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It’s not your grandmother’s conversation on the gender gap

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By Natasha Mascarenhas Globe Correspondent 

Do men have it easier than women?

According to a recent Pew Research Center study polling 4,573 individuals, millennial women are more likely than women of older generations to say that men have it easier these days.

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About 52 percent of female millennials, which Pew defines as those ages 18 through 36, think men have more advantages in society, generally in regard to jobs and the labor force.

In contrast, 37 percent or less of women who are part of Generation X, the baby boomers, and the Silent Generation share that sentiment. The majority of women polled from earlier generations believe there is no difference between the advantages that men and women have today: 58 percent of Generation X, 57 percent of baby boomers, and 61 percent of of the Silent Generation. This group of respondents ranged in age from 37 to 89.

Very few members of these groups believe that women today have it easier than men: 3 percent of millennials, 5 percent of Generation X, 5 percent of baby boomers, and 8 percent of the Silent Generation.

“Millennial women are just entering the workforce and might be more focused on work-related issues,” said Juliana Menasce Horowitz, an associate director of research at Pew, and an author of the study.

“And millennial women tend to be more democratic, even though we see differences among Democrats [in regards to their answers]. They tend to be more liberal than older women.”

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One thing that the generations can agree on, however, is that there is still work to be done when it comes to gender equality, according to Horowitz.

Mary Godwyn, a Babson College sociology professor who has taught gender studies for 18 years, said that, among her students, the mentality toward gender equality used to be “just a crummy realization.”

She explained that years ago many students would take her class, learn about the inequalities, and move on, accepting the disparities as the “ugly truth.” She only encountered a few students who would ask for next steps to combat gender inequality.

Others simply didn’t want to believe it.

“Years ago, I would get resistance in my classroom by my female students who didn’t want to believe the inconvenient truth that their gender is going to hurt them,” said Godwyn. “But now, people in my classroom are in problem-solving mode.”

Godwyn has also seen an increase in young women enrolling for her classes, as compared to an even split between females and males just six years ago.

“If you ever want to keep men out of anything, all you have to do is put the word ‘women’ on it,” Godwyn said, in reference to the demographic of her Women Studies class.

Godwyn noted that her experience it’s not just millennials who see the difference in advantages between men and women.

“It’s the people who really grew up as the only women in the room for their entire career that are the biggest guards of the liberation movement for women,” said Godwyn.

While Godwyn referenced previous decades as a catalyst for gender equality conversations, Boston University student Allyson Fernandez Knott said she finds the current culture just as incendiary and inspiring.

Knott, 21, agreed with Pew Research study’s findings on millennials, saying that she is often surrounded by peers who are willing to speak up.

She added that she thinks millennials can speak up more than other generations because of their access to social media.

“It is because of the society we grew up in that we are more focused on social justice,” said Knott, a senior studying health sciences. “We’ve been more aware than other generations on justice issues because social media has given us access to info and events going on all around the world.”

Rachel Murray, 42, the cofounder of She Geeks Out, a Boston-based company that fosters collaboration among women in STEM fields, agreed with Knott’s idea: The way you speak about gender equality probably depends on when you grew up.

Murray suggested that millennials might be more focused on the disparities between men and women because gender inequality continues to be such a prominent topic.

She added that while strides have been made by women in the labor force taking on different roles and breaking down barriers in some fields, they still face many challenges, including sexism and harassment. She mentioned how women “being called ‘pushy’ and ‘aggressive’ ” for something as central as asking for a raise means there’s much room to improve.

“I believe it’s an evolution, and we’re at a point where things are changing for the better,” Murray said, “but we’re not there yet.”

The Pew study’s main focus is on how Democrats and Republicans disagree on how far the country has come on gender equality: 69 percent of Democrats think that the country has not done enough to narrow the opportunity gap for women, while only 26 percent of Republicans polled shared that sentiment.

While gender issues have always been part of the political fabric, they are now at the forefront of the national conversation because of a recent wave of reports about sexual assault, harassment, and rape.

Following sexual harassment and assault allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, and many others, millions of victims around the world posted “#metoo” on social media to show how widespread and prevalent such experiences are. The harrowing tales of actors, academics, athletes, politicians, and others have been shared widely.

Nevertheless, some of those polled by Pew seemed to shrug off such issues.

“It seems like men have trouble being men in the workplace. People are too offended by everything,” a 35-year-old male told Pew, which posted the answers of respondents anonymously.

A 34-year-old female respondent told Pew that her gender is “given so much. They are catered and pandered to, and taught they are entitled to things.”

Meanwhile a recent Suffolk University and Boston Globe poll indicated that women were four times more likely to say that they had experienced sexual harassment at the office than men. Ninety-one percent of women said workplace harassment was a problem, as did 81 percent of men.

Knott, the BU student, took issue with individuals who did not recognize the inequality that women face.

“If we’ve truly benefited from gender equality, then this conversation about Harvey Weinstein wouldn’t be happening right now.”


Natasha Mascarenhas can be reached at natasha.mascarenhas@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @nmasc_