Story written in collaboration with the participants in the episode.
Pass the Mic Podcast Series is an unscripted group discussion born out of AcornOak’s belief in the power of many voices.
Each episode begins with one expert - an open-minded and passionate individual who has spent a great deal of time investigating and researching a certain topic. During our hour, a small group of 4 to 6 people will explore complex and difficult concepts with curiosity, uncertain beliefs and the willingness to objectively listen and learn from the shared insights of others.
Our third episode discusses Gender Identity with an attempt to answer the following question: How can we rethink our gender identities in the age of fluidity?
Starting the Conversation
As the podcast host, Virginie Glaenzer, paved the way for this conversation to explore the evolving social and cultural meanings of gender and rethink our understanding of gender in order to create a more balanced society.
Welcoming Our Guests
We were honored to welcome our panel of special guests eager to discuss gender identities and their implications in today’s culture and society.
Martina Olbertova is a brand meaning expert, strategist, semiotician and social scientist on a mission to redefine the role of meaning in business. Witnessing the ongoing crisis of meaning in our society, she decided to help companies by exploring the shifting cultural meanings of the big social concepts of our time, such as gender, identity, equality, diversity, trust, integrity or post-truth to help companies evolve their symbolic meaning and create new relevance. Her doctoral dissertation was on Gender and Media in the Age of Postmodernity to reveal the symbolic tensions of gender stereotypes in the current media discourse.
Jennifer Brown, Founder and CEO, Jennifer Brown Consulting. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, speaker, diversity and inclusion expert, author, and member of the LGBTQ community. Her work in talent management, human capital, and intersectional theory has redefined the boundaries of talent potential and company culture. She is also the host of the popular weekly podcast, The Will to Change, which uncovers true stories of diversity and inclusion.
Lea Glaenzer, Junior at Bard College. Lea is a Political Studies and Middle Eastern Studies major at Bard College. In addition to her internship at the college's Office for Gender Equity, in which she programs events and training for incoming students about the college's gender-based discrimination and misconduct policies, she is on the student government's Fiscal Committee. Bard grants funds to this committee to invest in corporations that are participating in unsustainable or unethical business behaviors. Then, as shareholders, they propose various resolutions that require companies to change their practices.
Jason Rosario, Multicultural strategist & brand builder, creative consultant, and inclusion accelerator. Jason is a motivational speaker and media personality who founded the Lives of Men (TLoM), a social impact creative agency, as a vehicle for Black and Latino men to explore healthier frameworks of masculinity while serving as a resource as they navigate various life stages. Through his podcast, “Dear Men,” he aims to inspire, activate and nurture the development of well-rounded men.
Mark Sherman, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at SUNY, New Paltz. In addition to his distinguished career in academia, Mark is an author, humorist, speaker, and songwriter who has taught, thought, researched and written about gender issues for more than 40 years. He has a blog on Psychology Today, a humorous newspaper column, and has hosted a weekly podcast. Having three sons and five grandsons, he is especially interested in -- and concerned about -- how boys and young men are doing both in and outside of school.
Michael Flood, Associate Professor at Queensland University of Technology. Micheal is a sociologist, researcher, author, editor, and expert advisor focused on issues related to gender, sexuality, and interpersonal violence. Dr Flood’s current research addresses interpersonal violence and its prevention, particularly with reference to men and masculinities. He is a trainer and community educator with a long involvement in pro-feminist advocacy and education.
Listen to the tour de table of our participants.
Dr. Martina Olbertova started the discussion with a summary of her own experience and why she's interested in gender from a personal, academic and professional perspective. Then she segwayed into the what is happening in our culture and society today and how these ongoing cultural changes affect our perception of gender, identity and our authentic selves.
Listen to Martina Olbertova's take on how the changes in our current culture and society are redefining how we perceive gender and what our identities need to become to help us embrace our individual essence and authenticity.
What is happening in our culture today?
“What I am observing in our society right now is that the cultural foundations of the world that we live in and the solid pieces of our culture that we were able to rely on historically to make meaning and orient ourselves are getting increasingly disintegrated. And as these cultural foundations that our society is based on are being destabilized, the meanings that we would normally ascribe to things – be it identity or gender, or other cultural concepts – are shifting. Things we used to take for granted are starting to mean something else nowadays, due to which our culture is disembedding.
