Last night, we watched history in the making. It marked the first time a woman received the Academy Award for Best Director. Kathryn Bigelow, the director of Hurt Locker, took home the Oscar (along with a few more for her film). Barbra Streisand gave away the winner, as she announced, "Well, the time has come..." After accepting the award, Bigelow walked off the stage to "I Am Woman."
Bigelow's award comes in the wake of a New York Times op-ed I wrote about last week. The writer called for one gender neutral oscar for best female and male actors in order to reduce the gender inequity promoted by the Oscar's. How would she respond to Bigelow's win? Is this still a sign that the Oscars are sexist? If a woman can beat out acclaimed Director (and ex-husband) James Cameron to win it, then, what does that say about inequity?
Bigelow's award shows that women have made strides to excel in new careers. The fact that so few women have even been nominated for Best Director indicates that more men have historically made up the profession. Bigelow broke through the barrier. Perhaps, now she will be the role model for many aspiring young female directors who are trying to make it in the field.
I think there is an important take-home lesson here. Women and men are different, but there is no inherent "superior sex." There are some professions and tasks that men tend to perform better at, and the same is true for women in different fields. And there are a growing number of fields where men and women perform similarly and even compete.
When a woman does something for the first time, like what Bigelow accomplished last night, we should celebrate. However, our celebration should also warrant a pause. A pause to recognize that in an achievement like this, where men and women were judged on merit, and NOT on the basis of their sex, anything can happen. This also means that men and women do not have to compete. Sometimes, distinguishing between men and women is a good thing. It is okay to have a best actor award AND a best actress award; this doesn't imply sexism. Didn't Sandra Bullock win last night because of her skilled portrayal of a wife and mother, something really that one can only do as a woman? Should we call her Oscar "sexist" because she didn't have a chance to beat out all the guys?
As exciting as Bigelow's win was last night, I wouldn't call her achievement any more remarkable for a woman than Bullock's was. In the category they were nominated for, the Academy deemed both of these women "the best." And we should regard a first Oscar for anyone as an incredible career accomplishment.