Gender, Identity, Equity — A Reflection

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Coming into this conversation of gender, I realised that I have always taken for granted the internal narratives that I had of it. Exploring the context of my childhood, as a privileged Chinese male I never really saw any lack of prospects or oppression due to my gender and hetero-normal preferences, and I never thought that there was much for me to uncover in this conversation. From my family background growing up I was always exposed to a highly progressive narrative of equal rights for women, with my own two surnames of Lee and Lim being an embodiment about this aspiration for gender equality. I was also constantly exposed to my mother’s pursuit of advocating for more rights for women in both society and the judicial system. To me this was innately a narrative that I have always embodied.

And this with this context the TED talk by Ann-Marie Slaughter was quite familiar to me, in trying to expand the concept of women’s success, although now from the other direction of what it means to opt out of corporate success. But some ideas and quotes that stuck with me from her speech are highlighted below:

  • On exploring this idea of changing our understanding and expectation of success for both men and women — “I suggest that real equality, full equality, does not just mean valuing women on male terms. It means creating a much wider range of equally respected choices for women and for men. And to get there, we have to change our workplaces, our policies and our culture.”
  • On recognising in our work and status obsessed society, that work and family come together as a whole — “In the workplace, real equality means valuing family just as much as work, and understanding that the two reinforce each other.”
  • On recognising acknowledging that the work done by women and men at home are just as important to our society — “Real equality means recognizing that the work that women have traditionally done is just as important as the work that men have traditionally done, no matter who does it. Think about it: Breadwinning and caregiving are equally necessary for human survival.”
  • On the idea that as time has progressed, women now have more choice in who they want to be, while men still do not have this freedom due to cultural expectations — “Increasingly in developed countries, women are socialized to believe that our place is no longer only in the home, but men are actually still where they always were. Men are still socialized to believe that they have to be breadwinners, that to derive their self-worth from how high they can climb over other men on a career ladder.”

But from her speech of exploring both sides of the gender divide, it showed me that with the progress of equal rights and opportunities for women, “men are actually still where they always were”. And in exploring my own life experiences, what I found was that I am part of the problem in the lack of growth of men in their social and emotional capacities. Growing up in an all boys school, I always felt that I was more sensitive and more able to access my range of emotions compared to many of my male peers. Every time I would approach my male friends over an issue of emotions, the typical response would be to deny those feelings and to seek distractions that can numb us from them. And from this lack of ability or even courage to explore vulnerabilities and hold space for emotions, I could not connect with other men and instead sought the easier alternative, of bonding with women instead. Over time it became an innate choice to distance myself from looking to build relationships with other men, assuming that they would not understand what I am feeling or be able to empathise with me. To me women were able to provide me the support needed to heal when I needed help. And in seeing this clearly now, I do own up to being part of the problem of why men are being left behind.

From growing up with the women’s rights movement blossoming into a global phenomenon of Feminism, Lean In and now in measured parts the MeTooMovement, I think women are on a positive trajectory of progress. While in the grander scheme of things men are being left behind in this conversation of growing their capacity. And from this haunting article of the gender dynamics to come, I am beginning to take interest and see the pressing needs of men being left behind. From these conversations of Michael & Zachary Kimmel TED Live and the ManEnough Movement I see that men really need a space to reevaluate masculinity, to find ways of bonding through vulnerability and to start redefining what it means to live a meaningful life.

Some ideas and quotes from Michael & Zachary Kimmel’s TED Live Conversation

  • On the current ideas of toxic masculinity — “This traditional, inherited idea of masculinity is a recipe for loneliness, emptiness, a lack of connection and a suppression of compassion and empathy.”
  • How we can raise men to explore their own unique identities — ” Don’t push your child into an activity that is stereotypically associated with their gender. If your son doesn’t want to play football, allow them the space and give them the confidence and trust to find their own path.”
  • On the rising trend of men feeling victimised and the evolving narrative of what is right and wrong — “Once upon a time, the whole world was a locker room — now there’s women everywhere. I hear men my age say, “Where can a guy go where he can just relax and not get policed all the time?” It is the path to progressive ideas, but it is also somehow pushing men out of the conversation as they do not feel safe in being involved in these conversations
  • On again changing the current narratives and expectations of our roles as men in work life balance “They’re fathers, sons, brothers, partners, lovers, friends, husbands. We need support from other men to act. When a guy says “I’m going to take parental leave,” his colleagues shouldn’t say, “I guess you’re not committed to your career, are you?” but “Good for you, man. You have your priorities straight.”

With these conversations and ideas in mind, I was going in as a facilitator at the TEDx Pickering Street Saloon about Gender, Identity, Equity. It was an insightful experience to learn about the diverse lives and struggles of others around this topic, and it was my first attempt at exploring the role I can play in advancing this idea of gender and identity. To me what was surprising about this activity was about coming to terms that with the evolution of gender into a spectrum, there is no longer a right or wrong experience or identity about gender, it is just different experiences that forms an individual as who they are. And it was challenging at times in learning to hold space for the group, as they navigated sometimes contradictory ideas between what was right in the past, to the validity of our experiences now. And through this, it was about understanding empathy a bit better, in knowing that it is not about agreeing, but about embodying the understanding of other’s experiences. Many of the seniors in the group noted how much more complex the world is in the 21st century, as even gender which used to be constants have evolved into a malleable spectrum that we need to understand for ourselves. And for me it really is an evolving conversation, one that I begin to grasp a little more as I spend more time understanding the diversity of concepts, conversations and lived experiences of others.

Maybe we have just finally matured a little better to a reality that we need to do hard work to really start understanding each other better as individuals.

Written by

Programme Manager @ Padang & Co | Architectural Designer | Startups, Participatory Design and Social Enterprise sectors

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