3 TED Talks that Challenge How We Think About Gender Roles

On this International Women’s Day, we feature TED Talks that challenge our longstanding beliefs about gender.

Drawing on history, research, and their own personal stories, they explore the complexities of gender in our society and the beliefs we’ve come to accept as the norm. More importantly, these talks help us examine the influence these beliefs have on our actions and the policies that could shape future generations.

Chimamanda Ngozie Adichi | We Should all Be Feminists

In this TEDxEustace talk given in 2012, novelist Chimamanda Ngozie Adichi describes the strong grip of gender on leadership. We encourage women to not “overdo” their ambition, to dampen their own success, and to cherish marriage and caregiving above all. In a similar vein, we encourage men to value power and material access, and we congratulate them in their caregiving. Rather than viewing ourselves through lenses of “femininity” and “masculinity”, Chimamanda challenges the audience to prioritize our unique skills and interests, strive to embrace them, and let them guide us in our leadership.

The Takeaway

Despite advances in attitudes toward gender equality, we still have work to do creating a culture that fully supports women.

Deepa Narayan | 7 Beliefs That Silence Women – and how to Unlearn Them

Deepa Narayan is a social scientist, author and co-author of multiple books including “Chup: Breaking The Silence About India’s Women.” In her 2019 TED Talk given in India, she unpacks the seven beliefs that impact the the happiness, success, and wellbeing of women and girls. By repeating and upholding these beliefs, particularly as we raise our daughters, we position them for powerlessness, dependence, and disappointment in the future. A girl who is discouraged from outspokenness, for example, might hesitate to make strong decisions as an adult. In a similar vein, a girl who is praised for consistent flexibility, might grow to prioritize others’ needs over her own. To create real opportunities for women, society should first support their pursuit of those opportunities.

The Takeaway

Despite advancements in education and income equality, we still maintain certain standards for “good women”— from their demeanor, to their appearance, to their relationships, and beyond. What practices are we unconsciously engaging in that reinforce this double standard? What can we be doing to challenge, and ultimately, change our beliefs at their core?

Anne-Marie Slaughter | Can we all “have it all”?

American international lawyer and public policy expert Anne-Marie Slaughter’s TED Talk at TEDGlobal 2013 amplified and built on her provocative 2012 article, “”Why women still can’t have it all.” In this equally compelling talk, she shifts the work-family narrative from just a woman’s challenge to one that is to be resolved by both partners in a domestic partnership. She posits that caregiving and breadwinning are reinforcing of each other and offers intriguing examples of countries that achieve better work-life balance because they value both without assigning gender roles and invest accordingly.

The Takeaway

The work culture, policies, and social norms we’ve created still largely reflect gender roles of the past. To achieve more equality for both women and men, we should shift our norms, re-evaluate our culture, and invest in the family as a societal building block.


Author: Imani Reynolds
Writer and researcher Imani Reynolds is a member of TEDxAtlanta’s storytelling team. She frequently writes about inclusion and women-forward issues. You can read more of her work at Gem Class