A new poll found that a majority of women support the #MeToo movement, and that women of different generations are not as divided in their opinions on it as they may sometimes seem to be.
After some prominent older women made tone-deaf statements about the movement — notably, 50-year-old HLN host Ashleigh Banfield calling the story of a young woman traumatized by her night with Aziz Ansari a "bad date" (nope) — a debate ignited over waves of feminism, female agency, and whether we could ever hope to understand each other.
The debate is useful no matter what. But according to a survey Vox conducted with Morning Consult, a nonpartisan technology and media company, which queried a nationally representative sample of 2,511 women, older and younger women agree on a whole lot.
The poll found that women who are 35 and older were just as likely to support #MeToo as those under 35 (about two-thirds in each case). Just over half of women of all ages said the movement represents their interests "well."
Younger women are just as concerned with possible negative outcomes of the #MeToo movement as older ones. About 31% of women under 35 are "very concerned" about women being denied professional opportunities because men won't work with them, while 23% of women over 35 feel this way.
One major generational difference the poll found is that younger women are more likely to say it's acceptable for some men to lose their jobs over sexual misconduct allegations, even if those allegations aren't backed up by concrete evidence. Among women under 35, 25% say this is acceptable, while 48% say it's unacceptable (the rest don't know or don't have an opinion). But among the older cohort, only 13% say it's acceptable while 65% say it's not.
Older and younger women experience harassment at around the same rates, with about one-third reporting having been harassed in their workplace. They also generally agree on what constitutes harassment; most say sexual jokes or comments, as well as touching that makes you feel uncomfortable, all fall within the realm.
Younger women were more likely to say that flirting with a coworker or with your boss is acceptable. (40% of under-35ers and 29% of over-35ers say it's okay to flirt with a coworker and 15% and 6%, respectively, say it's okay to flirt with a boss.)
In general, women over 35 seem to be more optimistic about #MeToo, with 55% (versus 47% of younger women) saying they think women will experience lower rates of assault and harassment as a result. 70% (versus 59% of younger women) think men will be more conscious of inappropriate behavior going forward.
Vox acknowledged the limitations of the survey, such as that it didn't look at generational differences among men or gender-nonconforming people and examined very broad age groups, not accounting, for example, for women in their 70s — who may well have different opinions from women in their 40s. "It also didn’t look at how women of different ages experience the intersections of sexual and racist harassment. The full picture of how our country thinks about #MeToo will take time, and much more research, to flesh out," the editors note.
But for now, we have a more complete picture of how women across different age groups view #MeToo, and it seems the generational gap has been overblown — which means it's time to reframe the debate.
"Too often, robust feminist disagreement is cast as generational — and, even as mother-daughter conflict — with 'old-fashioned' feminist mothers and modern feminist daughters battling over the future of feminism," Jennifer Nash, PhD, associate professor of African-American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies at Northwestern University, explained to Refinery29. "This well-rehearsed story paints feminists as always in the midst of generational drama, and feminism as always about to fall apart. It’s an old, problematic, and thin framing that misses that feminists have real, live, important debates that aren’t about old folks and young folks, about tradition versus modernity."
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