Exclusive - Susan Goldberg Extended Interview

January 9, 2017 - Susan Goldberg 01/09/2017 Views: 16,075

National Geographic's Susan Goldberg weighs in on how gender roles affect kids in different cultures and explains why the magazine featured a trans child on the cover. (8:31)

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Please welcome Susan Goldberg.

(cheering and applause)

Thank you so muchand welcome to the show.

Thank you so much,and thanks for having us.

This is an amazing,amazing issue

that National Geographic has just released.

Let's get straight into the why.

I mean,an entire issue dedicated

to gender around the world.

I can understand it being a,you know, an article,

or even an extended pieceof-of an issue,

but why the entire issue?

Everywhere you look these days,

you see gender at the centerof so many conversations.

And not just in our country,

with discussions about bathroomlaws in North Carolina or Texas,

but everywhere in the world.

And it isn't just abouttransgender, it's about gender.

So whether it's about girlsin Sierra Leone

trying to, um, you know,thwart traditional norms

of female genital mutilation,and childhood marriage,

or men in Swedentaking advantage

of really generous policies for,uh, paternity leave

after having a child,

you're seeingso much conversation

around the world about gender.

And at National Geographic we've spent 130 years

talking about cultures andpeople and history and science,

and we thought this wasa perfect lens,

uh, to talk about gender.

That's a long timeto have a conversation.


I think wh-what really struck mewhen reading this issue,

wasn't that it, eh,was about gender,

but it was how the conversationswere had, as you say.

It was all around the world,and most, most interestingly,

it was all about children.

It was how childrensee themselves

on the gender spectrum.

It was talking to kidsin different cultures

all over the world,specifically nine-year-olds.

Very specific age.

Why did you choose that?

So, nine-year-oldsare articulate,

and they're great observers.They're really smart,

for those of us who have beenaround nine-year-old kids.

And they a...And they do tell you the truth.

They... You know,if you want to know...

If you want the worldreflected back at you,

ask a nine-year-old,because they don't have

that social veil,the way the rest of us do.

-They will actually tell youwhat they think, and... -Oh.

-They should run for president.That's, uh... -Yeah.

Yeah, but they... but they...but they exist in a space

where, uh, they tell youwhat it means to them.

They haven't been taughtto tell you what it means.

Exactly. So we went to, uh,80 different families

in eight countriesall over the world and said,

"What does it mean to be a boyin your culture?

"What does it mean to be a girlin your culture?

"What's the best thingabout being a boy?

"What would you... What would itbe like if you were somebody

of another...of the other gender?"

And they really told uswhat they thought.

And, you know, the answersare funny sometimes.

-They're heartbreakingsometimes. -Yeah.

Uh, to me,one of the big takeaways

was how much girls aroundthe world still use gender

to define limits in their lives.

They say being a girl...Not all girls said this

but a number of them said

being a girlsomehow limits their abilities.

Yes. But you-you don'teven realize it.

When you're readingthrough this article,

one of the-the picturesthat really jumps out--

and I think we have it here--is-is the-the blue and pink,

-you know, showing how boys'and girls' roles -Oh, yeah.

in their lives are defined.

Like, it's-it's almost producedand predetermined.

How "feminine"you are supposed to be,

what you are supposed to like

is almost predetermined for you,and there's not much leeway.

Why did you have those imagesand what is...

like, what is the significanceof that?

So, this was a projectundertaken

by a South Korean photographer,who saw that,

you know, her own daughterjust loved pink.

And she got really curious aboutthe idea of, you know, was it...

was it societiesthat were sending girls to pink

and boys to blue or werethey just doing that naturally.

And so she started going allover the place,

looking at how it isthat kids end up surrounded

with a sea of pinkif you're a girl

or a sea of blue, uh,if-if you're a boy.

Now lately, a number of people

have been moving moretoward purple.

A number of little girls havebeen moving a little more

-toward purple, which I think...-Slowly moving over.

