Home Business I research women’s role in media–and yet I recently discovered that my Gen Z son and his peers didn’t support feminism.

I research women’s role in media–and yet I recently discovered that my Gen Z son and his peers didn’t support feminism.

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I research women’s role in media–and yet I recently discovered that my Gen Z son and his peers didn’t support feminism.

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Recently, in the same week, a study from King’s College London and a Financial Times analysis of various studies exposed an unprecedented gender rift emerging within Gen Z. As a mother of two Gen Z boys who researches the role of women in media, I felt enormous sorrow and a sense of loss. If our youngest generation of women and men are diverging in their fundamental values and are polarized on important matters such as the impact of feminism, masculinity, and gender equality, how are they to build healthy, loving, long-lasting relationships in a world starved of unity and social cohesion?

Troubled with these thoughts, I came down to the kitchen on a Saturday morning to check in on my 13-year-old son and his two friends who had stayed overnight. “What do you think of feminism?” I asked spontaneously, curious to hear their thoughts over breakfast before they headed off to football. My son rebutted my question with vehemence, demanding that I not ask such “weird” questions. His negative reaction and visible discomfort puzzled me.

In the past, societal rifts have been observed between different generations, but according to the FT’s analyses, this century, for the first time, a real ideological gap has emerged and developed within the same generation of young men and women. Since 2000, 18-29-year-old women in South Korea, the U.S., Germany, and the U.K. have become significantly more progressive while young men have grown more conservative.

King’s College London’s study, a snapshot of present-day cross-generational opinions in the U.K., revealed that 16-29-year-old men were more likely than any other group (including men over 60) to think that being a man is harder than being a woman. They are four times more likely to think this than young women (26% vs. 6%). What’s more, almost one in five men in the 16-29 age group believe that attempts to give equal opportunities to women have gone too far or much too far (18% vs. 8% for young women and 12% of all adults).

Different social scientists and journalists attribute these divisions in the youngest generation to a variety of factors. Among them are: The #MeToo movement giving rise to feminist values in young women. The identity crisis that men have been experiencing in the face of women’s increasing emancipation. Young men and women’s dramatically different use of social media that has led to diametrically opposing online worlds. And the economic struggles that are pushing men towards more conservative and anti-immigration beliefs. No less significant is men’s higher consumption of online hard-core porn which has deepened their objectification of women and increased the appeal of sexist influencers who advocate for traditional female roles (such as Jordan Peterson) and the subjugation of women (such as Andrew Tate).

Perhaps slightly self-serving, I decided to persevere with the question I had posed my son and his friends. The responses surprised me: I found out that my son, who has been raised in a feminist household, didn’t consider himself a feminist because he thought it was unfair to fight for women’s but not men’s rights. He was neutral, he said. Interestingly, his friends too thought that feminism was about giving better opportunities to women but not to men.

As disappointing as this conversation was for me as a media gender equity expert, it was incredibly insightful. I realized that the next generation of boys, yet to be surveyed by the likes of King’s College London, is anchored in the zero-sum narrative: “For women to feel better, men have to feel worse” or conversely “women are suffering, because all men are sexists.” One of the problems of many feminist and anti-feminist narratives is that they pit women against men. For instance, articles calling teenage boys and young men “annoying” do not help the feminist cause in the slightest. It is hard to relinquish your power when you are being beaten with a stick. There is a danger that many feminist narratives leave men feeling defensive and threatened, rather than encouraged to support women who need it if our world is to become more equitable. After all,  women still constitute only 5.8%  and 10.4% of all CEOs of Fortune 500 companies globally and in the U.S., respectively. Women account for a woeful 7% of the board chairs across 15 leading  AI companies that are shaping our future world. Furthermore, there are still huge gender pay and wealth gaps. According to a recent Oxfam report, men globally now own  $105 trillion more wealth than women, which is four times the size of the U.S. economy.

“If feminism is giving equal opportunities to women and men, then we can be feminists”, my son and his friends concluded on that Saturday morning following my explanation that feminism is about giving equal opportunities to all. I added that the reason feminism was focusing more on women was because they were languishing far behind men in prosperity. “Isn’t that problem resolved in England?”, countered one of the boys, voicing another typical misconception. Well, no, it isn’t.

Feminism needs rebranding because it is increasingly being perceived as encapsulating an anti-male belief system that aims to elbow men out of the way so that women can prosper. Google global searches for feminism/feminist have declined by 38% since 2017.  We should be moving toward a movement that women and men can unite behind to work against the inherited patriarchal system that has been repressing women’s talents for leading society and men’s talents for caring and nurturing. Why not call it femenism? Either way, we must clarify that this patriarchal system has put undue burdens on men to provide and on women to take care of everyone, relegating each to a confined space that has stripped them of their wholeness.

Worldwide suicide mortality trends analysis across 183 countries has revealed that between 2000 and 2019, men were twice as likely as women to take their own lives. In 2020, four times more men than women died by suicide in the U.S.

Only when men and women work hand in hand to dismantle a system that doesn’t work well enough for either, will the ever-damaging zero-sum game give way to a more nurturing narrative that supports the fulfillment of all genders.

Luba Kassova is a researcher, journalist, and consultant who covers equality, media, and social trends.

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