How many times have you heard a man justify sexist words or behavior because he is a “product of a different time?”
Use of this “mansplaination” for unwanted sexist behaviors or remarks has become commonplace at the national level, and in recent weeks was most famously used by disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose transgressions I shouldn’t have to fill you in on unless you have taken up residence under a rock.
In 2014, The Atlantic even called out the phrase in the article, “The ‘Product Of Its Time’ Defense: No Excuse For Sexism And Racism,” although that piece was specific to classic and historic texts rather than the phrase’s use as a modern-day justification for personal behavior.
The pervasiveness of this excuse is dangerous for two reasons. One, as many things that have borne ceaseless repetition, it has to a degree become normalized. Two, the phrase gives the impression that sexism is some age-related affliction that therefore does not exist among younger generations.
And that, my friends, is what your Grandpa (should he be a product of, oh, I don’t know, civilized upbringing) should call a load of hooey.
As typically happens when new generations begin to step into leadership roles, Millennials are turning out to be more progressive than those who came before us. Most Millennials I know would describe themselves as feminists, supportive of LGBTQ rights, and incensed that racism remains a persistent problem in this country (granted, I live in left-leaning Southern California, and if you’re reading this you probably live here, too).
Still, we must not fool ourselves into believing that we are immune to social constructs that have persisted for millennia. The rate of our progressivism is not suddenly going to rocket ahead thanks to the exponential amplification of ideas afforded by the Internet.
It takes more than decades to progress past a point in American history in which women couldn’t vote, a time when they were considered property, and a time when, in the eyes of the law, a husband could not sexually assault his wife. It takes a long, long time to chip away at (let alone eradicate) the pervasive sexism that created such circumstances.
Take, for instance, yet another fruitlessly imbecilic Bumble exchange of mine. (That’s a dating application for smart phones, for those of you who don’t bother with such things). After having some innocuous back and forth conversation with a Millennial dude, he out of the blue made a proposition that I would shudder to ever repeat, let alone print. Feeling a brief rush of feminist gusto/apparently having nothing better to do, I succinctly (and OK, with a dose of sass) told him his conduct was unacceptable, which garnered me this incredibly thoughtful reply: “You’re a little aggressive. I’m concerned you’re not a woman.”
Talk to any Millennial woman who uses a dating application – or, hell, who just plain dates – and she will have at least a handful of stories like this, if not more than a dozen. Some will tell you they’ve deleted dating applications entirely because they don’t want to deal with the sexual harassment that often accompanies their use.
The prevalence of these stories is, to me, indicative of a problem. Consider (perhaps ironically, now that you’ve heard of my little tête-à-tête on the same app) the story of how Bumble came to be. Millennial Whitney Wolfe, a co-founder of the popular dating app Tinder, ultimately left the firm and filed a complaint in court against it, claiming two Millennial male co-founders subjected her to “a barrage of horrendously sexist, racist, and otherwise inappropriate comments, emails and text messages,” according to court documents. Again, the contents of these messages are not something I would share in print.
Wolfe settled, and then started Bumble with the intention of giving women more power in the world of online dating. The application allows matches to be made mutually, but only women can initiate the conversation or the match will expire.
The idea is to allow women to set the tone in conversation. Oftentimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But the fact that a woman had to create a dating application in order to solve a major problem among dating apps – misogyny – and the fact that it now has well above 12.5 million users illustrates that there is still a major problem with sexism and sexual harassment among Millennial men.
There is quite a bit of research out there that shows while Millennial women still combat sexism in the workplace (such as via a pay gap or feeling they are overlooked for opportunities due to gender), many believe their male Millennial peers support them. That’s great.
But other research shows that sexism is most pervasive in an arena where the culprits don’t have to show their faces: online. One survey of about 1,017 Americans found in 2016 that women are four times more likely to have experienced sexist harassment online than men.
The survey, which was co-produced by Rad Campaign (a web campaign agency), Lincoln Park Strategies (a research firm) and Craig Newmark of craigconnects (an online effort to support various social initiatives), found that Millennials are harassed online more than any other age group, with 42% of all respondents reporting having experienced it.
That same survey found that Tinder users – of which 75% are Millennials – reported the highest levels of harassment online: 62% of daily users reported experiencing harassment. The survey did not specify whether there was sexist harassment or harassment of another type, but no matter what the case, that’s not a great statistic.
According to data from Pew Research, the Millennial generation has the largest share of dating app users compared to other generations.
According to the Rad Campaign et al survey, 59% of Americans believe online harassment is more common than in-person harassment.
It should come as no surprise, I think, that a generation raised on the Internet should exhibit its problematic proclivities online more so than in person.
But just because such behavior is often faceless and more impersonal because it is occurring via a screen-to-screen interaction does not mean that it is less of a problem than it would be if spoken or acted aloud.
Where there’s smoke, there’s typically fire.