This week the US witnessed the inauguration of a president who infamously said of women that you can “just grab ‘em by the pussy” if you’re a famous man, while hundreds of protesters gathered outside. In solidarity, thousands of women will participate in the Women’s March in London today. Yet despite this, only 19 per cent of young women in the UK would call themselves a feminist.
I’m feeling both hopeful and terrified about what this means for gender equality in the next few years, as the Fawcett Society released a survey that shows this generation is less supportive of gender equality than our older counterparts.
At first I was surprised by this. After all, there has been a lot of discussion over the past few years about how we’ve seen a resurgence of feminism. From feminist societies springing up in schools across the country, to academics debating what wave we’re in – third, fourth, tenth, who knows? – to the brilliant direct action throughout 2016 by grassroots feminist group Sisters Uncut, there seems to be a really passionate generation of young activists emerging to fight back against inequality.
Overall, the Fawcett Society did find that younger generations are generally more positive about feminism and more progressive. 50 per cent of 18-34 year olds see gender as non-binary (compared to only 39 per cent of those over 55). And while only 19 per cent of women from the ages of 18-24 would call themselves a feminist, this is far higher than the 9 per cent of women overall.
Despite this, some of the statistics show that a backlash against feminism may be building. 87 per cent of those over 55 said they support equality of opportunity, compared with 78 per cent of 18-34 year olds. What is perhaps more worrying is the strong opposition to feminism shown by younger people in the report. One in five men aged 25-34 said that they thought equality had “gone too far”, and 10 per cent of men in the same age group said they were opposed to feminism. The statistics for women aren’t much more promising – with 11 per cent of 25-34 year olds saying that feminism has “gone too far”.
But what does that mean? What constitutes “going too far”? There are more male MPs today than there have been women ever in Parliament and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales alone. Despite this, two in three women are turned away from refuges on arrival, and since 2010, 34 refuges have been closed across the country because of government cuts.
At first I was surprised that the younger generation seem to be more opposed to feminism, but after some thinking it started to make sense. If one in five young men feel that equality has gone too far then maybe they – we – are living the illusion of a post-feminist society. The statistics seem to back this up – when asked whether women and men are already equal, a quarter of young women and 37 per cent of young men said that we are. This is compared to 26 per cent of older men and 17 per cent of older women. Many young people seem to believe that gender equality is simply not an issue anymore.
Opinions in the US also seem to follow this line of thought. A poll by Harvard University in 2016 showed that a quarter of 18-29 year olds in the US believe women are treated equally to men – that’s a pretty high percentage of people stating that there’s no more work to be done. It is also perhaps a very big part of the reason that a man who jokes about sexual assault and plans to defund Planned Parenthood has been made president – it’s easy to dismiss “locker room banter” if you believe there’s little to no chance it will have an effect on society.
We are still a long way from equality, and although it’s important to celebrate the progress we’ve made so far, we can’t let that progress make us complacent. It’s a dark time for women, and while the feminist movement grows stronger, we can’t afford for the backlash to grow stronger in response.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies