youThink – Gen Y: on role models and feminism

Posted on 12th October 2015 by Youth

From Gamergate and Dapper Laughs to HeForShe and Suffragette, the subject of gender equality and feminism is rarely out of the spotlight.YPF Image 10 v3

This week, to mark the launch of SYN: State of the Youth Nation, YouthSight’s new research tool tracking opinions, behaviours and trends among UK 16-24s, we’ve examined young people’s feelings on the topic.

The media debate is often polarised and loud. But away from the noise, what do an emerging generation of young adults think? Read on to discover how many young women (and men) consider themselves feminists and whether they think feminism is necessary. We’re sharing ten new morsels from SYN, including a top ten list of today’s feminist icons.  Over 1,000 UK 16-24s took part in this research.


orbullet1Almost all young men and women believe in gender equality

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Only 4% of young men and 1% of young women disagree or are not sure about the idea of gender equality. This generation may be more likely to agree with gender equality than older generations, but not to a greater extent; a broad-sample survey of Americans last year found that just 9% did not agree with gender equality.

orbullet2The majority of young people believe feminism is an important movement

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A large number of young women, 84%, believe that feminism is important, as do a majority 58% of men. Further down we discover that not all women consider themselves feminists, yet in this result we see that many of those that don’t identify as feminists still recognise the importance of the movement, with only 3% of women denying significance.

orbullet33Most young people think feminism is needed in the developed world…

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orbullet3…and even more so in the developing world

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We have fielded these questions twice in the last 10 months, once with a student sample and once with a broad sample of UK 16-24s including those in work. Despite very few differences between December 2014 and August 2015, we were surprised to find that young people feel there is less need for feminism in the developed world than last year. This is surprising because of the current campaign for equal pay in Hollywood and the call from the government to force top firms to disclose the gender pay gap amongst staff. Do our findings indicate that young people see these campaigns as solving the gender divide?

orbullet580% of young women say they are – or might be – feminists. A quarter of men say they are feminists

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Feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes” therefore it seems incongruous that the majority who believe in equality do not describe themselves as feminists. It has been suggested that the issue for many is one of ‘branding’: the associations of feminism are not relatable or, for some, they are negative. That said, the fact that around half of young women are happy to call themselves feminists contrasts sharply with a Netmums survey in 2012 that found only one in seven women identify as feminists “with younger women least likely to”. Are women now becoming more comfortable with a ‘feminist’ label or are the associations becoming less problematic?

OrBullet6A few aren’t sure exactly what feminism is

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OrBullet7But the majority don’t think feminism is ‘anti men’

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The notion that feminism is ‘anti men’ is a stereotype with no empirical accuracy – a 2009 study found that feminists were more likely to report lower levels of hostility towards men than non-feminists. But it is a stereotype that still survives in the minds of almost a third of young men.

OrBullet8Few of them think feminism is ‘cool’

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With several female celebrities embracing feminism publically in recent times and gender equality making the front pages of mainstream magazines, some media commentators have written that feminism has become ‘cool’. But that’s not what most young people think. Both genders are in close agreement in our research, with only an average of 17.5% believing that feminism cool.

OrBullet9And they don’t think it’s a ‘fad’

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Young people are even less convinced that feminism is a fad. Considering that this subject is prevalent in current UK media discussion it is surprising that so few regard it like other topical subjects, as a passing concern. Some feminist writers have cautioned that the so-called ‘third wave’ of feminism (the first being the Suffragette movement and the second being the 1960s era) is at risk of being fleeting due to the interests of uncommitted pop and fashion heroines. Young people do not seem to share their concerns.

OrBullet10We asked our young women respondents: who is an inspiring female role model?

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This was an open question. Respondents could name anyone. HeForShe campaigner Emma Watson came top, with twice as many nominations than second placed Angelina Jolie, who is also a vocal campaigner for women’s rights. The selection of names seems to chime with the view of this young generation of UK 16-24s as more globally-minded and inclusive than others.

Let us know what you think about this SYN research. We track youth attitudes, behaviours and trends every two months and make them accessible through a dynamic online dashboard. Share this article and tweet us . And if you’d like to discuss our work, get in touch.



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