In a nutshell…

This University of Leeds ESRC-funded interdisciplinary research explores young people’s (16-24 year olds) understandings, experiences and practices of gender in contemporary UK as this intersects with sexualities, class, race, age and other social identities in families; intimate relationships; peer groups; leisure spaces; formal spaces of school and employment; and social media spaces. Applied project outcomes will be made available to policymakers, equality and diversity organisations and campaigning groups, those in media and cultural industries, and youth practitioners operating in schools, colleges, universities, youth centres and workplaces. There will also be a range of academic presentations and publications.


In more detail…

Living Gender in Diverse Times runs for three years from January 2018. The project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and led by Prof. Sally Hines, is based in the School of Sociology and Social Policy University of Leeds. Dr Kim Allen and Dr Sharon Elley are project Co-Investigators, and Dr Joe Hall and Dr Karen Cuthbert are Research Fellows.

Why are we doing this research?

Following a dramatic rise in the cultural visibility of people who identify across, between or beyond the categories of male and female, Time Magazineheralded a ‘Transgender tipping point’ in 2014 (Time 2014). A year later, 2015 was declared as ‘The Year of Transgender’ by media sources in the BBC News. Correspondingly, provision for the equality of transgender people has emerged on the political agenda in many western countries, which, over the last decade, have witnessed increased social awareness of gender diversity and moves towards greater legal protection for the citizenship rights of gender diverse people (and those of sexual minorities) (Hines, 2013; 2016).

Against this backdrop, significant cultural commentary has been given to the ramifications of this greater visibility of, transgender, gender-queer and non-binary identities on young people. For example, media reports in the UK and US regularly declare that millenials are rejecting traditional gender labels and norms (Guardian 2016; Teen Vogue 2016) and endorsements of non-binary gendered identity by celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Jaden Smith are presented as emblematic of this shift. A move towards non-traditional gender identity and expression amongst young people in the UK is also evidenced by the NSPCC who have recently reported that in the year 2015-2016, 2,800 calls or eight a day had been made to their helpline Childlineby young people who wanted to talk about their gender identity. Accordingly, the NHS is to spend an extra £2.2 million on gender identity services for young people over the next year (The Guardian, 13th December 2016)

While this suggests that traditional gender identities and expressions are being less rigidly experienced by young people in contemporary society, there is significant evidence that young people’s gender identities, understandings and practices continued to be policed and constrained by power relations and gender norms. Given the continued prevalence of transphobia within society (see Rose, 2016) this suggests that such celebratory declarations of a shift in how young people understand and practice gender demands caution and further exploration.

What will the research involve?

Through mixed methods this project will examine the ways in which gender is understood-and practiced by young people from different demographic groups in the UK.  The study will involving 180-260 young people aged 16-24 and located across the UK. Research data will be generated through focus groups, interviews, video diaries and online research.

The project seeks to go beyond an exploration of individual understandings by addressing the ways in which the social structures of gender, class, race, age, sexuality and geographical location impact on the access to, and the experiences of, non-traditional gender identities and practices. The project will also explore the ways in which young people negotiate their gender identities and practices with families, partners, peer groups and friendship networks, leisure and social media spaces and within the formal spaces of education and work. Finally the project will consider the impact of the media, at the levels of consumption and production, on young people’s gendered identities and expressions.

The project seeks to address the following research questions:

1. How do people between the ages of 16-24 understand and experience gender diversity?

2. To what extent, and in what ways, are the binary categories of male and female reinforced or problematised in young people’s practices and discourses?

3. How are these practices impacted by social factors such gender, class, race, age, sexuality and geographical location?

4. What role do families, intimate relationships, peer groups and friendship networks, leisure spaces and social media spaces, and education and work-place relations play in these processes?

5. How do the media and cultural productions impact on these understandings, experiences and practices of gender?

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