A new study on the gender equity views of Gen Y and Z offers important insights that will help media professionals understand and relate to these audiences. The February 2023 survey of 2,067 individuals by Vice Media Group was comprised of 77% women and 19% men and 71% of the participants were Gen Y, while 29% were Gen Z. The online survey captured responses from around the world: 27% from the United States (US), 24% from the United Kingdom (UK), 24% from India, and 24% from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Responses reveal young audiences are strongly in favor of gender equality, even if they don’t necessarily identify with the term feminism. Over half (54%) consider themselves feminists – and a full 92% support gender equality. Of those who identify as feminists, 33% are open about it, while 21% consider themselves feminists but are not vocal about it. More than a third (38%) reject the term feminist but still say they support gender equality. Only 8% of those surveyed say they do not support gender equality.
Why do some who support gender equality not identify as feminists? Some survey participants explained they felt the term feminism has been negatively co-opted and politicized by anti-feminists, polluting the term.
So, what does “feminism” mean exactly? Or what should it mean? More than half of respondents (53%) agree with the statement that the main goal of feminism is “ensuring equal rights and liberties for women as men have.” And 51% agree that the main goal of feminism should be “ensuring equal rights and liberties for all gender identities” (including men, women, trans-gender, and non-binary people). The majority who agree with the latter statement is greater among nonbinary people (87%) and US women (62%).
Most survey participants said that they consider themselves active in the movement against gender inequality. Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed say they act socially against gender inequality, and 77% say they take political action against gender inequality.
Young people want the media to lead on gender equity
Young audiences want the media to take the lead on gender equity issues. When asked “from who would you like to see more participation when it comes to gender equality and or the feminist movement,” 40% of Gen Y and Z people surveyed answered “the media.” This preference was highest among UK women (47%). Nearly a third of those surveyed (32% ) chose “companies/brands” in answer to this question. This view was highest among Indian women (39%) and US women (38%).
So how can media and brands better lead when it comes to gender equity issues?
- Keep People Informed: Of the 77% of young people who report taking political action against gender inequality, keeping up with news and information about the topic was the most cited method of doing so (43% overall- 52% of US women). Thirty seven percent say they engage on social media with accounts /posts that support gender equality. Nearly a quarter (23%) of all respondents said they would not shop from brands that do not support gender equality.
- Respect Gender Choice: Young audiences are more likely to define women as people who identify that way by choice. More than half (58%) of Gen Z women, 69% of US women, and 88% of nonbinary people surveyed agreed with statements indicating that womanhood is a choice. MENA women were less likely to agree with this statement, however (36%).
- Support Body-Positivity: Body image issues continue to plague women to an alarming degree. Body size was second only to mental health in 18 disadvantages cited by women in response to this question: “When thinking about the chances or opportunities you’ve been given so far in your life, which aspects of your identity have been disadvantageous?” (In contrast, men cited socioeconomic class, followed by mental health and level of education.) A full 90% of women agreed with the statement “I think about how I dress and the reactions I might get from others” as a situation they experience as a result of their gender identity. And more than half (56%) of UK women cited issues related to appearance as the most pressing of gender equality issues.
- Embrace Intersectionality: Over half of young people surveyed expressed concerned that the feminist movement is not inclusive enough. This opinion was especially strong in India (55% of Indian women) and MENA (54% of MENA women). Young people want to see equity when it comes to gender as well as the historically marginalized. This includes people of lower socioeconomic status, BIPOC people, and those who identify as nonbinary.
- Examine Internal Company Culture: The report authors suggest that valuing the rights and liberties of employees is a critical part of the movement for brands aiming to partner with Gen Y and Z in the gender equality movement.
A hopeful note
Encouragingly, 81% of the young people surveyed agree with the statement “I am hopeful when it comes to the future of gender equality.” This hoped-for future includes an emphasis on individual values independent from gender stereotypes: 53% of those surveyed (90% of nonbinary participants) agree with the statement “the future is genderless.”
Overall, Gen Z and Y eschew gender-based restrictions in favor of celebrating personality and choice. They are open to seeing media companies as partners in this vision. Partnership can range from the media covering gender-equity news to influential brands achieving more diverse representation- internally and externally. Professionals will do well to position themselves as active partners in the gender-equity movement –whether or not that includes “the f-word.”