Gender dynamics are all around us. they influence everything from our most intimate choices to global events. But what does gender really mean?
Gender consultant and researcher Yael Nevo hosted the most recent Animas workshop Keeping Ahead of the Curve: Gender, Identity and Coaching, sharing the insights and experience that she has gained through more than fifteen years of gender related work and study.
I sat down with Yael pre-workshop to talk about her background in relation to gender, where she sees issues arise around this topic both inside and outside of the coaching space, and what she hoped attendees would take away from the workshop.
I also followed up with some of the attendees to find out their experience of the workshop, what they learned, and how this new knowledge can benefit their coaching practice.
Sam: Hi Yael, thank you so much for talking with me, It's great to have you running today's workshop. I'm sure some of our students are familiar with you and your work, but for those that aren't tell us a little bit about you. What is your background in relation to this workshop?
Yael: I have over sixteen years experience in gender studies, and gender work, I have a BA in Art History and Philosophy, one MA in Critical Theory which involved a lot of gender studies, I have another MSc from LSE in Gender and Human Rights. I have also been doing a lot of work around gender back in Israel where I'm from as well as internationally. I've worked with Amnesty International, The Boston Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights, and I've also worked at LSE's Centre for Women, Peace and Security, so I have a lot of experience working with the Human Rights, governmental, activist part.
And at the same time, I've also become much more interested in how gender affects the everyday, and what's happening 'here'. Because a lot of the time when we talk about gender we are talking about it over 'there', you know, it's the refugees, it's the conflict etc. It's not so much about what's happening in the day-to-day interactions that affect us. So currently what I'm more focused on is gender in everyday life, which is what a lot of my workshops revolve around, and is what I'm considering here this evening. I'm also a co-founder and director of a gender consultancy business called Genderscope.
S: You've been busy! Amazing, and so how long has Genderscope been happening?
Y: It's kind of new, it's been in the making for about a year, and we've been registered for about four months now, so we are just starting to gain momentum.
S: For you, is gender always something that has been close to your heart, or is it something that you found and then became really interested in?
Y: I grew up feeling something is sort of wrong with the world. I don't know if you can relate to that at all? But then when I started my first degree, my Bachelor's, I came across Gender Theory, Feminist Theory and something kind of clicked. And it was like okay, just follow the breadcrumbs.
When I was studying my BA degree it was more theory, I was studying Art History, Philosophy, these are big things and I didn't quite see how they related to reality. But then as my studying continued, I also became more politically involved I started making the connections of politics and gender, economy and gender, everyday life and gender. It was like joining up the dots to get the bigger picture.
S: Where do you think this topic, and the issues around it show up in the world, both inside and outside of the coaching space, and why did you put this workshop together?
Y: I would say that gender is a very, very broad issue, and it touches the most intimate elements of our lives, you know our identity, our sexuality, it's the core of who we believe we are. And it goes all the way into relationships, community, institutions, international relations, all of these have a gender component, so I see it everywhere.
More specifically if we look at it through a coaching lens, what I think is that the current gender structure that we have in our society creates a lot of conflicts or tensions in different areas of our lives. For example, relationships. For example, the workplace. For example, the public sphere, you know the messages that we receive from the media or from our leaders.
So all of these have a gender component, and I think as people living in this modern, oversaturated world, trying to make sense of it, I think that applying a gender lens on our experiences and our challenges can really help coachees to have more space and more permission to explore what is true for them.
S: That's great, and what are the most common issues that arise often in your day-to-day work around gender?
Y: I would say one of the most common things that I see is the misunderstanding of what gender actually is. Let's start with that, because 99% of the time when people say gender they mean men/women and then 1% of the time it's LGBTQ+. A very small number of people understand that gender is a structure that we all interact with. So, I think the thing that is missing for me, is the concept of masculinity, and how it influences the world and this is actually what I will be focussing on today. I'd say that another thing that I see really rising, is linked to what I said earlier, which is the expectation of masculinity, and I think there's a lot of confusion around it.
S: Definitely, in fact I've recently finished working on an Animas e-book which launches soon called Identity, in which some of the authors' chapters are focussed on gender, and some around masculine expectations, and I found it really, really interesting. I learned a lot about gender through reading the experience of others.
And finally Yael, what are you hoping that tonight's attendees will take away with them from your workshop?
Y: I'm hoping that they will gain a very clear understanding of what gender is. I think that in, and of itself will be very, very valuable. I want people to understand the differentiation between gender and biological sex, to really see how power moves through gender structure in our society.
I want people to understand that gender is fluid, it's an energy, it's something that comes and goes and changes, and how we choose to interact with it is very much dictated throughout our interactions and socialisation, however we do have the freedom to choose, should we choose to go in that direction, and another thing is the concept of performance, that I really want people to understand.
Again, just to open up the idea that gender is something that we can play with and gain power from, rather than feel stuck or frustrated, or disempowered, or depressed, all of these things that certain gender concepts that don't really fit into who we are, can bring about in people.
Helen Snape - I eagerly signed up for this workshop because I am interested in working with clients who are exploring or are in diverse relationships, which could include less traditional ideas on gender and identity. I wanted to increase my knowledge and understanding in this area.
Before the workshop I found myself wondering away at questions like 'What does it mean to be a woman?' and 'What does it mean to be a man?' and not being satisfied with any of my answers. The workshop helped me start to develop a much clearer and more useful language to explore these sorts of questions myself and with my clients.
Our host for the workshop, Yael Nevo, was warm and humble, even though she had such a wealth of knowledge and experience in gender studies. She made the group feel at ease so we were able to discuss sometimes sensitive matters openly.
During the first half of the workshop Yael introduced concepts and language to help us engage in gender discourse and we then looked at the impact of gender and gendered values on different areas of our lives. In the second half of the workshop we were given various coaching tools for engaging clients in gender discourse and for being able to see things through the lens of gender. There was plenty of discussion and I think we could have stayed talking for several more hours!
I really appreciated being given a framework for talking about gender. I learnt how we 'perform' gender and about the different values placed on what are seen in our culture as 'feminine' and 'masculine' traits. I will use what I have learnt in my coaching practice and in volunteering with a local charity that supports people with their gender identity and sexuality. It has also led to some interesting conversations with family and friends already!
I hope Animas can run the workshop again as I know there was a lot of interest and I would recommend it to any coach wanting to understand more about gender or looking to test their own worldview.
Jo Evans - When I saw this workshop advertised it struck me immediately as something I needed to attend, more for my own education than as something pertinent to any current clients.
The level at which I operate as a coach is deep and I felt beholden to educate myself before encountering gender identity issues that a client may bring to their sessions.
Yael has a huge amount of information to share and is clearly passionate about her subject. From the social construction that is gender, to the language that provides colours and layers to the myriad of identities.
There is so much to this topic. Whilst learning a lot, that gender is a social construct, about gender values and how they create tension between 'masculine' and 'feminine', the language, the impact of a patriarchy - we all agreed that we only scratched the surface.
The answers generated further questions for me; if a patriarchy generates a heterosexual normative, what would a matriarchy generate? Why does a patriarchy generate heterosexual normativity?
Taking this new knowledge and understanding into our coaching is the next step. To be fair we ran out of time to delve into this in any great detail - we were too curious! But I definitely came away with a greater understanding and respect for my fellow humans and clients with regard to gender identity.