The End of Gender

category - future city
category - gender
category - society
sector - diversity & inclusion
type - opinion
type - future of
Future of
Forget the ‘new normal’. Society has an opportunity to rebuild itself around a new gender landscape emphasising self-expression and identity – and doing so could help deliver the new extra-ordinary

Covid-19 was supposed to be the great equaliser. But in reality, the pandemic has served to shed light on just how deep many inequities run, with gender a case in point. 

Analysis by Citi estimated that of the 44 million workers worldwide who are at risk of being made redundant as a result of the coronavirus, 31 million are women. Many trans+ people were uniquely impacted by delays in access to care or social support, and left especially vulnerable to developing severe health risks associated with the virus. 

That cis men largely avoid mention when it comes to the pandemic’s material, economic or structural impacts comes as no surprise. But what’s promising is that while systemic inequalities were being laid bare, a fundamental transformation in how society thinks about gender was also taking place.

Alex Ehmcke, chief operating officer at PinkNews, explained this transformation to The Drum. ‘In 2020, there was a noticeable shift away from societal gender norms, with the conversation around breaking down gendered barriers becoming more mainstream,’ he said. ‘The problematic nature that society puts on traditional gender norms isn’t a niche any more – it’s becoming part of the conversation.’

This shift is being driven by the growing number and increasing recognition of people expressing identities beyond traditional gender binaries, whether transgender, agender, non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer or other non-cisgender identities, as we previously suggested in our foresight work on Neutral Culture in 2015, and Uncoupled Living in 2019.

While academic and official studies fall short in providing statistics on trans+ communities, data that does exist is revealing. According to the Pew Research Center, over a third (35%) of Gen Zers in the US know somebody who uses gender-neutral pronouns.

As the quest for freedom to self-identify gathers steam, people are pushing the boundaries of traditional gender binaries. More fluid definitions of gender expression are emerging and have indeed been mainstreamed. Media narratives might position these dual shifts as contradictory, but they are far from it. And across sectors such as beauty, hospitality and fashion, brands are already seeing the benefits of removing gender, or indeed standard tags of sexuality, from their offers completely, from Swedish label Kön’s gender-neutral underwear to Superfluid’s label-free, identity-focused cosmetics.

Indeed, in the future, traditional gender binaries will seem as bizarre as the days when car and mobile phone manufacturers produced pink products for a female audience. Or a time our co-founder Martin Raymond speaks about, when a client asked him, as a gay man, if gay people preferred pimped-up clothing to appeal to their ‘inner’ flamboyance.

Published by:

24 February 2021

Author: Adam Steel

Image: Superfluid, US


Limited-edition label-less Coca-Cola can from Coca-Cola Middle East during the month of Ramadan

Happily, our positively shifting attitudes are now taking us toward a more fluid future when it comes to gender, which is being realised on two different fronts: firstly, through enabling anyone to self-identify and determine their own gender, and secondly, through increasingly fluid and less prescriptive definitions of gender binaries themselves – including the many accepted tropes that sit with them.

This, then, is the future as it could and should be; one where we can scenario plan for tomorrow – as Devon Powers and Ryan Lanji suggest in their recent Back to the F**kture podcasts – in ways that allow us to imagine a brave new world of a very different and multiplex sort.

Taking this approach, what if we use this watershed moment to break apart and destroy our canonical definitions of gender altogether, rather than integrating these developments into existing gendered institutions? It’s an argument put forward by Heath Fogg Davis, a professor of political science and transgender man, in Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?, a book which questions the need for gender categories in the first place.

Following Davis’s line of thinking – and imagining what a society built around a new narrative of emphasising self-expression and identity would look like – reveals a different and potentially brighter future to our pre-pandemic path.

Firstly, there would be greater prosperity if the patriarchy was dismantled. According to research cited by the European Investment Bank, achieving greater gender diversity could lead to an increase of 26% of annual global GDP and $160 trillion of human capital wealth, while enhancing business performance by 15%.

The world would also be better led. While we often talk about three responses to difficult situations – fight, flight or freeze – this is applicable generally to men. As founder of SheEO Vicki Saunders explains, women exhibit another option – tend and befriend. ‘If we look at the leadership responses during the time of Covid, we can see the result of a tend and befriend approach,’ she says. ‘Countries led by women are outperforming those which are not.’

And innovation could abound. Reimagining the workplace as a truly gender-neutral environment through universal design, for example, could deliver psychological safety for all employees, encouraging people to contribute unique ideas and present contrarian views.

For this future to be realised, however, we first need to banish talk of the ‘new normal’. As the pandemic has shown, normal wasn’t good enough. Instead, we should be focusing on the new extra-ordinary – and that means rebuilding society with inclusivity at its core.

Brands have an opportunity to spearhead this transformation, whether they use this tipping point to reinvent retail through a genderless lens, to build spaces and cities designed for people, not men, or to create hospitality concepts that are truly inclusive.

Some, like Superfluid, are already on this journey. Superfluid states that it intends to offer ‘tools that empower us to break free and navigate identity, allowing us to become as we wish’ – a powerful proposition that all businesses, regardless of size or sector, should embrace when it comes to building the new extra-ordinary.

‘In the future, traditional gender binaries will seem as bizarre as the days when car and mobile phone manufacturers produced pink products for a female audience..’
Adam Steel, strategic foresight editor, The Future Laboratory

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