On Gender Norms and Young Black Girls

October 6, 2015

prepost1A guest post from Riki Wilchins of TrueChild. Join the discussion about gender norms on October 26 by attending a screening of “The Mask You Live In”, hosted by the George Family Foundation.

Decades of research has found that challenging harmful gender norms are a key to improving life outcomes for young people in at-risk communities.

For instance, young women who internalize rigid feminine ideals that prioritize the “three D’s” of being deferential, desirable, and depending are likely to have lower life outcomes in a cluster or related areas that include reproductive health, economic security, and education.

The same is true for young men who buy into harsh codes of manhood as defined by strength, aggression, sexual prowess, and emotional toughness. Such men are more likely to avoid condom use, to engage in risk-taking behaviors with sex or substances, to abuse girlfriends or LGBT people, and to drop out (or be kicked out) of school early.

This is one reason that major international donor institutions like CARE, UNAIDs, UNFPA, and WHO have implemented initiatives that challenge and try to change rigid gender norms, and found them effective. USAID won’t fund new programs that lack an analysis of gender norms and inequities; and PEPFAR has made changing masculine norms the centerpiece of its work in dozens of countries.

Even the staid World Bank has undertaken a very deep and highly-public effort to move gender norms to the center of its work around the globe.

As one Bank manager explained, “We’re not doing this because it’s politically correct – we’re data-driven economists  – we’re doing it because the data shows it works better.”

Yet although gender impacts nearly every issue funders address, donors and grantees in the US are seldom challenged to do innovative work around gender norms.

As a senior program officer put it, “My staff and grantees get race and class, but where’s the gender analysis? What I want to know is—what happened to gender?”

Part of the answer to her question may lie in new project on young Black girls we worked on for the Heinz Endowments.

We found that Black adolescent girls and young women face specific barriers related to both race and gender which have immense effects on their health and achievement. And this was especially true for low-income Black girls, who also have challenges associated with poverty.

First, Black girls’ unique race and gendered experiences of discrimination results in multiple stresses that – over time – impair their immune systems.

Also, they must navigate social hostilities based on race as well as pressures to conform to traditional feminine ideals and those specific to Black communities.

Finally, feminine norms in the Black community often prioritize caretaking and self-sacrifice. Black girls may be silently encouraged to focus on others’ health while ignoring signals of pain and illness until their own bodies are in crisis.

The additive impact of these stresses can produce a “weathering effect,” in which Black women’s bodies become physically and biologically vulnerable, resulting in high rates of chronic disorders, reproductive health problems, infant mortality and obesity.

Lately we’ve been testing a new curriculum that helps teach young Black girls to think critically about rigid feminine norms, along with an accompanying. Trauma Informed Facilitation Guide.

We are still a couple months from having data in hand, but we have high hopes for this project. With SUNY Stony Brook’s Tech Prep, we recently tested a similar curriculum that helps girls of color to think critically about feminine norms that can hold them back from STEM interest and achievement (science, technology, engineering, and math).

The results are now in , and – as the graph above shows – girls’ improvement across the outcome metrics were so robust that – even with a very small n – the evaluators already found them “statistically significant.”

That’s how strong the impact of gender norms can be. It’s not that norms are the only variable – they’re not. After all, these are complex, intersectional problems.

It’s that gender norms are one of the last big variables that’s not being addressed. Because learning to be and be seen as a feminine young woman or a masculine young man is a primary rite of passage – perhaps the primary rite of passage – for every adolescent.

So it makes sense that if you talk with boys and girls about rigid gender norms, you get better program outcomes than if you ignore them. It’s simple:

Isn’t it time US donors started reconnecting race, class and gender in our philanthropy?

What’s With All the Buzz About Gender Norms?

September 29, 2015

maskA member post from Gayle Ober, president of the George Family Foundation.

As a woman, I am very aware of all the benefits and challenges of my gender. What hadn’t occurred to me until a year ago is that the reality of gender norms in our society has had a profound impact on my life. Not just how I was raised, but how I present myself, think about myself and interact with others.

In fall 2014, I had the opportunity to attend a conference session presented by Riki Wilchins, the founder and executive director of True Child, a nonprofit think tank that gathers and communicates information about gender norms and how they influence how we raise and educate our children. After so many “ah-ha” moments that I couldn’t take notes fast enough, I realized that I wanted to learn more. I also wanted to find a way to share True Child’s message with the George Family Foundation’s (GFF) grantees and with our philanthropic colleagues in Minnesota and beyond.

So what are gender norms?

According to True Child, gender norms are “socially constructed ideals, scripts, and expectations for how we are expected to look, act, and think as boys and girls and women and men.” And we begin learn these rules from the time we are born from everyone and everything with which we interact.

To get started, GFF and The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota invited Riki to speak to a group of our grantees in November. Building on the positive reaction of our grantees to Riki’s presentation, in April 2015, GFF invited other institutional grantmakers who support programs and organizations in the education and youth development fields, to hear Riki speak. The discussions that took place at those two convenings led us to believe that there was significant local interest in learning more about gender norms.

GFF is a modest family foundation with a small staff. Our “plates” are full and there is more to do than hours in the day. So why then are we hosting meetings, conversations and events about gender norms? What difference will it make to the organizations we support and the community in which we work and live?

