Ditching separate gongs for men and women isn’t a sign of progress
Adele’s triumph at the Brits last night* is splashed all over the internet. She won best song, best album, and best female artist. Officially however, she was just the best artist. The male and female categories are now genderless in order to include Sam Smith and other self-proclaimed non-binary musicians. But Adele’s acceptance speech for best artist perfectly summed up this nonsense:
‘I understand why the name of this award has changed but I really love being a woman and being female artist; I do! I do! I am really proud of us, I really really am.’Adele, BRIT Awards 2022
Yes, we need to be inclusive, but male and female included everyone already. Dismantling the boundary between the sexes serves only to save costs – there is now one award instead of two. This means fewer gongs to go around, which means fewer talented musicians get their chance in the limelight. And it also create a headache for organisers to ensure that both sexes are fairly represented from year to year.
After Adele’s triumph, should the award be handed to a man next year? That, at least, seems unlikely. And while you will see few tears shed for men missing out on a prize it’s hard to argue that the shift towards gender neutrality is a mark of progress.
At least Adele appears to understand that. But for her decision to celebrate the fact she is a woman, she has, inevitably, come in for some flak. Adele has been labelled a Terf, or trans-exclusionary radical feminist, online. Terf, of course, is the slur thrown at women who stand up for their sex. Ignore the acronym itself, think ‘witch’ and you will get the idea. Much may have changed over the past 400 years, but human nature remains the same.
JK Rowling, Rosie Duffield, Kathleen Stock and other women have also had that label thrown at them. These talented women have been pursued and persecuted mercilessly, simply for standing up for their sex. I said women deliberately. Whatever the thought police might want us to believe, they certainly know the difference between men and women when they unleash their attacks.
There may be difficult days ahead for Adele. The temptation to apologise for apparent wrong-think might be huge. But her gender police critics are unlikely to be satisfied by apologies, so it’s vital she stands firm: Adele’s message to women and girls was inspirational. Here was a woman – who has sold tens of millions of albums – telling the world she was proud to be a woman. That’s something to celebrate, not condemn.
Today, as usual, I will be teaching both boys and girls. Most of human activity is mixed-sex, and rightly so. We are first of all human beings. But we all have a sex and that sex mean our bodies are different and our relationships with each other are different. Girls have always had a very different experience to boys. While we might try and deny the difference, apologise for it or even beat ourselves up for being part of the problem, the truth is that girls face pressures that boys may not even notice.
Those girls need role models and last night Adele stepped up to the plate. For that, she deserves applause, even greater than the adulation she received for her music.
Debbie Hayton is a teacher and journalist.
* This article was first published by The Spectator on 9 February 2022: Adele is right to take a pop at gender neutral awards.