We are often told that gender is a spectrum. Today, the phrase serves as the cornerstone for any gender-based paradigm by which we have learned to confront who we are. Love it or hate it, the slogan lets us be us — whether that be female, male, gay, straight, or something else entirely. Now, or so it goes, we can be whomever we want to be.
But can we, really? There must be limits.
Enter Emma Watson and the MTV awards. That she accepted a “genderless” acting award poses problems for this paradigm, precisely because of this idea of identity that we have worked so hard to build and rebuild. In our rush to champion her and her award, we forgot three main issues: 1) that Emma Watson isn’t genderless, 2) that there are people who identify as genderless, and 3) that she accepted a “genderless” acting award poses questions about how we define the term, and how we should understand the concept of inclusiveness as such.
Though we wish for labels and categories to cease existing, the fact is they still do. And they will continue to, at least until we begin to grasp the full essence of what it means to be male, female, gay, straight, etc. Even Emma Watson, talented and knowledgeable as she is, identifies as female. She, despite the genderless ideals of the MTV award bestowed upon her, still identifies in part as both female and actor. As much as she may proclaim (and rightly so!) that we are wrong to typecast people into rigid gender identities, such proclamations still don’t negate the existence of all gender identities.
As much as she may proclaim (and rightly so!) that we are wrong to typecast people into rigid gender identities, such proclamations still don’t negate the existence of all gender identities.
Don’t get me wrong — that is the goal. But as with all meaningful goals, their achievement doesn’t come overnight and haphazardly. We don’t just wake up and decide one day that we aren’t guys, or girls, or whoever we want to be at any given moment in time. One only needs to hear the catcalls on the street to be reminded that whatever we decided on don’t necessarily and automatically equate to how society views us. Change requires careful examination of the reasons for change. Change of identity — of gender — requires further discussions of the reasons for change, and the definitions thus that constitute the identities we’re shedding and putting on.
Now to be clear, Emma shouldn’t just renounce the award. Nor should she, I feel, condemn MTV and champion some literal genderless actor to take the award in her stead (though that would be kickass). All I wanted to see personally, was Emma using the award to discuss in greater detail what it is within her that compelled her to embrace such a distinction, and add to that further by discussing what it is that constitutes an actress — and why its constitution merits our denial of the term.
Call it wishful thinking, but I guess I expected more in-depth discussions on identity from a figure whom I respect greatly for eloquently provoking such discussions, in out-of-the-box mediums, day-in and day-out. Such proclamations of genderlessness, in whatever form after all, can’t be taken lightly. Not in this day and age. Not when gender narratives have yet to fully set in. Not when we have yet to find the right words to explain them.