“There’s No Space for Me”: Liv Hewson Brings Attention to the Limits of Gendered Emmys Categories

feature image by David Livingston / Contributor via Getty Images

According to Variety, Liv Hewson won’t be submitting their work as Van on the television sensation Yellowjackets for the Emmys this year. Hewson, who is queer and nonbinary, spoke with Variety about the decision:

“There’s not a place for me in the acting categories. It would be inaccurate for me to submit myself as an actress. It neither makes sense for me to be lumped in with the boys. It’s quite straightforward and not that loaded. I can’t submit myself for this because there’s no space for me.”

They’re right; it’s not that complicated: Binary gendered categories at awards ceremonies are inherently exclusive. And Hollywood has been slow to change. Some awards institutions have eliminated gendered categories, such as the British Independent Film Awards, the Berlin Film Festival, the Gotham Awards, and the Independent Spirit Awards. But the Emmys, Golden Globes, Oscars, and other major awards ceremonies continue to separate categories by “men” and “women.”

This forces nonbinary or genderqueer people to choose to submit in a category that does not reflect their identity or to not submit at all, as Hewson has opted for. Some nonbinary actors, like Emma D’Arcy, have spoken about the pressure to present as cisgender in order to succeed. Billions star Asia Kate Dillon penned an open letter to the SAG Awards committee in 2020 asking for an end to gender-segregated categories.

In today’s Variety story, Hewson crucially pushed back against the argument people tend to make against gender neutral categories: that it would mean cis white men would dominate in all categories across the board. They managed to articulate something I’ve long felt but never knew how to say so succinctly: “There is an implied fatalism there, which suggests that we’ve all agreed that equality is impossible. And that’s sad,” they told Variety.

Indeed, the implication that gender neutral categories would make it impossible for women and nonbinary people to win awards is derivative at best. It misguidedly aligns gender neutrality in awards with regression, when really it’s a step forward for the industry, one that allows for more inclusion and representation — not less.

Hewson tells Variety they’ve been supported by Showtime and the cast of Yellowjackets cast in this decision. They’re straightforward and firm about their choice, and I’m struck by their impressive balance of not wanting to sensationalize this stance while also underscoring they do want to see change. They tell Variety they “very gently and respectfully ask that people get their gears turning a little.”

It shouldn’t take actors missing out on potential opportunities and accolades over and over again to move the needle.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 847 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. I just wish they could find a way to eliminate binary gendered acting categories without cutting the number of award recipients in half. You can still have as many nominees as before, but awarding “performer in a leading role” to the top-2 vote getters would be pretty disastrous, since of course everyone would wring their hands about who the “real” winner was and who was the runner-up.

    Unfortunately in all the awards shows that have ditched the genders so far, they’ve cut the total number of awards in half — which sadly has the opposite effect of LESS inclusion by half.

  2. I admire the optimism and idealism, but when Brit Awards went gender neutral, they ended up with all-male nominees. So far the other awards mentioned (Gothams, Independent Spirit etc) have been quite balanced but when for example the Oscars have had such historic issues with racism how could we rely on them to nominate fairly?

    It’s unfair that Hewson is shut out of the awards, I couldn’t agree more, but wouldn’t it be more unfair if their fellow actors stood no chance of being nominated while AMAB people have access to better roles and therefore more chance of getting nominated in a gender neutral landscape?

    If Liv got their wish, unfortunately, people who identify as women would be punished. I know that’s not their intention, but it’s what would happen.

    • “AMAB people” and “people who identify as women” are not exclusive categories. If you’re talking about cis men, or people who are publicly presenting as cis men, and/or people who can get cast to play cis man roles, please say what you mean?

      • I’d hoped from context it would be clear that I’m speaking about cis men, but I do apologize for my imprecise language. I’m an AMAB and BIPOC person (who is a woman) so I’m well aware of the importance of correct terminology and I feel terrible about that. I’m so sorry if my language hurt you in any way. I have dysgraphia and though I try very hard, unfortunately the time I spend writing plus running a comment through Grammarly isn’t always evident lol

        • The Brits went gender neutral in 2022 and had more female nominees/winners than ever didn’t they? I may be misremembering. Obviously it was different in 2023 but NB people shouldn’t be punished for that. It is an industry wide problem that white cis straight guys are generally more likely to be rewarded. NB people certainly aren’t favoured and it annoys me when people(not you to be clear) act like they are.

        • I am extremely sorry. I thought you were one of those inconsiderate cis people who want to look like they’re using inclusive language but aren’t really putting any thought into what’s going on, but I really misunderstood the situation! I’m autistic and have trouble talking out loud sometimes, and I feel really bad that I didn’t understand you were another person with disability-related communication issues. If it makes you feel any better, you never actually hurt my feelings, I just thought, “oh, a person is being inconsiderate, that’s annoying.” But you weren’t being inconsiderate and you didn’t do anything wrong.

    • It’s interesting to compare to other possible ways of dividing up awards recipients by identity. Would it be an answer to the Oscars’ long history of racism to have “best actor of color” and “best white actor” categories? If not, why is it a good way to deal with gender inequity?

