Philanthropy New York's Kimberly Roberts Interviews Julie Kashen and Rakeen Mabud, Authors of Nevertheless, It Persists: Disrupting the Vicious Cycle of Institutionalized Sexism
Kimberly Roberts, Public Policy Fellow at Philanthropy New York, sat down with Julie Kashen, Senior Fellow and Director for Women's Economic Justice at The Century Foundation, and Rakeen Mabud, Director of Research and Strategy at TIME’S UP Foundation to talk about their recent paper Nevertheless, It Persists: Disrupting the Vicious Cycle of Institutionalized Sexism.
Register for Nevertheless, It Persists: Can Philanthropy Disrupt Sexism? to hear Julie Kashen and Rakeen Mabud discuss how the intertwined structures of racism and sexism are at the root of negative gendered outcomes and built into all the issues we fund on Wednesday, October 7th.
Kimberly Roberts (KR): We began this conversation months before the pandemic hit the U.S. wanting to address systemic sexism and racism and now COVID has brought this conversation to the forefront. Can you talk about what inspired you to do this research and why it’s so important?
Rakeen Mabud (RM): Julie and I started talking about writing this paper in November of last year. We were thinking hard about how we could best contribute to the field, and honed in on the same gap: as a movement, we were very good at talking about structural economic issues, and getting better at talking about structural racism, but it seemed like we lacked a language for talking about institutionalized sexism. As we talked to our colleagues across philanthropy and the non-profit space, the need for a paper like this became even more clear.
"We wanted to make visible and accessible what is often left invisible"
Little did we know when we started working on this paper that the pandemic and widespread protests for racial justice would open the eyes of so many around the country to the deeply embedded, structural oppressions that women of color, and women more broadly, face in their lives. The last couple of months have really shown us the racist and sexist cracks in the foundation of our country, and how they sustain each other.
We hope that this paper offers a framework for funders to think about how to address these big, complicated issues. In our October program with Philanthropy New York, we will share a practical guide for funders to use when evaluating grantee proposals. Philanthropy has a huge agenda setting and convening power -- using that to encourage grantees to incorporate an institutional sexism frame would be an incredibly valuable addition to this fight.
Julie Kashen (JK): The bottom line is -- we’re ready to smash the patriarchy and that’s hard enough. But it’s even harder if we can’t see it or don’t have the framework to talk about it. We wanted to make visible and accessible what is often left invisible.
KR: COVID has exacerbated pre-existing racial and gender inequities and crystalised the ways oppression is intersectional. In your paper you write, “any new paradigm that is designed to support women must center those who are at the intersection of multiple oppressions”– can you talk about the importance of addressing intersectionality and the way it has impacted your work? Why is it important for funders to understand this concept?
RM: The concept of intersectionality was coined by Dr. Kimberle Chrenshaw to specifically describe experiences of Black women. Crucially, taking an intersectional approach not only gives us sharper and more accurate insights into someone’s experience, but also focuses solutions on the root causes of the problem. Without doing so we risk designing solutions that tinker around the edges rather than creating systemic fixes.
"The real issue is that those who have always held the majority of resources and power have a strong incentive to keep doing so. It is our job to disrupt that."
For example, in the paper, we talk about how sexism has been baked into our policy choices about childcare, and how racism has shaped those policy choices. When we start making policies that are rooted in racist or sexist ideas, we only reinforce those oppressive systems.
JK: We start off the paper with a quote from Audre Lorde: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” The reality is that we are stronger when we look at the whole picture. We are stronger when we see the ways that racism and sexism combine and recognize that ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia are part of the story as well. The real issue is that those who have always held the majority of resources and power have a strong incentive to keep doing so. It is our job to disrupt that.
KR: In your paper you lay out a five-point gender equity framework for evaluating policy – can you talk about how you came up with the framework and how it’s different from ones that already exist? How can philanthropy use this framework?
JK: We name five key points as our framework for tackling gender and racial inequities: (1) upending the hierarchies that sustain institutionalized sexism, (2) confronting intersecting oppressions, (3) challenging the way problems are framed, (4) ending the myth of neutrality, and (5) changing systems, not symptoms.
