Listening to Change: my Gender By Us™ experience

11.03.2016

The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio understands conversation as a powerful tool to mobilize advocates for gender equality. To generate dialogue surrounding the impacts of implicit biases and gender norms, The Women’s Fund developed a conversation toolkit- Gender By Us™.

In October, Grant Partners of The Women’s Fund convened to review research regarding implicit biases in central Ohio (commissioned by The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio and conducted by The Kirwan Institute), followed by a Gender By Us™ conversation. Before this gathering, I took some time to look through the toolkit myself. As I read through each card, I realized how frequently implicit biases go unrecognized and unreported, but they remain consistent throughout our daily lives. Without this recognition, our communities lack important conversations, and both men and women continue to carry the burdens of gender norms.

After reflecting on my experiences with bias, I had the privilege to see the influence of Gender By Us™ in action through a conversation with Women’s Fund Grant Partners. The Grant Partners were all clearly invested in challenging harmful gender norms within their organizations, but it quickly became evident that this conversation also reached participants on a personal level.

The conversation began with a man/woman box exercise. When asked what it means to think, act, or feel “like a man,” participants cited traits like “confident and ambitious.” Conversely, to be “like a woman” produced words such as “polite, compassionate, and nurturing.” The group concluded that those who do not fit inside these gendered “boxes” are ridiculed and given demeaning labels like “overly emotional” or “weak.” This exercise articulated the realities that we as a society know to be true whether we hold them as personal beliefs or not.

I was surprised and inspired when the word “strong” was applied to both the man and woman box. I have personally engaged in a similar exercise, but had not heard “strong” associated with women. It was exciting to hear that other women resonated with the word in their personal experiences and made me feel empowered to embrace my strength as well.

The dialogue then transitioned into small group discussions guided by data points and conversation cards included in the toolkit. As an observer, I was struck by the immediacy in which participants dove in to discussion. Each time a new card was introduced, groups were able to provide multiple examples and personal testimonies. Clearly, gender norms affects ALL of us in innumerable aspects. Implicit bias exists everywhere.

Individuals spoke from perspectives as parents, educators, and students. They recalled experiences from their childhoods and workplace environments. They delved into the implications of additional social identities, including race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, and more. Participants were able to relate to one another, but were also introduced to unfamiliar stories of bias. Despite the challenging nature of the discussion, it was consistently honest and transparent.

To conclude the conversation, the larger group was posed with one final question:

What will you do?

After uncovering the consequences of gender norms and implicit biases on a personal and institutional level, a need for action became clear. Several participants inquired about the next steps for research and many pledged to hold more conversations within their organizations and communities.

I took a moment to consider my own answer. I will continue to ask questions and to use my voice to interrupt instances of bias. I will encourage my communities to be transparent and intentional in their discussions and actions.  Bold and transparent conversation is one of the first steps necessary to incite change. Without community dialogue, it is difficult to develop effective action.

Will you join The Women’s Fund in challenging implicit bias and mobilizing advocates for the elimination of harmful gender norms? To host your own conversation, the Gender By Us™ toolkit can be downloaded at here.

 

Written by Keely Veatch, Women’s Fund Intern

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