Globally, young women are becoming more liberal than men, but what about India? - Hindustan Times
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The Great Gender Divide: Globally, young women are becoming more liberal than men, but what about India?

Feb 18, 2024 09:29 AM IST

There is evidence globally of a growing gender divide on ideological lines. In the past decade, young women are becoming more liberal. What about India?

Not so long ago, we’d look at generations as a whole. Millennials think this about that, or this is what Gen Z believes.

Representational Image(Pexels)
Representational Image(Pexels)

Now it turns out that around the world, men and women under the age of 30 have increasingly divergent views. Women have become more liberal in the past decade; men of the same age, more conservative. “Gen Z is two generations, not one,” writes John Burn-Murdoch in the Financial Times [gift link]. “In countries on every continent, an ideological gap has opened up between young men and women.”

American women have become more liberal since the 1990s, finds a new Gallup poll and the shift is more evident among young women and senior women—up by 11 points.

When it comes to comparisons with men, women aged 18-30 are 30 percentage points more liberal than men of the same age.

There’s a similar gap to be found in Germany. In the UK, the gap is around 25 percentage points.

Using data from the Gallup poll, analysis of general social surveys of Korea and the British Election Study, FT reports even starker divisions outside the west – in China, for instance and South Korea.

“As long as Korean men continue to dominate management and socialise with other men, they are immersed in cultures of self-righteous sexism,” writes Alice Evans, a visiting fellow at Stanford who is working on her book, The Great Gender Divergence. South Korean women, on the other hand, are increasingly feminist. “Inspired and emboldened, they have shared stories of abuse and publicly supported each other.”

The India story

“The first signs of a challenge to the status quo are now visible,” write Rahul Verma and Ankita Barthwal of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) in this 2020 article published in Mint, Is India on the Cusp of a Gender Revolution? The change is being driven largely by young, educated women.

Looking the 2020 You-Guv-Mint-CPR Millennial survey, Verma and Barthwal examine gender preferences across marriage, parenting, professional space, friendship and politics.

The similarities in career aspiration, they say, are “driven at least in part by the greater equality of opportunities between men and women.” It signals the “weakening of gendered norms in dictating career choices of women.” For instance, when it comes to dream careers, men and women with the same educational qualifications have strikingly similar aspirations.

But differences are emerging as well.

For instance, an equal number of men and women want to get married, but more women than men—70% to 62% of the 10,005 respondents across 184 towns and cities interviewed online--said they’d prefer love marriages. Women also want to marry later; 19% said after the age of 31, only 14% of men said they’d rather marry after that age. Women also want fewer children than men: 65% of men wanted two children, among women, 58%.

In terms of friendships, it’s women who are more likely than men to have friends outside of identity circles like caste, religion or gender. Just 13% of women said they had no friends outside their caste (20% for men); 15% of women said they had no friends outside their religion (21% for men), and 18% had no friends outside their gender (25% for men). This actually is remarkable when you consider the restrictions and policing of women’s mobility and movements.

It’s too early yet to see a trend, cautions Verma. “We might have green shoots but I’m not yet seeing a trend,” he said. “Certainly, young women are becoming more politically inclined but women are still behind on a lot of parameters.”

Understanding why

Representational Image
Representational Image

Two possible reasons are being offered for this gendered divergence. The first is the impact and fallout of the #MeToo movement. As women came forward to share their experiences of workplace sexual harassment, they found an online movement that gave them a democratic, open space. It helped create virtual networks around the world. And it primed women to speak up and create resistance on a range of issues. In Iran, for instance, the movement against enforced head scarves

But the movement also created a solidarity of women who found they could connect very quickly around the world and organise at least virtual sisterhood networks.

The second could be the roll back of hard-won rights with the most obvious being the back pedalling in the US in June 2022 on Roe v Wade, which ended the Constitutional right to abortion.

But, for me, there’s a third crucial reason. When it comes to challenging the status quo of patriarchal societies, where men are literally served hand and foot by an army of mothers, sisters, wives and daughters, those to gain the most are women. Men have everything to lose and women have everything to gain.

“There is a huge rise in aspiration among young women,” says Shrayana Bhattacharya, the author of Desperately Seeking Shahrukh Khan. But, “young men are not being able to adapt to these new aspiration. They are not being raised to cope with this new generation of aspirational women.”

So, while we might not yet be at a Venus/Mars divide, women are increasingly questioning the roles into which they have been slotted. Change is coming.

The following article is an excerpt from Namita Bhandare’s Mind the Gap. Read the rest of the newsletter here.

Namita Bhandare writes on gender. The views expressed are personal.

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