Our gendered world

Our gendered world EAIE Forum

What makes you, you and me, me? If each of us were asked to list some fundamental characteristics that define us as the individuals we are, in very essential terms, I’d wager that most of us would say something about gender. Traditionally, self-identification of gender has started and finished with just two options: “I’m a woman” or “I’m a man”. But, it turns out that that simple male-female dichotomy is only the beginning of the real story of gender.

Arguably, it has always been the case that gender and sexuality are much more complex than two, clearly defined, heterosexual poles. Still – although I’m not a gender and sexuality expert – I’ll go out on a limb and say that many (most?) cultures have traditionally discouraged more complex and fluid understandings of these matters. Times seem to be changing, though. Today, some remarkably open and wide-ranging conversations are taking place that urge us to consider this exceedingly personal, fundamental notion of our own identity and those around us in much more subtle and expansive ways. In addition, we’re called upon to think about how our collective understanding of gender and sexuality shapes the societies we live in. How and why do we categorise ourselves and others in particular ways? Who is made to feel excluded? Who is made to feel valued? Who is ‘seen’ and who is ‘invisible’? Is everyone ‘at the table’ in truly equitable ways?

The EAIE has joined this discussion with its current issue of Forum magazine, which dips a toe into the complex and fascinating subject of ‘our gendered world’. In the space of just one magazine, it’s clearly impossible to cover the full range of issues that frame this immense topic. But, each of our contributors offers up a range of insights that – from my perspective, anyway – both expand my understanding and spark new questions and concerns that I hadn’t considered before.

As international educators, gender matters in relation to nearly everything we touch. As such, it behooves us to ask ourselves some very fundamental questions about the way that gender and sexuality play out in the work that we do. Who participates in our programmes (or not) and why (or why not)? Whose voices are present and perspectives reflected in key decision-making processes, at our institution or in our programmes? What terminology do we use to identify ourselves and what choices in terminology do we offer our students and colleagues? How ‘safe’ – literally and figuratively – are the environments we work in and in which we invite stakeholders to engage?

Considerations of these and other key questions punctuate our current issue of Forum and, I think, have the potential to spark important (and overdue?) questions in many quarters. Why does this matter to us? International education is grounded in the notion that exploring the new, the different, the ‘not exactly like me’, has a powerful intrinsic value, and can contribute to broader individual and social enhancements. This can only happen, though, if all dimensions of diversity are engaged with meaningfully, including gender and sexuality.

Taking ‘our gendered world’ as a starting point for this discussion is important because it highlights two key issues. Matters of gender and sexuality play out everywhere. Yes, they are tightly related to matters of culture and societal norms, and therefore may display unique in different contexts. But, it’s truly a gendered world out there. Meanwhile, if we take as a given that gender and sexuality are fundamental to our lived experience as human beings, we’re all in this together. It’s our gendered world and we all have a stake in it – in ‘getting it right’, in promoting understanding, respect, empowerment for all.

Making a positive difference in our gendered world requires careful consideration and commitment on the part of international education professionals everywhere. Raising awareness, engaging in open and frank dialogue, and advancing the conversation in our community are crucial parts of this process, in which I hope each one of you will join.

Today is the start of Forum Week on the EAIE blog, where we will be posting three additional articles not included in the magazine. Be sure to check in the rest of the week for more great content on gender in internationalisation. 

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Members, download your copy now and be on the lookout for your printed magazine, arriving in the mail soon. Not yet a member but want to see what the magazine is all about? Download the editor’s pick then become a member today!

Laura E. Rumbley
Boston College Center for International Higher Education, USALaura is Associate Director of the Boston College Center for International Higher Education and currently serves as Chair of the EAIE Publications Committee.