Kyl's TEDx Talk
Kyl spoke at TEDx Salt Lake City in September, 2016. Her talk, "Want gender equality? Let's get creative," is transcribed with sources below.
I want you to channel your 9-year-old self.
And I’m going to ask you a very important question.
“Hey you, 9-year-old… What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Do you remember? Did it come true?
When I was nine, I wanted to be a Spice Girls understudy.
I would have been Bowl-Cut-Perm Spice.
The Spice Girl thing didn’t work out for me, instead, I became a social scientist, and over the last decade I’ve been studying gender inequality and there’s a whole lot of it.
What if, when we asked kids what they wanted to be when they grow up, they told us the other possibilities that awaited them –
These are the realities that children are facing.
Because these are the realities that adults are facing.
I have three messages for you today:
The first, is there are real and harmful gender disparities experienced by adults;
The second, is these disparities are rooted in childhood;
The third, is we have the power to do something about it.
There are gender inequalities in virtually every aspect of adult life – in relationships, at home, at work, in politics, at church, in health, even the Olympics. All of these disparities start with stereotypes; assumptions that there is one way to be a woman and one way to be a man, and that men and women might as well be from different planets.
The reason men are more likely to get skin cancer, is because men just have weaker skin than women, right? No… in large part, it’s because men are socialized to take on “masculine” jobs and hobbies, such as construction, or agricultural work, and sports that tend to be outside, exposed to the sun. Lotions, including sunscreen, are marketed as a feminized product, and are in conflict with stereotypes of masculinity, which values risk, danger and ruggedness above cautionary behavior - the same stereotypes that lead to lower rates of seatbelt and helmet use among men and higher rates of injury and accident related deaths. Once men have skin cancer, they’re more likely than women to die from it. A cornerstone of masculinity is “Don’t show that you’re scared or hurting.” Making an appointment with a doctor does just that.
Women in America make an average of $0.79 cents for every dollar earned by men. Even though women earn more college degrees, they’re offered lower starting salaries and they’re less likely to negotiate for more, and women with children aren’t promoted as often as men with children. Women are missing out on nearly half a million dollars in their lifetime.
A cornerstone of femininity is “Don’t show that you are assertive” be grateful with what you’re offered, and don’t rock the boat. Women should not be difficult to work with.
Gender stereotypes don’t magically appear after high school graduation. Gender socialization and gender policing begins much earlier, well before kindergarten graduation.
The perpetuation of gender stereotypes occurs throughout childhood, and since the development of ultrasound technology, it begins in-utero.
From birth, children are taught the social and cultural norms that are expected of them based on their anatomy. But what those social and cultural norms are varies by time and place.
Boys are conditioned to take risks and be athletic and competitive. Girls are conditioned to value appearance over ambition and to put others before themselves. When it comes to gender non-conforming kids, gender bending girls are often celebrated, and called Tomboys, while gender bending boys are often shamed, and called sissies. The masculine and feminine paths are not complementary. Rather, they are hierarchical with boys and men being valued and more powerful than girls and women. Boys learn early that getting hurt is part of being a boy, brush yourself off, don’t cry, be a man. And put that doll down, that’s for girls, but make sure in 30 years you’re a really good dad.
Remember that half of a million dollars women miss out on over their lifetime… that’s not including the lost cash during childhood and adolescence. Boys do about 45 minutes of chores for every hour that girls do, yet boys are 15% more likely than girls to get paid for the chores they do.
And when girls do get paid allowance, they’re pocketing about 73 cents on the boys’ dollar. Sound familiar? Childhood gender inequalities are growing up to be adulthood gender inequalities.
We’re trying to fix a problem when it’s too late.
But how could we eliminate the problem before it even begins?
First we have to ask ourselves some questions.
Why do we ask pregnant people, “are you having a boy or a girl?”
Because we think boys and girls require different things?
Is knowledge of a person’s genitals the foundation of how we treat them?
