June 20, 2023 - 10:00am

To the surprise of nobody, the Oscars are considering removing all gendered categories for performers. This is an easily anticipated reaction to mounting social pressure regarding sex and gender. As the question “What is a woman?” becomes harder and harder to answer for those in positions of authority, executives increasingly find it easier to dispense with the term altogether. As such, in recent years the Grammys, MTV Movie & TV Awards, and Independent Spirit Awards have all amalgamated their male and female categories. 

Perhaps more surprisingly, the unlikely hero pointing out the absurdity of this most recent development was Jameela Jamil, who took to Instagram to propose a “non-binary category” instead of a system that is statistically biased against female performers. Opposition to eradicating the female category certainly isn’t an unreasonable position: as Jamil noted, at the Grammys and Brits, “men swept the [genderless] category”. 

In her post, the actress expressed fears that removing gendered categories from awards shows might “run the accidental risk of erasing” non-binary people. This is a somewhat surprising comment from a woman who recently referred to “people of all genders who can become pregnant” when discussing abortion legislation in America. It would seem that while Jamil has previously been happy to dispense with women’s identities, she cannot bear to do the same to non-binary individuals.

It is also quite the epiphany from someone who has historically been an outspoken critic of single-sex women’s spaces. When trans swimmer Lia Thomas topped the women’s category at the US national college swimming championships, the actress was the first to defend Thomas’s right to compete and criticised those concerned with the issue, claiming that the whole thing was an elaborate ploy to “distract” from new abortion laws. 

Similarly, Jamil was highly vocal about her opposition to planned reforms of the Gender Recognition Act which sought to introduce new protections for women’s spaces — including bathrooms, changing rooms, and rape crisis and domestic abuse shelters. She claimed: “I would have any trans woman in my protected spaces as they need protection more than anyone”. And yet, now the trans debate is coming for the Oscars, Jamil’s particular area of interest, the penny is finally dropping. 

Unsurprisingly, Jamil’s recent comments have seen her branded a “Terf” by the same trans community for which she’s spent much of her career keenly advocating. Responding to the sea of negative comments, the actress is now complaining about the “current climate of social politics”. She claims she’s posting “mainly because thousands of people in [her] DMs asked [her] to, because they agree with this, but for some reason feel too afraid to say it publicly”, and apparently “that is ridiculous”. 

Watching Jamil’s journey of discovery might be frustrating for those who have expressed concerns about the erasure of women for years. However, we ought to take heart in her recent comments. The actress’s realisation that women will invariably be the group to suffer at the hands of gender-neutral policies is surely proof that trans ideology is collapsing in on itself. Hopefully, other activists might soon join Jamil in her revelations about the state of free speech, women’s categories, and the rights conflict which sit at the heart of this debate.

Lara Brown is a student at the University of Cambridge and a former president of the Cambridge Union.