The way we think about gender is evolving and Gen Z is spearheading the change. Almost 60% of those aged 13 to 21 believe forms that ask about gender should include options besides “man” or “woman,” according to a survey from the Pew Research Center. Additionally, studies have shown that Gen Z are ready to toss out stereotypes when it comes to how they’re perceived.
On December 15, The Conversationalist Director of Partnerships, Desanka Ilić spoke with Alessandra DeMartino and a group of Gen Z panelists about gender equity in the United States. The panelists shared how their gender identity has impacted their lives and the progress
Our host DeMartino is an actress, writer, and influencer who uses her platform to promote self-love and gratitude. Her open mindedness and willingness to speak on tough issues made her the perfect host.
Julia Esposito is a junior studying Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania. She defined equity as meaning everyone has an equal opportunity and equality as meaning everyone achieves the same outcome in a given scenario.
Deferring to Espositio’s definition of equity vs. equality, Faisal, a student at Boston University, said there are different opportunities available to other people based on their gender and that people experience an extra level of comfort based on their gender. At BU, Faisal serves as the Co-President of the BU chapter of HeForShe. He also acknowledged that his experience as a man and non-citizen drives his perspective.
Grant Loveless is an award-winning AfroQueer student leader and social entrepreneur. He also noted Epositio’s response and said that gender equity leads to gender equality. “Gender equity is measured by comparing outcomes for men and women in areas of education, employment, wages, and participation in health,” he said. “Also, we have to take into consideration that there's an intersection in racial equity that goes into gender equity.”
“Yes, I do think there are traditional gender roles,” said Hayle Tyson, a graduating senior at UNC-Chapel Hill. At her University, she leads an organization called Period. She acknowledged power dynamics between men and women that position women as subservient. “Gender equity would level the playing field.”
With that, DeMartino acknowledged her personal experiences with unreasonable standards as an actress working in Hollywood who struggles with an eating disorder. t all stemmed from not feeling enough,” she said. “Sometimes you're too skinny, or you're too big for a role. Or you're
too Latina, or you're too white. It's very hard. Personally, as a woman, I’ve delved into that whole hardship of trying to fit the mold.”
Syd Mark, a 17-year old transgender person from Wheaton, Illinois, who is passionate about creating leadership opportunities for LGBTQ+ people said that he feels he is treated differently sometimes due to his transgender identity, but experiences privilege within the community as a white person and as someone who passes. “For a lot of transgender and gender non-conforming folk, that's not the case for them because they want to express their gender identity or gender expression the way that they would like to,” he said. “Because of the strict gender roles that we have, many times, they are misgendered.”
As a high school student, Safa Chohan said she frequently experiences gendered behavior, such as dealing with male students’ condescension. She also said that she came to understand gender inequity more when she learned how her grandmother was discouraged from attending school.
“Figuring out what my gender is,” said Zoe Stoller, a professional writer and digital marketer. “I realized just this past April that I am gender fluid. I struggled with gender for a long time. I never really felt like I fit into traditional womanhood, and I blamed myself for it.” Their lack of comfort with gender harmed their mental health, and finding the language to describe their experience helped alleviate that.
Actor and activist, Travis Jordyn, said that this is a complicated question. “I think it’s challenging,” ze said. “I think the world around us is meant to think very binarily. Sometimes it can be very restricting, but there’s also a lot of power in that. You kind of get to create and like envision your future instead of the one that people try to place on you.”
As a gamer, Esposito said she’s noticed many of the men she plays with will talk down to her.
Mark pointed out how gendered language can be and how it leaves out people who are gender non-conforming. He said he’s been trying to get teachers to be more inclusive in addressing their students.
To address this question, Chohan said she looks toward trends in history. “It's a lot of like implicit biases that start from like a really young age,” she said and added that much of the sexism in our country is systemic.
Tyson said that it speaks to the way people are socialized from a young age rather than what they learn in class.
Jordyn said that it can be easy to fall back on tradition and norms, rather than on your values and beliefs.
It is your responsibility to become more empathetic than the generation you grew up in, and a lot of people don't like to hear that because you're going against what they think,” DeMartino said. “But it is your personal responsibility and right to educate yourself and to evolve as a society.”
Halabeya said that it’s important to hold governments and people in power accountable for creating change, rather than just relying on individual action. When it comes to the relationship between race and gender, he said it’s important to put action behind your values.
Loveless spoke about the ways he’s seen inequity play out in his community, particularly in light of COVID. “We had a huge issue with health equity and digital equity,” he said. He also offered some advice for how to approach conversations around equity. “I've always loved the concept of intersectionality because it just dives deep into the different transgressions that we have as people of color or LGBTQ people with multiple identities, or as I like to call, seasonings to ourselves,” they said.
Building on Loveless's point, Stoller said it was important that so many LGBT people were included in the conversation, and that they hoped to see more acknowledgment of the gender spectrum going forward.
“There is a beautiful spectrum of gender that is just so amazing, and just watching the way people express their gender identity through gender expression is amazing,” Marks said.
Heybala, spoke to the importance of making sustainable, everyday change in the fight for equality. “It's so easy to get caught up in some sort of a trend for a few weeks, a few months even, because it seems fashionable or just because you really care about it in the moment. But if you don't actually make it a habit, and I obviously speak to myself too, it's just not going to translate into real change,” he said. “You actually have to change the way you act on a day-to-day basis.”
Tyson said she has mostly dealt with gender equality in the context of menstrual health equity, so she looked forward to exploring the ideas brought up by the other panelists.
Loveless said he appreciated the conservation around setting goals for activism as it reminded him of a lesson he learned from his grandma about setting systems instead of setting goals. “Set systems in place so you could achieve those specific goals not overnight, but over time,” they said. “They're short-term or long-term. You have a system or routine in place that will help enhance or increase your skill set, or your mindset, or your experience. As a person to learn how to decolonize, or how to mobilize, or how to strategize to create that impact of that change.”
“Activism does not need to be this big sort of explosion of change,” Harley said. “It can be internal, you can find the activism within yourself and find things that you need to change about yourself. That can sometimes infect others around you to change their ways and think about the way that they think about things and to colonize themselves.”
Before saying goodbye to the panelists, DeMartino thanked the panelists for sharing their perspectives and expressed how impressed she was with everyone. Particularly, she thanked Stoller for speaking about the process of discovering their gender, since that’s not something she can relate to.
At the end of the conversation, DeMartino spoke with Ilić about her takeaways from the conversations and the ways in which it broke open her own echo chamber.
“I don't think I ever actually understood, until talking to this group of young people, how lonely and hurtful [it] must feel to not be included with a gender that you personally identify. So I think that's how I broke my echo chamber today,” she said. “I honestly think that it wasn't even something I consciously thought. Everything was so small, and now I'm like ‘wait a minute’.Again, I'm not ignorant, I've heard about these things. But to actually talk to a panel of young people that are like, ‘hey, I'm gender fluid and this is how I identify,’ I loved the conversation today.”
Join The Conversationalist for plenty more panels in the weeks ahead, featuring important conversations about topics that impact Gen-Zers. Follow The Conversationalist on Twitter,Instagram, and Facebook to learn about how you can enter to be featured on a future panel and text UNIFY to 1 (877) 222-1119 to join our community and connect with members.