According to a concept paper commissioned by the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, “two decades of basic research have found that when girls and boys buy into really narrow ideals for femininity and masculinity, they have measurably lower life outcomes in a cluster of related areas that include sexual and reproductive health, intimate relationships, economic empowerment and educational achievement.”

So if a foundation like GFF is trying to support organizations that will guide and nurture a generation of young people who are healthier in mind, body and spirit, we must look at the ways that society negatively impacts how they think about themselves. If we want young women to assume their full leadership potential, we need to recognize and build awareness of the rigid gender norms that promote “dependence, deference and desirability”. And, if we want young men to grow up to become fathers and spouses that can be emotionally connected and engaged deeply with their families, we need to work against the gender norms that encourage them to hide their feelings and never show the “softer” side of their being.

The Mask You Live In

On October 26, the George Family Foundation is co-hosting a screening of the new documentary “The Mask You Live In”. Produced and directed by Jennifer Siebel-Newsom, award-winning producer and director, “The Mask You Live In”, had its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and explores how America’s narrow definition of masculinity is harming boys, men, and society at large. Following the screening, Siebel-Newson will join Ramsey County Attorney, John Choi; Ashanti Branch, Executive Director, The Ever Forward Club; and Joe Ehrman, Founder, Coach for America (both featured in the film) in a panel discussion moderated by MPR’s Brian Newhouse. Learn more about the event and purchase tickets.

GFF’s hope in offering these learning opportunities, is that we can build a philanthropic and non-profit sector that has greater understanding of gender norms and pays attention as to how they affect the success (or lack thereof) of our most valuable community asset, our children.

To learn more about the George Family Foundation, visit our website at www.georgefamilyfoundation.org.

Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellowship Applications Open for 2016

August 5, 2015

Ron-McKinley-Philanthropy_FINAL_outlines_RGB-(2)MCF is excited to launch the third selection round for the Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellowship – an opportunity which aims to increase the number of people from under-represented communities holding leadership positions in Minnesota philanthropy.

We’re looking for high-potential leaders who will push themselves and Minnesota foundations to think bigger and think differently about what is possible in the communities they serve.

In 2016, new fellows will be joining the seven already actively working at Minnesota foundations. These fellows will be employed by MCF and placed in full-time positions at the following five host foundations:

  • Blandin Foundation
  • Bush Foundation
  • F.R. Bigelow Foundation
  • Medtronic Foundation
  • The Minneapolis Foundation

The 2016 fellows will be selected through an application process that opened today and closes at noon on September 9th. For more information on this opportunity and the application, visit our website.

MCF is also hosting an informational webinar about this opportunity on August 26. Registration is open now.

Have a look and help us spread the word about this exciting opportunity!

Meet Our Summer Communications Intern

June 24, 2015

pvangThanks to The BrandLab, a nonprofit that integrates students of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds into the marketing world, MCF has a communications intern this summer! Meet Paul Vang, who will be with us for the next seven weeks.

Paul graduated from Johnson Senior High School in Saint Paul, and still volunteers there for its wrestling team. He is currently a junior at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities pursuing a Communications major, with a minor in Leadership. Last summer he held a BrandLab internship with 3M.

While with MCF, Paul will help us with social media, email marketing, media relations, and website updates and improvements.

Glad to have you with us, Paul!

Fast Forward with PPL’s Paul Williams

June 19, 2015

ff1In MCF’s latest Fast Forward podcast, MCF President Trista Harris sits down for a wide-ranging talk with Paul Williams, president and CEO of Project for Pride in Living.

Topics they discuss include:

  • The importance of being rooted in community and using it as an asset.
  • The need for scale to make a meaningful impact.
  • Paul’s wish for philanthropy to create greater leverage with government.

Listen to the podcast now! And while you’re at it, be sure to check out other recent episodes like:

Subscribe to Fast Forward on iTunes or on the podcast player of your choice to always get the latest episodes as we publish them.

Preparing for Civic Disasters

May 1, 2015

blacklivesMCF has worked hard to help our members be future focused. There has been great work to help foundations proactively prepare for natural disasters, so that when that tornado or flood hits, the philanthropic community already has a plan to get the community back to normal and in some cases, even better than they were before the disaster.

What we haven’t done is civic disaster preparedness. What does a community do when the trust between officers of the law and the communities they are swore to protect is breached? What do we do when our schools are failing to prepare our next generation of leaders? What do we do when our community is divided into the haves and the have-nots and that line is clearly tied to race? What do we do when our freeways are stopped by people desperate to be heard on those challenges? What do we do when our media, our schools, and our places of commerce become the public square? What do when do when our communities go up in flames (figuratively and literally) because the earlier methods of communications have gone unheard for days, weeks, years, decades, and centuries?

I believe that we need to start answering this questions now. While tensions are simmering but not yet at the full boil that we are seeing in Baltimore and around the country. If this civic disaster was treated like a tornado, sirens would have been going off in our community for the last decade. What can we do today to prepare for it and prevent it? Who do we need to hear, what institutions need to change, and how do we, as Minnesotans, need be different? I think if we start asking these questions now, we could live in a much better community tomorrow.

I want to hear your ideas and actions to help prepare for civic disasters. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

– Trista Harris, MCF President


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