Actors, Part Two
Actors Guild Awards Sunday was much like all other such
events. Performers blew kisses at fans, thanked everyone
in their lives, and there was abundant arrogant humility.
There was, however, a major difference, a new element
at play. An honorable word, "actress," was in
effect banished, and the axiom never to use two words
when one will do was thrust aside. For two words, "actor"
and "actress," four were substituted, "male
actor" and "female actor." This was a victory
of sorts in a years-long campaign waged by several actresses
to neuter their special designation, the main rationale
being that doing so will bring about very just equality
in pay and employment in admittedly male-oriented Hollywood.
Some of us, including myself,
who have consistently supported women's rights and have
written extensively about unfairness in that area may
rue the dour development and view it as a confusion of
where equality lies. Paradoxically, the attempt to erase
gender identification creates an opposite effect. The
totally gender-identifying word, "female," appended,
emphasizes gender much more than the suffix "-ess."
Even more self-defeating
is the implication that the male appellation is superior
to the female appellation. If that is not a conclusion
to be drawn, why not seek equality by extending the female
form--actress--to actors? That would blur gender as effectively
as the current choice, and assert the prominence of the
female-designating noun; e.g., actress Woody Allen, actress
Sylvestre Stallone, et al. The plural, "actors,"
has always designated both males and females, without
The word actress has a long
and dignified history. Sarah Bernhardt, Elenora Duse,
Victoria Fabrigas, Garbo, Maria Felix--all were proud
actresses and are celebrated as such. Shall history be
revised and that formidable cadre of actresses now be
labeled female-actors? Female actor Sarah Bernhardt! I
imagine each of those grand legendary actresses, stiffening
their proud backs in resistance like affronted queens--not
Shall we now refer to female
princes and male princes? Female kings and male kings?
The Spanish, French, Italian languages award gender even
to sexless objects. The sturdy rock is "la roca,"
the female form, the flickering earring is "el arete,"
the male form. Note this spectacular assault on sexism:
The male organ in Spanish is honored with a feminine designation,
whereas a woman's breasts carry a masculine identification.
As a gay man, I am no stranger
to similar confusions that occur in the area of fighting
prejudice through semantics. Although I now use it, I
am not comfortable with the word "gay," originally
a reference to loose women. Christopher Isherwood once
said that the pluralization--"gays"--made us
sound like bliss ninnies. Still, it is now the word of
choice among homosexual men. Then there came an even more
odious word, "queer." Formerly a word of oppression,
the language of gay-bashers, it was quickly and eagerly
seized even by dippy academics who converted into yet
another undecipherable "theory."
Queer theory! The rationale?
Defuse the word of its scurrilous meaning, arrogate it,
convert it. How about embracing other hateful words in
order to defuse them and turn them into arcane "theories"?--denigrating
names for women, for Jews, for African-Americans. Would
that strip them of their dangerous power? I envy lesbians
their superb appellation, with literary and historical
resonance--and now, exotic popularity in a popular television
The issue among actresses
today in choosing to be known as "actors" is,
I understand, the matter of equal pay, opportunity, non-discrimination
based on gender. Great. But how does the reference "female
actor" erase gender? With few exceptions, names themselves
reveal gender; e.g., Jane and Jerry. Female actor Jane.
Male actor Jerry.
The struggle for equality
for women in all endeavors is a noble one to be upheld
and championed. But even noble struggles may diverge into
well-meaning but self-defeating directions.
Los Angeles, California
to read John Rechy's earlier thoughts on
this issue in his 2005 essay, "Political
Incorrectness: Female Actors and Trojans."
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Original material by John Rechy appears
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