      Only acting awards are divided by gender. In the entire history of the Oscars, eight women have been nominated for Best Director. But would the answer be to have gendered categories? If not, why does that make sense for actors?

      • I think it’s late in the game to divide best director or screenwriter categories. Originally, actor/actress were divided because awards show creators believed the art of embodying a female character was unique and distinct from the art of embodying a male character. Different traits made a performance “good.”

        In retrospect, this is obviously sexist. But, much like alimony payments and maternity leave, it’s challenging to remove something that benefits women specifically, even if the origin is sexist, because removing it does not alter the sexism inherent to the context.

        Without alimony, women who agreed to do a lot of domestic labor rather than pursue a high-paying career, yet made that choice contingent upon their husbands taking care of them financially, have no recourse to benefit from the fruits of their own domestic labor in the event of divorce. Removing alimony doesn’t fix the underlying, sexist structure that pushes women into a situation where they’re financially dependent and most of their labor is unpaid.

        Likewise, the culture of cinema and Hollywood has far less respect for the physical art of portraying female characters than it does make ones. All work women do with their bodies is undervalued by society, no matter how necessary. Given the subjectivity inherent to evaluating acting, all of the viewer’s preexisting biases come to the surface when they try to choose who the best actor was.

        I’m not sure how we could implement a stronger kind of “affirmative action,” or some structural means to combat bias, when making subjective judgements of art. Blind auditions or art competitions that remove personally identifying information have been shown time and again to benefit marginalized people (see: Maya Lin winning the design contest for the Vietnam War memorial). But there is no way to disguise an actor’s visible identities like gender, race, or disability.

        I’m not sure how people could build anti-bias criteria into the Oscars, but it doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. I would much rather go that route – heck, even the route of adding a third acting category for “Best Non-Binary Actor” – than the route of eliminating one of the few tools we have for lauding the under-recognized art of women.

        If we’re not going to replace the gender division with another means of uplifting and recognizing performers with marginalized genders specifically and intentionally,then it’s not a great idea.

  3. I should have written this into the piece but in case it’s unclear: I do think the elimination of these categories should be coupled with an expansion of the # of nominees by a lot!

    • They already do that in awards that have eliminated the binary categories, but they still only have one winner. So the same number of total nominees (if not more), half as many winners.

  4. Liv Hewson so right. Honestly it’s wild to me how terrible some awards are about perpetuating a gender binary as the main sorting mechanism of awards “worthiness.” And imo the whole “if we just have best performer then five men will be nominated and it will be even worse” argument totally misses the point. They already have the main/supporting split, there could be separate nominations for drama versus comedy like some awards already have, not to mention best breakout role, best ensemble, best stunt performance, you could do best performance in historical/contemporary/SFF categories, you could do “best career performance” if you wanted to target older performers… I could keep suggesting more options forever. Isn’t acting supposed to be a creative field? Just get creative!

  5. yeah, definitely I would say without a commensurate increase in categories based on not-explicitly-gendered criteria, eliminating separate mens and womens categories would just result — even in a “best case scenario” of the winners’ demographics reflecting the general population — in half as many women winning acting / music / etc awards, which to me is not a good outcome. but splitting it up by genre or episode-length and so on seems like a good Part 2 of the Eliminate Gendered Awards Categories plan

    I know at least the Boston Marathon has taken a different approach and added a third non-binary+ gender competition category

  6. I’ve gone back and forth on how I feel about this for years. I completely agree that it’s wrong for non-binary people to choose between inclusion and misgendering but at the same time if men are the ones receiving all the nominations because we still live in a society that places more value on their work then no one wins.

    In open categories I’d like to see more effort put into ensuring that there’s equal representation in nominations. How that would work best would probably vary between awards and might change if the number of non-binary actors etc increases but it seems the fairest way to be inclusive for everyone.

  7. I think it’s so funny that people get all hand-wringing over cutting gendered acting categories because then it wouldn’t be fair to women and men would dominate, but if you suggest to those same people splitting Best Director into gendered categories, they’d think that’s silly and even belittling to women.

  8. It is incredibly unfortunate for non-binary actors and there is no easy solution, unfortunately. If categories are merged women (more specifically BIPOC) will be left out, as usual. If you expand the # of nominees, the only thing that opens up is the amount of men to be nominated. If you specify there has to be a limit of the amount of a gender identifying actors than you run the risk of the “participation award” argument and that takes away the prestigiousness of the award (that’s why these actors submit themselves in the first place, for recognition and wealth).

  9. I see a lot of comments suggesting that gendered categories should get abolished, but I don’t quite get why nobody suggests that a third one (enby) gets added instead. Can someone explain?

    • I assume the reason is there are roughly equal numbers of men and women in the world, but the number of nonbinary people is much fewer than people who are bimary men, or who are binary women. (distinguishing “binary women / binary men” specifically because there of course lots of people who ID both as nonbinary *and* as a woman / a man)

      so fewer competitors leading to less fierce / competitive of a contest, and therefore a less meaningful award, would be the thinking I believe

  10. How can you say only men would win if you’re taking gender out of the equation? If you mix the two; then you have to accept the result regardless of gender!! You cannot have it both ways!!

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