Years ago, people used to believe that gender equality would produce gender similarity. That is to say, people used to believe that as women and men enjoyed more equal opportunities and earned similar pay, men and women would see the world in similar ways.
It hasn’t worked out that neatly.
In the Nordic countries, where gender equality is highest, unexpected differences have opened up between men and women. In what Nima Sanandaji calls the Nordic paradox, companies in those countries have fewer female business managers, not more.
It seems that when egalitarian welfare states give people more choices, many women take advantage of those choices by dropping out of the rat race.
In this country we see a different sort of paradox. As economic disparities between men and women have narrowed, political disparities have widened, at least among millennials. Over the past few decades, the U.S. has made steady strides toward gender equality, and millennials live in the most gender-equal cohort in our society. Yet, at least when it comes to politics, millennial men and women see things in starkly different ways.
In 2016, female voters under 30 years old voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump 63 percent to 31 percent. Males in the same age cohort gave Clinton a much smaller edge, voting for her 46 percent to 42 percent. That’s a 17-point gender gap.
Since the election, the gap in leanings has gotten even bigger, as white male millennials have shifted to the G.O.P. A recent Pew survey of midterm party preference suggests that women under 35 tilt Democratic by an astounding 68 percent to 24 Republican. Men under 35 now tilt Republican 50 percent to 47 percent Democratic.
What is going on here?
Perhaps two interrelated stories:
Female mobilization. If you look at the research, you find that millennials are not so divided on gender roles. Both sexes increasingly favor a feminist attitude in the workplace and a neotraditionalist attitude at home. They want both sexes to have equal opportunities at work, but year by year more young people believe that the best home is the one where the man is the outside “achiever” and the working woman is the primary caregiver. In 1994, for example, 42 percent of high school seniors believed this; by 2014, 58 percent did.
Trump and the #MeToo movement have brought the workplace side of that consensus to the top of mind, at least among young women. According to an MTV-Public Religion Research Institute survey, 63 percent of women ages 15 to 24 say there is a lot of discrimination against women at work, while only 43 percent of young men say that.
These young women have become highly mobilized. Fifty percent of women respondents had posted on social media on a public cause over the preceding 12 months, while 48 percent had signed an online petition. Most young men and women, according to the MTV-PRRI research, see marches negatively, though many women call them “inspiring” or “powerful.” Men, on the other hand, tend to dismiss them as “counterproductive,” “pointless,” “divisive” or even “violent.”
This brings us to the second story, the male backlash. When covering any social movement, it’s always important to pay attention to the people standing on the sidelines. These days, that would more often be young men.
An increasing number of high school-educated men say they are the ones being screwed by modern society, not women, who are better educated on average. More and more college-educated men adopt a Jordan Peterson-style posture, arguing that the assault on “male privilege” has gone too far, that the feminist speech and behavior codes have gone too far.
It’s led second to a reassertion of millennial masculinity. According to Pew, millennial men feel much more pressure to behave in stereotypically masculine ways than men of older generations — to throw a punch when provoked, to join in when they hear other men talking about women in a sexual way.
I have to say that this rising war between the sexes feels phony to me. Millennials seem to be in fundamental agreement on how to live. I detect less day-to-day difference between men and women than in earlier generations.
But in the political showbiz sphere, Trump’s cartoonish masculinity squares off against cartoonish “Why Can’t We Hate Men?” incitements. It’s only there that we see the usual social media game of moral one-upmanship in which each tribe competes to be more victimized, more offended and more woke.
I’m betting that the millennial gender war is a figment of the political circus, and will be washed away by the giant force looming on the horizon: parenthood.
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