In this op-ed, columnist Jill Gutowitz breaks down how whiteness and maleness continue to set the standard for what’s seen as “good.”
Do you ever feel like you’re existing on a different plane of reality than men? Do you feel like you woke up this morning, stared at the 2020 Academy Awards nominations, tore your eyes away from the glowing blue screen and realized that your bedroom was rotating, fracturing, and morphing in a “No Tears Left to Cry,” Arianaean Grandean reality shift?
Hi, I’m Jill Gutowitz, and I’m like you. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, then you may be suffering from Matriarchal Dysmorphia, a condition in which major patriarchal events shatter your grasp on reality, and forcibly remind you that men are out there, right now, as we speak, continuing to be men.
This morning, the 2020 Academy Awards nominations were announced and were shockingly male and white: one performer of color, Cynthia Erivo, was nominated across 20 possible acting slots, despite actors like Jennifer Lopez, Awkwafina, and Lupita Nyong’o racking up nominations at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and Critics’ Choice Awards (and winning, in many cases). Zero women were nominated for best sirector, though Greta Gerwig’s Little Women received nods for both best picture and best adapted screenplay; out of the 10 writing slots, only Little Women (written by Greta Gerwig) and 1917 (co-written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns) were nominated.
But should we be shocked? I wasn’t. Personally, I went to bed last night with dread swirling in my chest, knowing that I’d wake up to the chilling reminder that, yes, reader, there are men out there. Really, there are. Statistics show that, shockingly, every two seconds, a man exists. I know that can be hard to read. But it’s better if you have The Facts while experiencing a shift in reality, and this is reality: Men are real, and they still have a vice grip on which films are dubbed “good.”
Recently, I met with a production company to discuss working together. The man I met with, let’s call him Nick, told me with complete conviction that 2019 was the best film year in a long time, because “the greatest directors of our time, like Tarantino and Scorsese, were back.” When he asked which movies I had liked this year, I said Booksmart and Hustlers. He said, “Hustlers? Oh, that was good? It didn’t look good.”
Lots to unpack there. But that was when my reality first glitched, my The Matrix\–esque black cat déjà vu. When you’re experiencing life as a woman, consuming content that’s interesting to you, having conversations with other women about books and TV shows and movies that have affected you, perusing the internet for paparazzi photos of Cate Blanchett wearing a chocolate leather jumpsuit, it does feel like you’re living on a different planet than people like Nick. Because Nick’s understanding of what makes a film “good” is sculpted, year after year, by The Academy.
Winning an Oscar is still widely regarded as the most prestigious honor a filmmaker can receive, and The Academy’s constant refusal to recognize women in the directing category, or balance the scales in the writing categories, or to reward people of color, is a stark reminder that maleness and whiteness are still tremendously valued in 2020. And as long as predominantly white, male institutions like The Academy maintain power, then women and people of color will continue to be boxed out.
Experiencing this Arianaean Grandean reality shift made me want to write off the Academy Awards as an outdated, irrelevant system that doesn’t matter. But it does. As Phillip Henry pointed out on Twitter, the amount of power and impact the Oscars have on the lives and success of people working in film can’t be understated. Statistics show (I promise this is a real Fact) that Oscar nominations often directly increase the amount of money a movie makes at the box office. And numbers dictate what kinds of stories studios will continue to invest money in, and which filmmakers will continue to work (and hire more marginalized people, and shatter the fabric of patriarchy, and so on and so forth.)
But the Oscars also impact consumers, like Nick, and like me. Women and people of color are asked to meet a white, male standard of value in order to be nominated for an Academy Award, so of course they’re not recognized; women’s stories are not male, people of color’s stories are not white, and they shouldn’t have to be in order to receive a nomination.
The films that are heralded can shape how we feel about ourselves. This year, Joker led the nominations with 11 nods, The Irishman and Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood following close behind with 10 each. What we choose to recognize as “good” affects how women, people of color, and queer people see and feel when they look in the mirror: Often, we feel shame. Ugliness. Unworthiness. Maybe we look in the mirror and think, I wish I was normal, because our understanding of “normal” was programmed and broadcast into our skulls by patriarchal institutions like The Academy.
So, yes, staring at the 2020 Academy Award nominations felt absolutely alien today. The stories that I cared about, that I felt should’ve been recognized—like Booksmart, The Farewell, Hustlers, Us— were not recognized. Fighting for women, people of color, and queer people to be nominated across all categories is an indefatigable, Sisyphean battle that we can’t win, because our values are not the same as the people who are ascribing the value. What we value matters.
This isn’t exactly breaking news, but stuff that women or people of color love, or things that are considered womanly or feminine or non-white, are not esteemed by male realities. It seemed nearly satirical that the films celebrated today are still war movies (1917), movies about how men are shafted or “wronged” (Joker), men who are criminals (The Irishman), or fighters (Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood), or are nearing 60 but could pull a teenage girl if he wanted to (also Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood).
This is not a problem that women have. This is a problem with men. This is a problem with the patriarchal reality these systems have confined us to. It is not I who should be suffering an Arianean Grandean shift, it is men, who would probably call it something weird like a “Christopher Nolaean” shift—revolting.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue