Why Young Men Are Turning Against Feminism 

Daniel A. Cox December 14, 2023

PC gamers competing.

In the run-up to the 2022 election, scattered reports of young people turning out to vote in large numbers showed up on social media. Viral videos showed long lines of college students waiting eagerly to vote early. But most of these videos showed lines of predominantly female college voters. Their male classmates were conspicuously absent. 

The 2022 election saw the second-highest youth turnout in the past three decades, with abortion driving many young voters to the voting booth. But pre-election polls showed the issue was much more salient for young women than men. A survey we conducted leading up to the midterm election revealed that abortion was a critical priority for 61 percent of young women but only 32 percent of young men. These distinctive priorities raise two questions: what’s driving the growing distance between young men and women, and what impact will this growing gap have on our politics?  

Gender gaps are nothing new in American politics, but a recent survey reveals young men and women are increasingly at odds when it comes to views of feminism. The Survey Center on American Life found a nearly 20-point gender gap between Gen Z men and women in identifying as feminist. Only 43 percent of Gen Z men say they generally think of themselves as “feminist,” compared to 61 percent of Gen Z women. The gender gap is more pronounced among Generation Z than any other generation. 

It also stands in stark contrast to the preceding generation: millennials. Millennial men, eager to shed the mantle of traditional masculinity, embraced the push for gender equality, at least in principle. Most millennial men identify as feminist—in fact, they claim the label in roughly equal numbers as millennial women. 

The rising rejection of feminism among young men is almost certainly linked to growing feelings that American society has become more hostile to men. In 2019, less than one-third of young men reported that men experienced some or a lot of discrimination in American society. Only four years later, close to half (45 percent) of young men now believe men are facing gender-based discrimination. For some young men, feminism has morphed from a commitment to gender equality to an ideology aimed at punishing men. That leads to predictable results, like half of men agreeing with the statement, “These days society seems to punish men just for acting like men.” 

Increasingly, men are reporting mistreatment in their daily lives. Nearly one in four Gen Z men say they have experienced discrimination or were subject to mistreatment simply because they were men, a rate far greater than older men. In the era of microaggressions, it is possible there is greater awareness of, or sensitivity to, gender-based mistreatment and misconduct, but clearly this represents a profound break from the past. 

If men believe that the playing field is tilting against them, women hardly agree they are better off. Gallup surveys show that women have become much more pessimistic about the state of gender equality and the treatment of women in society. In 2016, 61 percent of women reported being satisfied with the way women were treated in the US, but sentiment deteriorated rapidly over the next couple of years. Today, only 44 percent of women feel satisfied with the way women are treated in American society. 

That’s the crux of the problem. Too many men believe that the #MeToo movement is not about them. (One young man we interviewed earlier this year said he thought the entire thing was about celebrities.) And not enough women believe the problems that young men face are relevant to their own lives.  

Earlier this year we teamed up with Ipsos to conduct in-depth interviews among young men and women to discuss topics on gender, dating, and politics. A common theme emerged when participants frequently mentioned that men have a harder time expressing themselves emotionally or dealing with mental health issues. Almost every man—and even some women—cited this as a unique challenge men face that women do not. One young man shared the story of losing a close friend to suicide and how the experience affected his friend group. This tragedy is not isolated. Men die by suicide at a far greater rate than women, and the life expectancy gap between men and women is widening

For young men in particular, social isolation and feelings of alienation are increasingly common experiences that rarely receive constructive discussion. But there are some corners of the Internet where these issues receive attention. Researchers Eva Bujalka and Ben Rich argue that the “manosphere,” the loose collection of websites, podcasts, and online forums promoting anti-feminist views, attracts young men because these spaces take their concerns seriously. They write, “The manosphere appeals to its audience because it speaks to the very real lives of young men . . . romantic rejection, alienation, economic failure, loneliness, and a dim vision of the future.” If misogynists like Andrew Tate are offering the wrong kind of advice to young men, liberals and feminists do not appear to be offering anything.  

More young men have gotten the message. Beginning in about 2015, surveys began showing a growing political divide between young women and men. The divide is particularly pronounced among white Americans. Nearly half (46 percent) of white Gen Z women identify as liberal compared to 28 percent of white Gen Z men. Initially, it looked like most of the movement was among young women who veered sharply left in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the election of Donald Trump, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. But now it’s becoming clear that Gen Z men—a group that includes young adults ages 18 to 26—are charting their own distinctive course on gender, sexual orientation, and identity issues. 

It’s not clear where this ends, and important questions remain. Will young men become more dejected and disengaged from society, or might they find their voice in a rapidly evolving culture? Will they see women as the source of their problems or as potential allies in addressing the unique challenges that men face? If it’s the latter, the effect it will have on dating, marriage, and family life is hard to overstate. 

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