Decades of research have shown that rigid gender norms—the narrow and often invisible rules defining masculinity and femininity that we ingest and follow—adversely affect social, emotional, educational, health, and economic outcomes for people and societies. Despite the data, however, well-intentioned work by philanthropists, nonprofits, governments, and others to combat social ills and systemic inequities too often proceeds without a gender lens.
Enter Riki Wilchins, Executive Director of TrueChild, whose life’s work is to spur greater awareness, dialogue, and action through a more integrated (truly “intersectional”) approach to challenging entrenched gender norms. Wilchins connected with PFS communications specialist, Laura Bradley Davis, to discuss TrueChild’s work and the proven approaches they’re bringing to foundations, NGOs, and community-based nonprofits. What follows is an edited distillation of their riveting conversation.
Can you define “gender norms”?
Kids—and adults—live in a gender context. Gender norms are like invisible guard rails; you don’t see them, but they shape behavior, beliefs, and opportunities. Norms often show up as a kind of negative power, as absence rather than presence: doors that just didn’t open, choices that couldn’t be made, opportunities that just seemed out of reach.
Considering they’re so influential, why do you think gender norms are underappreciated as a factor in so many issue areas?
I think we’re experiencing a long-overdue moment of national focus on racial justice. But you can’t really discuss race without discussing gender. Because racial bias is always raced, and racial bias is always gendered. This is the heart of what we call “intersectionality.” Many funders are doing real and important work to deepen their engagement with racial equity; and now, we need to help them do the same with gender. Unfortunately, most people don’t know how to think about gender, and it can be hard to fully grasp new ideas just by reading about them. I find when one mentions gender in a policy or program context, people think of “trans,” and the gender nonconformity part of it is important.
Read the full article about a conversation about gender norms by Laura Bradley Davis at Pacific Foundation Services.
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