Communities and societies have many norms connected to what is considered “possible”, “normal” and “okay” to do. Like we’ve learned in previous sections of this handbook, norms change over time and space. Something that is a norm in one space or group of people is not necessarily a norm in another. This creates opportunities in some cases. For example at LOUD! Bandcamp, we’ve created a space where girls playing drums is the norm. In another community this might be considered unnatural and even wrong. The norm in this community might be that boys should play drums. This creates barriers for girls who want to play drums. This can be applied to many different norms, and in many cases norms connected to the music ecosystem creates barriers for girls, trans and non-binary youth.
In order for us to shift this dynamic, we need to get the community engaged in the process. Getting everyone to pull in the same direction is a much more efficient way of challenging and revealing norms, than telling someone they are doing something wrong. A good way to start this process is through identifying and connecting to key people within a community. This can be a teacher, a religious leader, a social worker, youth worker, musician or others, who has a network within the community and is able to get people involved and engaged.
100 years ago, having a female conductor lead an orchestra might have been considered impossible.
Today, we know many female conductors who are incredible at what they do (even though this is still a male dominated profession). This has been a change in our communities attitudes towards women that has enabled even more women to become conductors.
As we already wrote, having many expectations of what is considered “possible” can limit the availability of activities and choices for certain people. Challenging what is considered “normal” is therefore an important part of creating more gender diversity within the music ecosystem. So far in this section we’ve looked at changes that can be done within ourselves and our organisations. Sometimes we have to look outside in order to really create equal opportunities. We tend to use our own context as the stepping stone for the decisions we make. If we only work towards creating equal opportunities for white, middle-class girls, we are not creating truly diverse and inclusive projects.
Community engagement builds on the expression “show, don’t tell”. If you show people possibilities they might not have imagined, arguing against it gets harder. Through doing this, you will also open up spaces for more types of youth and kids. Maybe the community thinks that the kid in a wheelchair can’t dance at the dance show, show them that they can!
Challenge your own norms!
Be aware of what norms are limiting participation within your organisation or projects. Are you truly open to challenging what you think of as “normal”?
Both within your organisation, and in society as a whole. Dissect any limiting arguments, and find arguments to why it’s important to challenge attitudes and beliefs that may lead to discrimination. Be visual and active in challenging the norms.
Identify key actors and spaces in the community.
Are there individuals with gatekeeper roles that can help you build relationships with a community? Maybe you can team up with a principal, teacher, elders in the community, youth workers, religious leaders or others who are connected to the youth to build ownership to your project within the community itself. In some cases this might help you to challenge the mindsets in the surroundings of the kids you want to reach - if you get the gatekeeper on board it will be easier to persuade the community that girls can also play in bands or that marching bands are cool!
Make it fun and positive!
Pointing fingers is rarely a constructive way to create change. This will only alienate and make the divide between people even bigger. Highlight the possibilities and communicate the advantages of challenging norms. Get people on board, and invite them in.
“Show, don’t tell”.
As we mentioned earlier, the “show, don’t tell”-mentality is your friend when working with community norms. Give parents, politicians, teachers and others the opportunity to see what kids are doing in your projects, and the enormous growth it can create in each of the participants. Bring them in on the journey: “In this project we’re being brave, trying something for the first time, creating something together and focusing on supporting each other.” When they see the accomplishments and joy of the participants, and feel the power of their own encouragement, it’s hard to hold on to limiting beliefs.