This is actually a term used by the University of Toronto Cognitive Science Professor Dr. John Vervaeke who specifically talks about “cultural disembedding” as the primary reason why we are now facing the meaning crisis. The grand cultural narrative of our time is broken, basically, as it ceases to mirror our lived reality. How does this reflect on our gender identities? Because our ways of being are expansive and no longer fit in the residual boxes of gender and identity as we used to know them, we are now feeling the urge to increasingly differentiate on an individual level. We are feeling the urge to create new identities that can take us out the old box of what gender used to look like and the meanings we used to ascribe to what femininity and masculinity were in order to allow ourselves to become more of who we are as self-actualized authentic human beings.”
Key Shared Insights & Perspectives
1- The Past
The Genesis of Our Gender Identities
We started our discussion revisiting our past to try to understand the genesis of our gender identities.
Listen to Jason Rosario’s take on where our gender identities originated and what needs to be done to make them more representative of our individuality.
In this first segment, we also touched on the topic of Nature versus Nurture and their relative influence on our self-awareness and behavior.
Listen to Lea Glaenzer as she shares her generation’s clarity regarding gender identities and the need to break down old cultural norms as an expression of autonomy.
2- The Present
Gender Identities in the Workplace
Today, gender identities and perceptions have an effect on the way we work together.
Jennifer Brown pointed out various gender challenges including the proven negative impact on women who speak up about injustices even when their sacrifices cause positive changes overall. Additionally, our open dialogue about gender may have reduced the one-on-one work relationships between men, who currently hold most positions of power, and women.
Listen to Jennifer as she describes how this breakdown is harmful because collaboration and support from men are critical to challenging the current balance of power.
3- The Future
What if we blurred gender identity boundaries in media?
While we are witnessing somewhat contradictory trends, a pull toward modernity and a push against change, creating marketing and advertising that is gender-neutral could be the key to making business and economic opportunities more equal. If we stop thinking of gender in the strictly binary sense and instead realize that our gender is fluid and sits on a continuum, our message becomes more inclusive. Some brands are going in that direction already, such as Beyoncé’s Ivy Park which recently launched an entirely gender-neutral clothing line.
What if we turned up the volume on our own uniqueness instead of trying to minimize our differences?
The desire to organize and label groups of individuals in order to make assumptions about them is driven by our human nature. When we look closer, however, we see an incredible range of diverse attitudes and behaviors within populations formerly considered monoliths. Perhaps the gender identity and sexual orientation language of the LGBTQ community will inspire others to expand beyond narrow gender definitions to claim their uniqueness. Hopefully, this new awareness can stimulate respectful inclusion and compassion in all areas of business and society.
As we came to the end of the hour, our group ended the discussion in the same way we started, with a tour de table. Each participant had the opportunity to reflect on what they heard and share their takeaways from the conversation.
Listen to the last 10 minutes of the episode,
Final Thoughts to Consider
Firstly, it will clearly take a combined effort from both men and women to change the legacy of our gender identities.
We need to strive to rebuild our identities from the inside-out and from bottom-up to be seen for the authentic human beings that we are.
Secondly, as Professor Mark Sherman pointed out, men haven’t really been asked to share their feelings and it would be beneficial if both men and women could be allowed to express their vulnerability and be heard, not judged, by others.
Thirdly, gender identities, sexual orientation and behaviors are not black and white but all the colors of the rainbow – they exist on a spectrum. In the 80s, the Benetton clothing brand pioneered the idea of gender and ethnic diversity and it’s exciting to see modern brands building on those themes. If we limit ourselves to traditional gender norms, we’re often stuck dealing with the negative stereotypes associated with them. So, we need to learn to value everyone’s uniqueness and focus on our commonalities, rather than on our differences.
Finally, the idea that we can achieve equality and make the world a more inclusive and safer place by participating in gender battles is not the most suitable strategy. Fighting and blaming one another won't bring us happiness or get us closer to our goals, especially if the goal is restoring the equilibrium and seeing human beings flourish.
It is time to stop fighting and instead, embrace ourselves and each other as authentic individuals. It is a more complex worldview, but it may lead to more compassion.