Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add https://experience.tinypass.com to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

Is feminism in retreat?

Worrying trends across Europe and the world suggest that women’s rights are under threat

The President of the Government and Secretary General of the PSOE, Pedro Sanchez, leaving a meeting with socialist deputies and senators, in the Congress of Deputies. Photo: Eduardo Parra/Europa Press via Getty Images

Is there a downside to governments promoting policies that encourage gender equality? In an ideal world, there really shouldn’t be; feminism benefits everyone, and righting historical wrongs should only ever be a good thing.

Sadly, as you may have noticed, the real world is some way from ideal, as new polling from Spain has once again highlighted. Earlier this month, the country’s Centre for Sociological Studies released a wide ranging survey on gender stereotypes and the perception of equality between men and women. The results were… well, bleak.

According to them, just under half – 44% – of men agreed that society had “come so far in promoting women’s equality that men are now being discriminated against”. Similarly, 48% of men did not believe that there were disparities between the sexes.

The findings must have been a disheartening read for Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish socialist Prime Minister. Since getting into power in 2018, his government has enacted a number of feminist policies. Laws surrounded rape are now based on consent; women with severe period pain can benefit from menstrual leave; the gender pay gap went down by 7% in a decade. 

On the political leadership side of things, all his cabinets have always had at least a 50/50 split between men and women, and they are currently working on a law forcing management boards to be at least 40% female. These are hardly radical policies but still, a backlash seems to be brewing.

The optimists among you may be wondering if it is a generational issue, and the old guard is merely struggling to adapt to the new ways of living. Sadly, the opposite is true. According to that same study, a staggering 52% of 18-24 year old men believe that the drive for gender equality has gone too far, the highest figure of any age group.

Even sadder is the fact that Spain is not an exception at all. For last year’s International Women’s Day, The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership teamed up with Ipsos to create a global survey on feminism, interviewing 22,000 people across 32 countries. Some of the figures were, to say the least, quite worrying.

53% of millennials and 52% of Gen Z respondents believed that we’ve now gone so far in promoting gender equality that we’re discriminating against men. 57% and 55% of them agreed with the statement “men are being expected to do too much to support equality”. Only 44% and 45% said they would describe themselves as feminists. 

It is something we ought to be concerned about. These findings haven’t had a major electoral impact in most countries yet, but things have been going south in some parts of the world. South Korea, for example, elected Yoon Seok-yul two years ago. The ultra-conservative leader rode an anti-feminist wave, and ran on an openly misogynistic platform.

Among other things, he promised to bring in harsher sentences for anyone making false rape claims – something that is incredibly rare – and pledged to dismantle the gender equality ministry. That he consequently won should be seen as a tragedy.

It should also be taken as a warning for other countries. Progress isn’t always linear, no matter how much we want it to be. Roe v Wade was overturned in the US because, for a chunk of politicians there, the issue of abortion had never actually been settled. It is the duty of progressives everywhere both to keep pushing for more societal changes and to ensure that what has already been won doesn’t get lost again.

As for the newer generations of voters, there are no easy or obvious answers. How to make young men realise that feminism isn’t a threat to them? How to curtail the terrifying popularity of offensive so-called influencers like Andrew Tate?

The internet has changed the lives of millions for the better but that doesn’t mean its influence on popular culture has been wholly good. Extreme politics are more in vogue now than they were ten or twenty years ago, and no-one quite seems to know how to bring people back into the mainstream.

Sanchez and his government have done a lot of good in the past six years but, as they are currently finding out, quietly getting on with changing things isn’t enough. Left-wing parties everywhere should be thinking about what they need to do next, before it’s too late.

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add https://experience.tinypass.com to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.