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aGender illustration by Erica Smith

aGender illustration by Erica Smith

Mixing it up with aGender

One of HOT’s writers, Xaverine Bates, is also involved in a cutting edge project working with young people and addressing issues of stereotyping, bullying, sex and sexuality. The aGender project has developed rapidly over the last year or so, from a twinkle in Xaverine’s eye, to a regional programme which tackles sensitive issues using visual and performing arts and creative media. HOT’s Erica Smith asked Xaverine to tell us more!

aGender logoaGender education is a not-for-profit charity dedicated to exploring the way that gender is portrayed in society with young people from all socio-economic backgrounds and diverse family structures and how these stereotypes affect the choices they make about relationships, using creative media: visual and performing arts, film and writing. Our aim is to provide a safe space for young people to voice their opinions and explore their choices about relationships, sex and their bodies, through fun, creative activities. These engaging activities will help develop the skills, awareness and capabilities of young people, to enable them to participate in society as more informed and critical individuals, to stay safe from sexual harm and exploitation, to foster healthy relationships and to promote gender equality.

aGender workshop

aGender workshop

The project came about after a whole lot of thinking on my part following the birth of my daughter. I had in my mind that I would be the kind of mum who would kick gender stereotypes into touch, dressing her in gender neutral colours, encouraging her to climb trees and play football, and keeping anything pink and princessy at arm’s length. The reality, however, was a different story. Before she was even born I was aware of society shaping how I perceived my daughter and how she would be brought up, both by me and by my wider family and friends. It wasn’t long before I’d caved in and didn’t have the heart to return the plethora of cute pink, fluffy toys and dresses she was being given. Before I knew it, she was as girly as the rest of them. How had this happened? I had been so sure of my beliefs before she was born and yet society had won, or so it seemed.

aGender archetypes by Erica SmithI started doing a lot of reading about feminist theory and gender (in)equality in this country and worldwide. It struck me that the whole of our society, as well as the wider world, was extremely skewed in terms of gender equality, despite the fact that we are currently in the second decade of the 21st century. It really bothered me that women still weren’t getting equal pay to men, that 1 in 3 women are statistically likely to be raped in their lifetime, that boys are bullied in school if they like ‘girly’ things such as dancing, drawing and expressing their emotions. I also felt buoyed up on the 4th wave of feminism, which saw projects such as the Everyday Sexism Project, One Billion Rising, Pussy Riot, the protests in India following the horrific gang-rape in Delhi and so on. There has also been a rise in the number of organisations tackling gender stereotyping in childhood, such as A Mighty Girl, Gender Neutral Parenting and Let Toys be Toys. I felt I needed to do something about this, both for my daughter’s future and for the future of all our children.

‘SKET’ artwork by Lorna Hamilton Brown

‘SKET’ artwork by Lorna Hamilton Brown

My background is in art and education, so I decided to set up a social enterprise to tackle the problem of gender stereotyping through creative media. I used social media to garner interest from other local parents, teachers, sex educators, journalists and health workers and before long we had formed an interest group. I applied to UnLtd, the foundation for social entrepreneurs, for a start-up grant of £5,000 and was amazed when I was successfully awarded the grant. I used this to set up a pilot project, which ran at Claremont Studios last summer, as well as employing HOT’s very own Erica Smith to design the logo and design the website, which was built by SIMMSyS. We then formed a more coherent group and went through the lengthy and frustrating process of registering aGender education as a CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation), with much patient support from Pat Weaver of HVA.

At the same time, we applied to the National Lottery Awards for All scheme for a grant of £10,000 to run our Gender Binary project, which aims to explode the myth that there is such a thing as masculine vs feminine and rather that it is a continuum which we all, regardless of our biological sex, move along during various phases of our lives.

We are very proud to have achieved charitable status in January this year and are now registered with the Charities Commission as Registered Charity Number 1155447. We also are very excited to have successfully won our Awards for All grant to run our Gender Binary project.

Job Opportunity:
freelance project coordinator for Gender Binary Project

We are currently looking for a Project Coordinator for the duration of our Gender Binary project (approx 6–12 months). The aim of the project is to explore masculinity/femininity with young people aged 11–14 outside their school setting in youth centres/local art spaces (e.g. Claremont Studios) to develop materials to disseminate amongst local schools as part of their RSE/PSHE curriculum. Some of this work will involve meetings in Hastings and the rest will be home-based. This will be on a freelance basis, so the successful candidate would have to be self-employed and payment will need to be invoiced.

The young people will explore what it means to be male in contemporary society, by viewing notions of masculinity through the media i.e. lads’ mags, music videos, TV, newspapers, video games, pornography and illustrating the effects on boys’ self-esteem e.g. discouragement to show emotions/cry, links between violent images in film/video games and normalisation of violent behaviour/acting out. They will also look at the pressures on young women to conform to a certain view of femininity through the media i.e. music videos, glossy teen and women’s magazines, TV and newspapers in order to see beyond gender stereotypes which adversely affect their behaviour e.g. pressure to engage in sexual activity, body image & eating disorders, low self-esteem etc. Working with youth workers to explore these issues as well as two artists, they will be guided to produce artworks to express their feelings on the subject, which will be exhibited either at their youth centre or Claremont Studios.

Project coordination fee (including youth participation and evaluation): 22 days @ £200 per day (£25 per hour): £4,400. The deadline for applications is Friday 30 May, midnight. The interview date is to be confirmed: the venue will be in Hastings. Please include a cover letter and CV and send your application to: info@agender.co.uk

For more information and a full job description, please email info@agender.co.uk and for more information about our work, please see our website.

Posted 15:44 Wednesday, May 21, 2014 In: Hastings People

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