planet uninhabitable too.”  (jassrichards.com)

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed watching MARS.   Why?  Because the three astronauts who walk out onto the planet’s surface at the end to discover life on Mars are all women.  Not a token one of three.  Not even a remarkable two of three.  But ALL THREE.  All three are women.

AND the bureaucrat back on Earth who makes the announcement?  Again, a woman.

AND none of this was presented as in-your-face feminist.  Not one line in the entire script made reference to their being women.  There was no male resentment, no resistance, no snide comment about quotas or reverse discrimination.  There was no undue praise, no celebration for having achieved the status of being the first humans to discover life on Mars.

They just were.

I can’t tell you how gratifying it would be to just be.  To be an astronaut if I wanted to be.  To be the one to discover life on Mars.  To be the head of a Mars mission program.  Just because I was qualified to do so and lucky enough to make it through the selection process.  And my sex had as little to do with it as my hair.

Furthermore, throughout the expedition, there was as much female presence as male.   Sure, okay, one of the women became leader only because one of the men died, but when the second crew arrived, its leader was a woman.  And if I’ve got this mistaken, it’s only because regardless of the actual hierarchy, women were as central, as important, as valuable, as active.

They were just living their lives. 

And yet, seven of the eight writers are men.  The director is a man.  All ten executive producers are men.  Even so, they had THREE WOMEN discover life on Mars.  Three women, all by themselves.  They didn’t need a man to go with them to protect them.  They didn’t need a man to go with them in case they got lost.

Amazing.  Truly amazing.

And so truly … gratifying.  To see this.  To actually see this.

Thank you.

AI Indeed

So I first heard of the movie Ex Machina when I read a review (by Chris DiCarlo) in Humanist Perspectives—and was so disgusted that I wrote a letter to the editor.  Why?  Because the reviewer had revealed his own misogyny by failing to address the elephant in the room: the fact that the body the guy created for his AI was that of a female, a sexy female, a young female, is what—mere coincidence?  The picture they’d chosen to accompany the review (no doubt, the one chosen to promote the movie) showed her bound.  In fishnet.*  Her pose was right out of a BDSM scene.  Not worth mention? As I said in my letter,

That you failed to remark on any of this disturbingly telling.  It indicates just how much men have come to expect to see women as young and sexy.  Apparently it’s the norm, it’s normal, to pornify women, to present their bodies as sexually available.

Well, fuck you.

(Have you heard of sexism?  Feminism?  Check it out, why don’t you.)

The letter was not published.  The editor wrote back and said,

I don’t know if this changes anything, but Chris had nothing to do with the selection of photos for the review. That was done by a woman who helps me with the onerous task of laying out the magazine.

—a comment that opens up a whole ‘nother area worth investigation.  How is it that people think that if a woman does X, it must be okay?  This notion informs the currently popular misconception of feminism as indiscriminate female solidarity.  (As a commenter said recently in response to one of my posts on BlogHer, implying that I was not a feminist, “My feminist sisters support all woman in whatever choices they make…” At the very least, that stance would be rife with internal contradictions.)

But onwards.  Does it change anything?  No.  As long as the image is from the movie, then the movie is evidence of the normalized pornification of women, and DiCarlo still ignores that elephant in the room.

If the AI had been black-skinned and called ‘boy’ and given menial tasks and whipped, I suspect it would have been noticed.  I suspect DiCarlo would have made at least passing mention to the implied racism.

But—and I’ve just watched the movie.  Not only is “Ava” sexy woman-child (there’s even a ‘play dress up’ scene), the guy has a hall full of closets of similar AIs.  He’s not making AIs.  He’s making fucktoys.  He actually tells his (male) guest that they have fully functioning holes.  We see him using said holes for his apparent pleasure.  The guest realizes that the guy has created Ava to match his porn file.  (What the hell is a porn file?  Oh.)

All very unremarkable, apparently.

There was one promising line—the guy insists that consciousness is gendered.  But the claim isn’t really challenged.  And it becomes clear that he has come to that conclusion because his ‘source material’ (his ‘blue book’) for Ava comes from a net cast wide upon the world-as-is.  That is, he’s just grabbed all the sexist sociocultural conditioning in the world and built something from it.  No wonder, Ava.

Ex Machina is just another movie that objectifies women.  It just pretends to be about AI, but it’s not even a little bit past Asimov’s I, Robot.

Is it redeemed by the fact that Ava escapes, after killing the guy (and leaving the guest imprisoned, facing the same outcome)?  Not really.  Because she does so by sexual manipulation (“I want to be with you,” she tells the guest in her soft, little-girl voice.  “Do you want to be with me?”).  (“Yes,” I imagine the guest replying.  “I’d like the girlfriend experience, please.”)  That’s apparently what the script writer and director believe intelligence is, at least when female-bodied.

And she escapes into the forest wearing high heels—fuck-me heels.  Though, okay, that’s probably all that was available to her, and we do see that she takes them off.  But she doesn’t throw them away.  Once in the real world, does she choose instead Doc Martens, loose pants with pockets, a comfortable sweatshirt, and a jacket?  No.  She remains sexualized.  Artificial intelligence indeed.

 

 

*Right, okay, it was actually metal mesh, I get that.  And the similarity to fishnet is also mere coincidence?  (If you think so, you are too naïve for words.  Certainly too naïve to be writing movie reviews.)

(You know we’re laughing at you, right?  [When we’re not screaming at you.]  You who investigate artifical intelligence but are too stupid to recognize your own immaturity, you who have conferences on “The Future of Humanity” with all-male panels, you who publish special issues called “Speaking of Humanism” featuring nothing but male faces…)