Building Your Gender IQ

A moment too late, I realized that it was wrong to say.

We were shooting downtown for PwC’s “Building Your Gender IQ” – an online course about gender equality that will launch globally in March. PwC and UN Women had graciously invited several Columbia students to discuss how gender norms had shaped their lives. Our interviews would be recorded and integrated into the course. A light but steady drizzle pattered down outside.

My eyeliner had smudged, as it always does, even on sunshiny days. (Raccoon eyes are my aesthetic.) So sitting in the makeup chair, before we started shooting, I asked the makeup artist what everyday eyeliner she recommended. And then, self-conscious, not wanting to come off as The Girl Asking Trivial Makeup Questions At A Very Important Shoot About Gender Equality, I tacked on a disclaimer:

“Not to be a girl asking questions about makeup or anything.”

The makeup artist smiled and recommended Tarte. She had been on set since 9AM and my 5PM cohort was the last group of students to shoot. But she still brimmed with welcoming energy and confidence. As I watched her choose among her brushes – efficiently, quickly, and professionally – I considered how horrible it must feel to have your work subtly belittled because it is deemed feminine. When I asked the cameraman what lenses he recommended to beginners, I felt no urge to say, “Not to be a girl asking about cameras or anything.” My careless words reinforced the gender stereotypes I was there to resist.

Gender equality makes the world a better place for everyone in it. We need the HeForShe campaign for many reasons – because women are paid less in the workplace than their male counterparts, because girls are kept home so their brothers can go to school, because women do not have access to adequate healthcare. But at the PwC shoot, I realized that we need gender equality for another reason: So talented women who help us to feel radiant are not casually put down in the workplace. So girls are free to inquire about whatever they please. So we can all pursue whatever line of work ignites our artistic and academic passions.

That is why I am a HeForShe.

–Sarah Whittenburg, Columbia University 2016

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HeForShe in Spring 2016

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As we begin a new semester HeForShe Columbia has set the goal of reaching out to and including more of Columbia’s male community. HeForShe is a project emphasizing that feminism is not a movement for female empowerment alone, but the equality of both of the sexes, to benefit both of the sexes. Due to the efforts of many amazing feminists around the world, stories of how women are affected by gender inequality are slowly becoming more common and accessible. Unfortunately, it remains more stigmatized for men to speak out about their experiences about how their gender has affected them in both positive and negative ways. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks to this in her speech “We Should All be Feminists” in saying that “We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.”

Columbia student Luis Alvarado speaks about how this topic was addressed in his University Writing class on gender and sexuality in an opinion piece for the Columbia Spectator, The Grand Performance. In reflecting on Adichie and Alvarado’s words, it becomes clear that both men and women are affected by gender binaries, that both men and women would benefit from equality. This is what HeForShe is about, and this is why HeForShe Columbia is excited for the following semester, to try to help more students like Alvarado come to these conclusions.

Sure, as a cisgender, heterosexual male, I’ve never been forced to come to terms with my sexuality or face discrimination for not fitting into the gender binary. Yet, my gender, too, was a performance. Growing up, I always heard, “Luis, boys don’t dance in front of the television!” or “Boys must be tough.” I was given performative cues from a very young age. However, my classmates had the courage to recognize the futility of gender performance, examine who they really were, and show the world who they felt they were underneath.

Luis Alvarado