Riki Wilchins: Gender Norms and Intersectionality

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Riki Wilchins, executive director of the nonprofit TrueChild and author of, “Gender Norms & Intersectionality: Connecting Race, Class and Gender.”

Riki Wilchins, courtesy: Riki Wilchins

What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?

I wish I’d realized how difficult and slow social change is. I think when you’re younger, you’re a bit more optimistic. But, any kind of real change takes years, maybe decades, of constant effort and attention. 

What is your current greatest professional challenge?

Our goal is getting people to think intersectionally, so they connect race, class and gender norms. The challenge is two-fold: most organizations don’t know how to talk about gender norms, or if they do, they disconnect it from factors like race and class.

What inspires you most about your work? 

Seeing people “get it.” When they have that lightbulb moment during a training and finally really connect race, class and gender.

How does your gender identity inform your work? 

As a transgender person, I tend to view every aspect of the cisgender world through my identity. Plus, when I get misgendered, or when a whole audience assumes I’m going to be the transgender speaker, that kind of reminds me.

How can philanthropy support gender equity?

Philanthropy needs to give more funding earmarked for women and girls. But they also need to focus on the much larger constellation of issues related to gender. We consistently see funders and grantees who have virtually no analysis of gender, beyond the standard DEI answer; ‘We have a woman CEO,’ or, ‘We focus on women and girls.’ That’s a fine start, but it’s not a real analysis of the gender system. We’ve actually created a Gender Equity Footprint tool, which folks can request for free. It helps organizations look at everything from their training on gendered microaggressions and HR policies to their leadership and vendors.

In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us?

I don’t have a crystal ball, but my hope is that the dialog will move beyond just gender as nonconformity or gender as girls to including gender as gender norms in ways that reconnect it with race and class. I realize that’s a tall order!

More on Riki Wilchins:

Riki Wilchins is executive director of TrueChild, a network of researchers and experts that improves life outcomes for at-risk youth through race- and gender-responsive approaches. She has been profiled in The New York Times and TIME selected her as one of “100 Civic Innovators for the 21st Century.” The author of six books on gender theory and politics, Wilchins’ newest book for funders and nonprofits is titled, Gender Norms & Intersectionality: Connecting Race, Class and Gender.

Author: Julia Travers

I often cover innovations in science, the arts and social justice. Find my work with NPR, Discover Magazine, APR and Earth Island Journal, among other publications. My portfolio is at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.

3 thoughts on “Riki Wilchins: Gender Norms and Intersectionality”

  1. So glad you’re covering Riki’s work – Riki has been an incredibly important leader/thinker/writer/speaker around gender and intersectional approaches for decades and a true inspiration and mentor to so many of us. If you haven’t read Riki’s books, I highly recommend them, especially the newest one, Gender Norms & Intersectionality: Connecting Race, Class and Gender.

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