The reason expecting parents have to wait until around week 16 to find out “what” they’re having is because prior to that time, fetuses don’t look different. In utero, everyone starts out the same. Around week 10 of gestation, a fetus with a Y sex chromosome will typically begin producing testosterone and their genitalia will typically differentiate into testes and a penis instead of ovaries and a vagina.
About half of babies have XX sex chromosomes and are labeled female, about half of babies have XY sex chromosomes and are labeled male. Other babies are born with intersex variations. Those with intersex traits are born with internal and/or external genitalia that may be different than what we might typically expect. Biological sex is a spectrum, not a binary. Male and female babies are not very different at all. In fact, there is more variation among female babies and among male babies than there is between male and female babies.
In an enlightening study, researchers placed 11-month-old infants on a platform with a sloped ramp and watched the babies crawl. Male and female babies showed identical levels of motor performance; what differed, was their mothers’ estimations of their crawling abilities. Mothers of girls underestimated their daughters’ performance, and mothers of boys overestimated their sons’ performance. The physical, emotional and verbal differences we see between boys and girls are largely socially constructed and reinforced through stereotypes.
What if we had the same mindset about sex chromosomes as we do for any other aspect of someone’s DNA, like their hair or eye color - that they don’t really matter, green eyed people aren’t sent down dramatically different career paths than brown eyed people. There aren’t different racks of clothing for blondes or brunettes. We don’t have reveal parties where people make bets on a fetus’ attached or detached earlobes.
What if instead of treating boys and girls dramatically different, we tried to instill in them well-rounded positive traits - like kindness, a sense of adventure, compassion, critical thinking, and comedic timing.
Qualities we don’t think tall and short people are more or less capable of. Most of us want a world without gender inequality - but it’s going to take us all being honest with ourselves about how we reinforce it. If equality is what we want, we have to create it.
Not long ago, something changed inside of me. Quite literally. I was pregnant; and pregnancy and impending parenthood made me think differently about the world I studied, the world my child would be entering. I considered all of the information I had about the harmful impacts of gender inequality and I understood that my child’s gender identity would be up to them, not me. I couldn't stomach the idea of my kid being placed in the girl box or the boy box and being sent on a path that I knew could be constraining. I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be great if we could opt our kids out of gender stereotypes." The more I thought about it, that fantasy turned into a possibility, and then that possibility turned into a reality.
I am now the very proud, very smitten parent of Zoomer Coyote.
My husband and I decided to raise Zoomer to be gender-creative. We didn’t assign a gender to Zoomer, we don’t disclose their sex unless it’s necessary and we use the gender-neutral pronouns they, them, and their. Like all babies, Zoomer needs food, and sleep, and clothes and love and attention and so many diapers!
We’re giving Zoomer the freedom and encouragement to explore their interests and eventually self-identify as a girl or a boy, or any other label they think fits. We trust that Zoomer will know who they are. Just like everyone in this room knows who they are.
In the meantime, Zoomer doesn’t experience an onslaught of stereotypes, or social expectations or restrictions based on their anatomy. Zoomer isn’t treated like a boy or a girl, they’re treated like a child.
A child who deserves to never hear the words “that’s not for boys” or “that’s not for girls.” Zoomer is taught that everything is for everybody.
There are very few hard fast rules about the world we live in. Children are accepting, curious creatures who trust us to answer their questions. You do realize… we can tell kids anything, and they are likely to believe us! Which means, we get to teach kids about the world that we wish for them. Gender inequalities cannot exist if they are not perpetuated.
So the next time you’re interacting with a female child, forego a compliment about her appearance.
Instead, ask her what book she last read, or ask her to tell you about her favorite planet; allow her to take risks and scrape her knees.
The next time you’re interacting with a male child, validate his fears, give him the opportunity to share his emotions and engage in caretaking activities. Introduce him to a female role model; ask if he wants his fingernails painted.
We can create a world where we genuinely value individuality above conformity and we can create a world where everyone grows up to be equal.