But most think sporting events should remain separate
This year’s gender-neutral BRIT Awards ceremony, which did away with gender specific categories, was not the first such event, and as attitudes continue to change more will follow suit. In fact, campaigners, as well as most performers, hope and continue to push for all Arts based award events to become gender-neutral. The change at the BRITs was prompted, at least in part, by Sam Smith’s comments regarding last year’s event.
The singer, who came out as non-binary in 2019 and uses they/them personal pronouns, shared a statement on Instagram, in which they wrote: “Music for me has always been about unification not division. I look forward to a time where awards shows can be reflective of the society we live in. Let’s celebrate everybody, regardless of gender, race, age, ability, sexuality and class.”
The BRITs subsequently took note and brought in the changes. Now, non-binary musicians like Smith are eligible for BRIT awards, although this year’s happened to be dominated by female performers, the biggest winner being Adele. Around the globe, many major Arts awards have been gender-neutral for years. In the USA, the TCA (Television Critics Awards) led the way by becoming gender-neutral in 1997.
Organisers opted for categories such as Individual Achievement in Drama, to reward talent through a genderless approach. The Grammys then went gender-neutral in 2012 and the MTV Video Music Awards scrapped gendered award categories in 2017. Even the Emmy television awards has opted for the neutral noun, “performer” instead of gendered descriptors, though the change in this case is more tentative, and will perhaps be gradual, as the winning “performer” can currently still end up in a gendered category.
And the movement is spreading across the world, with widespread support from the public and the media. In Australia last year, the nation’s biggest music awards event the ARIAS chose to end the Best Male and Best Female categories, while back in the USA, the Gotham Awards for the makers of independent films announced they would be going gender-neutral. The question of gender-inclusive categories also embraces other sectors of the Arts, including literature, where, for example, the Booker Prize is open to all. However, the historian Suzannah Lipscomb recently announced plans for a non-fiction prize for women, emphasising the degree to which many fields are still considered male dominated.
While the right of any person to decide how they want to identify has become increasingly widely accepted, the debate over gender identity has become increasingly fraught, with even seasoned writers such as JK Rowling and Margaret Atwood coming in for criticism because of their views on the relative importance of gender identity and biological sex in regard to feminist issues. Our own surveys show that the majority clearly support gender-neutral awards where appropriate, whilst at the same time evidencing a degree of confusion amongst older generations in regard to the question of gender identity itself.