"Power doesn't just exist at the top -- the assumption itself is a product of the racist and patriarchal systems we're trying to fight."
The big argument underpinning this framework is that there are deep structural barriers that women and people of color -- and especially women of color -- face every day. As changemakers, we must recognize these structural barriers -- and how our policy choices and cultural norms create a vicious cycle in which these barriers are entrenched, time and time again. We must look at problems differently and understand the historical roots of where our policies and practices come from if we want to create a more inclusive society. Without doing so, we risk creating solutions for those who have always had solutions created for them -- and leaving Black and Latinx communities, poorly paid people and immigrants, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community behind.
RM: We see these five prongs work together in a vicious cycle to maintain the status quo where women of color -- and women more broadly -- don’t have access to traditional nodes of power. To me, this offers two key takeaways:
First, we need to broaden our notions of power, who has it, and where it is held. Power doesn’t just exist at the top -- that assumption itself is a product of the racist and patriarchal systems we’re trying to fight. Having women business leaders and in the halls of Congress is really important. But there is also deeply rooted power in those that have historically been perceived not to have power. We have seen that in the phenomenal organizing efforts around the country, around care work, for farmworkers, restaurant workers, and so many others. There is so much authentic power to harness for good in the collective voice of those working at the grassroots.
"We can't afford to go back to 'normal.' 'Normal' has been so broken for so many people for so many years. What we need is a new normal that is inclusive and puts women and specifically women of color front and center in the solutions we design."
Second, this is a vicious cycle. That means there is no one entry point to solving it, but rather will require interventions at every point in the cycle to move towards a more equitable economy and society. We are at a tipping point moment: we’re seeing widespread awareness and activism in the movement for Black Lives. We are seeing widespread acknowledgement and understanding of the care crisis we are in. These are *huge* problems, and there is no linear path to fixing them. We need to be working across the board to move ourselves towards a more inclusive society.
KR: You write in the paper, “…women are bearing the brunt of these inequities, understanding the entwined power structures of patriarchy and white supremacy has never been more crucial. Rather than copying and pasting the systems of the past…we can use this moment to create a more just, equitable and inclusive society. Can you elaborate on what a “more just, equitable and inclusive society” looks like? How do we get there? How can philanthropy assist in creating this new society?
JK: We are seeing headline after headline about the impact on women of the COVID-19 related school closures and “hybrid"shifts and the decimation of the child care sector. This is the vicious cycle of institutionalized sexism at work. The fact that parents are individually solving child care and school reopening challenges, that school districts are individually solving their own school safety and scheduling problems, that teachers also feel like they are on their own -- this is the culmination of our historic racism and sexism. The majority of the people who are solving these problems on their own are women: moms, teachers, child care providers -- to name just a few. It is an “every family, every person, everyone school for themselves” mentality that is borne out of bootstraps narratives -- directly tied to structural sexism. Sticking to these narratives is forcing us to collectively collapse under their unreasonable expectations about what one person can do against decades of structural sexism and racism. Congress must do more to proactively address this problem. What would a just and equitable society look like? It would look like treating care taking and care takers like a valued public good. It would look like really significant public investments in a care foundation, a care infrastructure that centers equity. It would start with the person who has the most intersecting oppressions and see what would give them resources. What would inspire and create the conditions to cede or share power? And it creates more pathways to real power.
RM: I love that.
KR: Is there anything else that you want to address that I haven’t included here?
RM: We are at a moment in history where we are about to make a lot of decisions that shape our economy and society -- and who it will benefit and harm -- for generations to come. There is a real risk that we end up in a world that entrenches these inequities. There is also the possibility that we can actually tip in the right direction and start to move towards a more equitable society. Doing so requires us to use a structural framework to understand how we got to this broken system in the first place.
We can’t afford to go back to “normal”. “Normal” has been so broken for so many people for so many years. What we need is a new normal that is inclusive and puts women and specifically women of color front and center in the solutions that we design. It is only then that we will end up with an economy and a society that is truly equitable and works for all of us. To learn more, read our paper here!
JK: What she said!
The conversation has been edited for length.