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Weekend reads: Gen Z and the gender divide
Feeds are full of the most unhinged takes, men and women are further apart in values and worldview than ever before - and the divide feels uncrossable
This fall at Lean Out, we’re hosting guest contributors, bringing you essays from some of our favourite writers around the world, including, so far, authors William Deresiewicz and Meghan Daum. But we are not just sharing the work of established luminaries. We also want to expose you to some of the best emerging talent out there. Today, we’re delighted to introduce you to Freya India, a young, up-and-coming writer in the UK. We’ve been following her work on Gen Z for some time, including this excellent piece on extended adolescence at UnHerd. I am thrilled to get to share an essay from Freya today, on bridging the gender divide. — TH
Why do young men and women seem so divided? Gen Z are going on far fewer dates than previous generations. We are having less sex. A lot of us feel lonely. Those who do date seem to get stuck in vague situationships. Both sexes seem utterly disillusioned with the modern dating market, with men losing trust in women and young women expressing utter disdain for men.
There are many reasons for this, I think. Dating apps teach us to treat each other like disposable commodities. Hookup culture hinders romance and commitment. Social media rewards self-absorption. Porn warps our expectations. And behind all these are powerful profit motives, with billion-dollar industries depending on us being lonely and detached consumers.
But something I think is seriously driving young men and women apart and making dating even more difficult is everyone talking about dating online. All the advice, warnings, red flags, relationship rules and just general gender discourse. I try not to spend much time on Twitter and avoid this sort of thing and yet I’m so sick of seeing endless stereotypes, generalizations, even visceral hatred of the opposite sex. All modern women are selfish, clueless, stupid, woke gold-diggers, apparently! All men, meanwhile, are trash, toxic, manipulative, cheating assholes!
Of course there’s always been sexism, stereotypes and men and women misunderstanding each other. But Gen Z is the first to grow up with this machine, this insatiable technological machine which feeds off and profits from that division. We have algorithms that categorize us by gender and funnel us targeted content. We have forums that become breeding grounds for bitterness and resentment. We have influencers cashing in on their contempt of men or women. And so every fear, concern or difference between us gets exaggerated, distorted, and made into something more monetizable.
There’s the manosphere influencers, for example, who take genuine concerns men have about purpose, meaning and masculinity and trivialize them into TikToks about Bugattis and body counts. There’s the feminists who take valid concerns women have about sexual assault and abuse and cheapen them into men are trash! mantras and TikToks vilifying all men, marriage and commitment. And then there’s all the dating podcasts and channels pretending to give advice but really just reminding us over and over that Modern Women Are Insane! or We Don’t Need Men! Scroll through dating TikTok and you’ll find female influencers teaching girls how to manipulate men and avoid catching feelings. Then male dating coaches talking about tricking women and why females should never be trusted. Be an independent girlboss, girls are told; “men are useless”! Be a lone alpha male, boys are told; "men don’t need women!"
Because that’s what these platforms do: they reward divisive content, they stoke competition, they pull us apart bit by bit, tweet by tweet, TikTok by TikTok. Nuanced, thoughtful opinions get shredded into hot takes. Complex gender differences devolve into stupid caricatures. And because the most extreme voices get the most engagement, we end up living in the world of the loudest, most narcissistic, and probably most hurt among us — until our feeds are full of the most unhinged takes, until men and women are further apart in values and worldviews than ever before, and the divide feels uncrossable.
And sure, it’s easy to dismiss all this as just Twitter and TikTok. But these are the sorts of places Gen Z spends an average of 10.6 hours a day. All these tweets, posts and podcasts about what men want and what women are like and who has it worse, even for those of us who can see through it and scroll past it, it gets in our heads, gets in our subconscious, makes us think about the opposite sex like some kind of adversary. Which is worrying for everyone. But especially worrying for teens and pre-teens flooded with it in their most vulnerable, formative years, before they’ve had any real experience of the world and each other. Before they’ve even tried to trust someone.
Because one thing is for certain: constantly consuming shallow, clickbait relationship content won’t make Gen Z any wiser or better at avoiding heartbreak. We’ll just be lonely and paranoid. Sure some of this advice might be valuable, but try connecting with someone and having that spark when your head is spinning with never trust women! never trust a man! and all these different checklists drilled into you about their height, clothes, hair, body count, income, tattoos, exes, even how they stand.
For young girls and boys: I don’t have much relationship advice. But I’m pretty sure a good starting point is to see someone as a person. Of course it’s important to be cautious and have high standards, but I think you close yourself off from real love and empathy if you get in the habit of categorizing everyone as high value and low value like they are products on a market. Or see them as part of an evil cabal of all men, or delusional modern women. Most important is how they treat you. How they treat others. And here’s the truth: no amount of red flag TikToks or warnings against Western women! will protect you from hurt. Love is scary; people are flawed. And actually, the more I see people double down on this, putting on a total feminist girlboss I hate men persona or an alpha male we don’t need women act, the more I’m starting to suspect it’s a front to avoid getting hurt: a convenient, monetizable way to avoid pain, rejection, complexity, and taking the terrifying step of trusting someone. Don’t listen to them.
Because we do need each other. Yes, it’s hard to find something real and meaningful in the modern world, but there are good men and women out there, trying their best, worth getting to know and trust. And I’m sick of being told otherwise. If we really want to understand one another, we will not find it this way. Not through constant stereotyping and strategizing. Not on platforms that profit from pulling us apart. Or from Internet personalities chasing cheap clicks. The truth, terrifying as it might seem, is we will only find it in each other.
Freya India is a writer based in London, England. She writes the newsletter GIRLS, on girlhood in the modern world.
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