-Yeah, see? You know?-Oh, I like it. -(laughter)

I like. The conversationsaround gender, as you say,

in America-- you know,

it's somethingthat comes to the fore.

It'll bea Caitlyn Jenner discussion.

It'll be someone talkingabout HB2 in North Carolina,

or in, you know, people talkingabout in Texas.

But rarely gender goes beyondjust that-- the assignment.

It seems like the conversationsaround gender

also define a lot of peoples'experiences in the world--

what they feel they have accessto, and what they don't.

You compiled a list.

What did you find the bestcountries were good at doing

in terms of providing childrenwith the best opportunities

to exist beyond those limits?

Well, the best countriesreally provide, um,

ways for people to be successfulno matter what their gender,

or even if they decide theydon't want to have a gender.

-Yeah. -And that's oneof the things that we talk about

in this issue quite a bit.

Um, but so thatthere's political equality,

economic equality,

you know, equality in termsof health care and opportunity.

Those are the very bestcountries,

and those are the countriesmostly in, um... in Scandinavia.

I think Iceland has the...on that measure

has the highest equalitybetween men and women.

It's a storythat is so different

and yet so similarall over the world.

One of the most interesting was,

you have picturesof these children.

There are some kids in Kenya,for instance.

And I think what really gotto me there was the contrast.

-GOLDBERG: Mm-hmm.-A young girl in Kenya saying,

"Being a girl meansthat I am constantly in fear

"and being accosted by men,chasing me to the river,

trying to have sex with me."

And a young boy in that sameKenyan environment saying,

"The best thing about beinga boy is I have a penis."

That is what he says, andhe's very forthright about that.

And then, what you don't seein the magazine,

but if you watch the video,you would see it--

his next statement is,"Because I can use it

to have sex with a woman."

-And so, we getthese messages... -Yeah.

...very, very early on.

You know, boys, girls, or...or neither.

Before I tell you...

Before I let you go, rather,

um, let's talk about the cover,

because the cover is somethingthat, in its own right,

was somethingthat you found was met

with a lot of, uh, you know,objection.

You have a transgender childon the cover.

-We do. -The first in National Geographic's history.

-As far as we know.-Yeah. You...

That's actually very true.

You met a lot of resistance.

People, you know,who got the cover said, "Why?"

and, "We didn't want this."

What was their reasoning?

Well, I think people were--some people--

were offended that we even wouldhave an issue about this topic.

I have receiveda lot of complaints

from people who saythis is not the kind of topic

that National Geographic oughtto even be discussing.

Um, they just didn't feelit was appropriate.

And, you know, I understandthat a lot of these complaints

are heartfelt, and-and I respectpeople for having that opinion.

Um, but we really did thinkit was important,

because, you know, this is...there is...

there is a huge conversationgoing on,

even if some peopledon't want to acknowledge it.

You know, other people objectedbecause, they said,

-"This is a child.-Yeah.

You've got a childon your cover."

And Avery Jackson,the girl who is on the cover

that went to our subscribers,is nine years old,

and ever sinceshe's been four years old,

she has said, "I am a girl."

And that ishow she's being raised.

That is what her and her family,you know...

they're going forward with that.

She's actually an activistin the transgender community.

And so we felt very comfortableputting her on the cover.

She actually had one ofthe most fascinating phrases,

and that's on the cover here,and that is,

"The best thingabout being a girl

is now I don't have to pretendto be a boy."

Right.And so when she said that,

we thought thatin that one sentence

it really put her at ground zeroof so much

of what people are talking aboutin terms of gender.

Well, I... I could talk to youfor hours on this,

because the pictures,the stories,

and the ideas behind itare really fascinating.

I encourage everyone to go outand get the issue.

-But thank you for making it.-Oh, thank you.

-Thank you so much.-Thank you.-(cheering, applause)

The January issueof National Geographi magazine

is on newsstands now, and onlineat natgeo.com/genderrevolution.

Susan Goldberg, everybody.