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The Gender War Within Gen Z

In the past few years, young women have been shifting to the left, while young men have been shifting to the right. What’s behind this schism? Alice Evans joins to discuss.

A woman with her face painted with a feminist symbol is seen... Photo by Jesus Merida/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Something mysterious is happening in the politics of young men and women. Gen Z women—those in their 20s and younger—have become sharply more liberal in the past few years, while young men are shifting subtly to the right. This gender schism isn’t just happening in the U.S. It’s happening in Europe, northern Africa, and eastern Asia. Why? And what are the implications of sharply diverging politics between men and women in our lifetime? Alice Evans, a visiting fellow at Stanford University and a researcher of gender, equality, and inequality around the world, joins the show to discuss.

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In the following excerpt, Alice Evans and Derek explore the growing gender divide in the U.S. electorate, including what has changed in recent years.

Derek Thompson: Let’s start by talking about the U.S. You know the data on gender polarization as well as anybody. Why don’t you first give me your thesis statement? What do you see happening in the data and in the surveys that you’ve read?

Alice Evans: OK. In the U.S., it seems to be a little mixed and murky, but some data suggests that men are more likely to express concerns that women seek to gain power over men or that women’s gains come as a threat. But there is some fluctuation year by year. Some data points to women being more progressive, more concerned about racial bias, and also more willing to support zero-platforming conservative speakers. So that illiberalism, I think, seems more female.

Thompson: There’s been evidence of a gender gap in the U.S. electorate for a while. I think in my own research, I found that it was the 1980 election where a Washington Post headline first said: There is a gender gap officially in the U.S. electorate. What is new here? If women have been more liberal than men for several decades, and women have been more likely to vote for Democrats in the U.S. for several decades—in fact, I think it’s been many election cycles since Democrats won a majority of men in the U.S.—what is actually new that the survey data is pointing out to us?

Evans: For me, I think the big trend is this illiberalism, this idea that we should not platform conservative speakers because their views are so heinous that we should not allow them to speak. That wasn’t a case when I was at a university 13 years ago.

Thompson: In terms of the schism that we’re seeing with young women self-identifying more as liberal and young men—

Evans: Progressive. Progressive.

Thompson: Or progressive. Yes, right. Progressive might be the better word here because lowercase “l” liberal can mean all sorts of things when we’re talking about political theory, but young women are more likely to self-identify as progressive. Young men [are] a little bit more likely to self-identify as conservative, a little bit more likely to say they might vote Republican. I want to talk about why this is happening, first in the U.S., and then we’re going to travel to a couple of other places around the world. Let’s start with, you and I talked off mic, I guess I should say, about what you see as a kind of zero-sum mentality that’s opened up between not just progressives and conservatives, but maybe also between men and women. This is a big, thorny subject, but why don’t you be the first to dive right into it? What does a zero-sum mentality have to do with gender polarization here?

Evans: Absolutely. But before I do, can I just say why I use the term progressive rather than liberal?

Thompson: Sure.

Evans: Just to make that clear.

Thompson: Sure.

Evans: I think for a long time, women have been more concerned about racial and gender issues, but the big trend that we’re seeing among young people is really this idea of deplatforming people, that conservative speakers should not speak. So that’s an illiberal stance, right? That’s the idea that we shouldn’t tolerate these views and that if people say those things, we should tell them to be quiet or not welcome them at universities. This hugely contentious sphere at universities, that’s quite new. It’s about who should have a voice, who should have a platform. So I think that’s the really important thing that illiberalism is changing, and it’s illiberalism motivated by a concern for social justice. We are so concerned about equality, we want to make this place so inclusive for people, that we should not allow those “toxic” views. Sorry, I just wanted to explain that.

OK, so zero-sum mentalities. Yes, this is really fascinating. There’s this wonderful new paper by Sahil Chinoy, Nathan Nunn, [Sandra] Sequeira, and [Stefanie] Stantcheva, and they look at the beliefs that the world is zero-sum, that if there is a basket of apples, then you, Derek, eating more apples comes at my expense. Some people see the world like that, that there is a fixed basket of goods, where others think, “Hey, we can all thrive. Derek has his podcast. I have my podcast. And the two of us can both have podcasts. There’s no tension there.” So the fascinating thing about zero-sum mentalities is that they’re common on both the left and the right. It’s associated with support for redistribution, awareness of racial and gender bias, but also being anti-immigrant.

It’s this idea of contention, and, fascinatingly, it’s associated with economic immobility. So people who have not experienced upward mobility compared to their parents are more likely to have these views, whereas migrants are less likely to have zero-sum mentalities. If they’ve come from a poorer country to a bigger country, they think, “Wow, we’re all doing well. This is all great. Hey, let 1,000 flowers bloom.” They’re less likely to say that opportunities are scarce and fixed. So zero-sum mentalities, I think it’s useful because it’s all about this resentful hostility.

If it’s men thinking that women’s gains come at our expense, that is a zero-sum mentality. If it’s women thinking that men are trying to take advantage or men are trying to—or people in general are being hostile to racial minorities, that is also a zero-sum mentality. It is this competition for public turf. It is this competition for who has the right to speak. We want to police this area and institute our worldview. It is an institutionalizing of our worldview rather than having just a more open, liberal, tolerant approach whereby anyone can speak out. I think it’s really related to this idea of policing campus culture.

This excerpt was edited for clarity. Listen to the rest of the episode here and follow the Plain English feed on Spotify.

Host: Derek Thompson
Guest: Alice Evans
Producer: Devon Baroldi

Subscribe: Spotify