We here at PictureParity aim to improve gender equity in front of and behind the camera. Based on our 10 point system, movies and TV shows get points for how women are represented, so the more women and the more diverse they are, the better! But at times we come across something that has been a dilemma in feminism for a long time: should we include nonbinary and gender non-conforming folks and if so, how?
The go-to definition of mainstream feminism since the 1960s is that it is the belief in social, political, and economic equality between the sexes. It rolls off the tongue and on the surface it sounds great. After all, those goals sound admirable. However, the definition is also limiting as it is built on the implied notion that there are only two genders, female and male. Here’s a quick lesson on some gender terms:
- Sex: The biological sex of a person based on their reproductive organs. This is usually female or male, though intersex folks are not entirely uncommon.
- Gender: This is the social construct either based on the sex one was born at birth OR based on what one describes themselves as. This includes a whole slew of terms beyond women and men, including nonbinary, gender non-conforming, transgender, genderqueer, etc.
- Gender presentation: This is how one chooses to present their gender and does not necessarily need to match up to either their sex based on their reproductive organs or based on their gender identity.
Not everyone feels they fit into the two-size fits all model of gender and choose not to identify as either a woman or a man. They use gender neutral pronouns such as “they, them, theirs” or “xe, xem, xyrs.” And they may present their gender in various ways, from “feminine” or “masculine” to androgynous. The important takeaway here is that it is personal and for each person it may be different. There is no one way to be any gender, regardless of that gender identity, and we need to be respectful of how each person chooses to present themselves.
To be completely frank, mainstream feminism has not done a great job of fighting for or including queer and nonbinary folks throughout its history. From Betty Friedan referring to lesbians as the “lavender menace” in 1969 to the exclusion of trans women from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival throughout the latter half of the 20th century until the festival’s demise in 2015, mainstream feminism has often been viewed as exclusive and focusing primarily on cisgender, heterosexual, middle class, white women. And clearly this reputation was well earned in many ways.
So how do we practice an inclusive feminism that addresses women’s issues, but does not focus on just one type of woman? It’s a big question and we don’t have all the answers, but perhaps we can suggest some starting points. First, feminism that is not intersectional is not feminism as all. Everyone has intersecting identities and without acknowledging how those identities affect us not only as women, but as people, progress will not be made for everyone. Second, we need to acknowledge that feminism is about more than just equality between men and women. It’s about ensuring labor protection, immigration rights, it’s about ending the corporate ownership of prisons, ending our capitalistic health care system. It’s about creating a culture where people can be whatever gender they are and not feel fear of violence or loss of rights.
This all brings us to our dilemma. We are super excited about a new show coming out called Vida, which follows the lives of two Mexican-American sisters as they return to their old neighborhood in East LA following the death of their mother. Ser Anzoantegui is a Latinx, nonbinary actor who is playing a lesbian woman in the show. Ultimately, we decided to give Vida points for their presence on the show. While they do not identify as female, they still represent part of the systemic issue in Hollywood, which is that people who do not fit traditional molds are not hired for work in front of or behind the camera. This includes nonbinary folks who, if they do not present as strictly “masculine” or “feminine” will often be passed over for jobs in favor of those who do. Ser is also portraying a queer woman of color on the show, something that is extremely important in normalizing relationships other than the white, heterosexual ones that are the go-to in most of Hollywood. We’d like to celebrate Ser for representing a community of people who have been direly underrepresented.
[originally published May 1 2018]