Defying Gender Roles

by Sebastián Molano, Fletcher 2012 alum

Defying Gender Roles (DGR) is a multilingual online initiative born in January 2015 aiming to engage men and women to discuss how to challenge prevailing harmful gender roles and norms in society. The initiative seeks to expose people to information that allows them to reflect critically on how current norms, attitudes and behaviors of what it means to be a man and a woman shape the way in which each of us experiences life.

This idea was inspired by the work of Gary Barker, especially his book “Dying to be men.” I  was personally exposed to the notions of gender, masculinity and power through the lens of the Gender, Conflict and Culture class taught by Professor Dyan Mazurana. Thanks to this transformative experience, I decided to devote my professional career to learning more about gender issues and the role man play in shaping them.

After Fletcher, I soon realized that gender issues were approached mostly by thematic areas and usually equating gender to women’s issues. I saw in this approach a strong limitation: the inability of people outside specific thematic areas to be interested in gender. Also, there appeared to be a constant battle between two ideological fields: those opposing the involvement of men in gender-related conversations and those pushing for getting men on board. I count myself as part of the latter group.

I have seen a real, authentic need to provide men, women and intersex people with information that allows them to think purposefully about how certain norms and roles that have been socially constructed limit the way in which each of us experiences life. In this effort, I have had the relentless support of five amazing Fletcher alums. This work would not have taken off without them.

The fundamental idea behind DGR is to make visible the role of gender in our lives--to make it as explicit as possible. It is not about telling people what is right or wrong, it is about allowing them to gain awareness of how gender aspects are part of their day-to-day of life. In this way, we could break away from the thematic approach of gender and make it personal. Gender-understood as a structural power relation-is, indeed, deeply personal. It is one of the fundamental pieces of who we are as women, men and intersex people. It is about how we see the world and how the world perceives us.

The conceptual framework of DGR relies on the work of Paulo Freire in his “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. Adapting his concepts to the gender field, it suggests that the oppression that women experience in the current patriarchal system is also experienced by men. Therefore, if we want to liberate women of such oppression, we ought to liberate men in the process. The only way in which we will achieve gender equality is by involving men and boys too.

These ideas have taken roots. Only after a year, DGR has over 1,200 followers on Facebook, it has been invited to give presentations in Colombia and the U.S., including a TEDx Talk at Colby College. In 2016, DGR will be presenting a paper titled "What does it mean to be a man today?"  to the 24th Annual Interdisciplinary Conference of the American Men's Studies Association (AMSA). We hope to grow to 2,5K followers and increase our work. If you want to engage in this work, please check our Facebook group and contact us, we are seeking to get more people involved!