A study out this week shows increasing polarisation on gender equality between young men and women.
The latest report from the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership makes for sobering reading. It shows that polarisation on gender equality issues is at its starkest among the young. It bases this on research into attitudes to issues such as how helpful the term “toxic masculinity” is, whether it’s harder to be a man than a woman today, whether feminism has done more good or harm to society and approval of the influencer Andrew Tate.
It makes for worrying reading if you are a parent of either boys or girls and it’s certainly something I’ve seen playing out in my children’s various experiences at school and the younger the cohort the worse the divide seems to get. While my eldest daughter’s friends seem to be quite progressive across the board, her younger sisters have faced different pressures.
Daughter two was in sixth form when Sarah Everard was killed and the school held assemblies on it across the whole year group, each in their separate classrooms. Daughter two says those assemblies turned into shouting matches. The girls were extremely angry, recounting their own experiences, and the boys tended to try and treat it all like a joke, with a few honourable exceptions. She said every class emerged from the online assemblies with girls in tears. They felt the boys just didn’t understand. The boys thought the girls were overreacting. My daughter was outraged by the boys, but also says that some of the comments made by girls about boys, particularly online, are fairly extreme.
Daughter three has faced bullying by boys, taking her to task about her appearance when she was younger, often in very graphic, semi pornographic language. God only knows what is happening with only son. He is trying to stay out of all the nasty comments he hears flying around. He’s been brought up by very strong-minded women/girls and I hope that will stand him in good stead.
On the back of the GIWL research I tried to speak to him about it all and say that it is hard when you’re young to see the bigger picture of the lifetime impact of lower wages, etc, on women, but that it’s also important for boys to not constantly be seen as the enemy. He’s a teenager. He basically grunted and said ‘go away’, which is standard these days. You have to get them at the right time for a conversation and engage rather than lecture.
I’m not sure myself how helpful terms like ‘toxic masculinity’ are. While they are supposed to be about structural issues, it is hard not to take them personally, I think, and to feel like you can never win. Nobody wants to hear about how awful they are all the time. Bad behaviour makes the news, though, as does conflict and division – at least at the moment and social media just fans the flames.
It would be good if schools could try and start those kinds of conversations as well as parents. Instead we often seem to end up with schools and parents blaming each other. Everyone is exhausted, but we need to take a step back and work together to face the onslaught we are currently under and find a constructive way forward.