A 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.