Since the 1970s feminism has been remarkably successful in purging English of gender specific words. Waiter and waitress are out. Server is in. Steward and stewardess are out. Flight attendant is in.
Yet despite feminism's success, gender specific acting awards have proven amazingly resilient. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences still presents Oscars for Best Actor and Best Actress, for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.
Are these sex specific categories sexist? I've never known a Best Actor or Best Actress Oscar recipient to complain. Yet when the Screen Actors Guild introduced its acting award in 1995, it argued that actor and actress were inaccurate and outmoded terms. The "proper" term was actor, whether that actor was male or female. Thus SAG's award categories are for Best Male Actor and Best Female Actor.
Most film awards still follow Oscar. In researching my book, Horror Film Festivals and Awards (which records the names of horror film award recipients from the 1960s up through 2010), I learned that Best Actor and Best Actress remain the preferred terms among most film festivals. But some festivals are following SAG's example. Australia's A Night of Horror film festival presents awards for Best Male Performance and Best Female Performance.
Are Best Female Actor or Best Female Performance less offensive terms than Best Actress? I don't see how. You're still recognizing the performer's sex, despite using more words to do it.
And these newer terms still fail to address the increasingly complicated issue of gender. How many genders are there now? How do you categorize them in terms of awards? How do you even know what gender any actor identifies as, unless the film comes with notes for the awards committee? Some people claim to be "non-binary" (i.e., having no gender). How do you honor a "non-binary" performer? SAG's Best Male Actor and Best Female Actor categories fail to address that issue.
MTV's solution is to abolish "gender specific categories." The Associated Press reports [April 7, 2017]:
NEW YORK (AP) — MTV has scrapped gender specific categories for its upcoming Movie & TV Awards. In place of the Best Actress and Best Actor categories, this year's awards will honor a non-gendered Best Actor in a Movie and Best Actor in a Show.
The move follows the Grammy Awards' decision in 2011 to dump gender distinctions between male and female singers, collaborations and groups.
This trend has the potential of reducing acting awards by half. Up until now, actors competed against other actors, actresses against other actresses. (Like Oscar, I use the old terms.) But now actors and actresses will compete against each other for one award.
This contravenes a longstanding trend among film festivals to increase the number of award categories every few years. Everyone loves getting an award. The more you present, the better liked your festival becomes and the more publicity it receives.
If more festivals go gender neutral, they might compensate for it by increasing the number of acting categories (e.g., Best Actor in a Slasher Short Film, Best Actor in a Zombie Feature Film, etc.) But for now, Best Actor and Best Actress remain the preferred terms among most film festivals.
For a behind-the-scenes look at horror film festivals and the festival directors who manage them, see Horror Film Festivals and Awards. This book also includes a directory of over 200 horror film festivals, and a list of festival award winners from dozens of festivals over several decades.