There’s no ‘should’ for femininity, masculinity

For the past 14 years, The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio has given voice and visibility to issues that impact women and girls, including in an area called gender norms.

As a public foundation we are a leader of social change in our community — addressing gender norms in order to create equality and to empower all women and girls to reach their full potential. We are committed to creating lasting social change in four priority areas: gender norms, economic self-sufficiency for women, leadership for women and life skills for girls.

Working to build girls up

So, what does this all mean? At The Women’s Fund, we are focused on being strategic, having a plan and being aware that social change takes time. We use research intentionally to inform the programs we fund, to guide our community partnerships and to educate girls and boys, women and men.

Women’s economic self-sufficiency is at the center of our work. If we want our community as a whole to succeed then we need to build girls up and create a pipeline of women’s leadership. In doing so we will increase the number of women leveraging their influence at every decision-making table.

At every level, we want more women’s voices to be heard.

And yet, our efforts will be in vain if we don’t acknowledge and address an invisible force, something called gender norms. It’s the implicit or explicit perception of rules, expectations and standards placed on men and women, boys and girls, regarding how they “should” behave and “should” be treated.

Broadening your mindset

Almost three decades of basic research have found that when girls and boys buy into really narrow ideals for femininity and masculinity, they have measurably lower life outcomes in a cluster of related areas that include sexual and reproductive health, economic empowerment and educational achievement.

According to TrueChild, an organization dedicated to the impact of gender norms on society, young women who internalize rigid codes of femininity composed of the three Ds — being deferential, desirable and dependent — are more likely to have unplanned pregnancies, defer to male sexual prerogatives, drop out of school early, tolerate abusive relationships and be economically disempowered once they reach adulthood.

Similarly, boys who internalize narrow ideas of masculinity as defined by strength, aggression and psychological toughness are more likely to abuse female partners, be kicked out of school or drop out early, engage in bullying or violence and believe that pregnancy validates manhood.


At The Women’s Fund we know that change starts with all of us. Together we can create gender equality, a community where women and girls thrive and influence economic security for our society as a whole.


Nichole E. Dunn is the President and CEO of The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, a public foundation that is creating gender equality and influence in the community.