As we celebrate 100 years of suffrage, conversations around how we treat sex, gender identity & gender expression in an era of accelerated democratisation of information and technology-mediated communication seem more pertinent than ever.
These conversations are of course also happening against the backdrop of the fallout from revelations of abusive behaviour across multiple global industries, from Hollywood to the charity sector in the UK.
However, the future of gender is a multi-layered topic and it’s crucial that we do not conflate issues concerning sexual orientation with issues concerning sex and/or gender identity. On top of that, we also need to think about how best to societally address persisting levels of gender-based inequality. Although progress has been made, and the increased visibility of non-binary gender identities (especially in the West, but globally as well) is a step forward, there can sometimes be a gap between embracing egalitarianism rhetorically and taking tangible action.
In the near future, it will undoubtedly be necessary to ask ourselves whether we can redefine gender or even contemplate abandoning the concept altogether.
At the same time, issues such as the gender-based pay gap, gender-based discrimination and harassment remain at the forefront of the global struggle to remove systemic factors that can hold back a significant number of individuals. For example, recognising the value of unpaid labour (non-remunerated work by and large carried out by women, at least in this country) adds to national GDP, or tackling the root causes of gender-based occupational segregation impinge on larger issues such as undervaluation of labourers or conflicts of interest that arise from reliance on low-paid work.
Furthermore, changing perceptions and novel public discourse will all affect the way we think about demographics, from official guidance from the market research society asking researchers to be mindful of the way they collect data from respondents to digital advertising having to rethink the array of options they offer to advertisers, targeting other traits of individual identity that are not related to gender.
As our understanding of sex and gender improves and becomes more nuanced, dated interpretation along binary lines will no longer be fit for purpose, with younger generations already leading the way in refusing to subscribe to traditional gender norms. As consumers we are already urging brands to challenge harmful gender stereotypes in media, however as recent examples have shown, the gap between rhetoric and reality persists. Alternatives to the status quo will need to be explored if we do not want to continue being blindsided by structural and cultural barriers.
These issues and more were discussed at our Trends Breakfast in London on February 22nd 2018. To access the presentation from that event, click here.