I was perplexed by young women’s reaction to Barbie. Gen Z men, it turned out, had the answer | Gaby Hinsliff

Taylor Swift is a lot of things. But it did not, at least until recently, resemble the battlefield on which an election might be fought.

But upon reflection, perhaps this makes a strange sense. Like Donald Trump, whose allies threaten to “the holy war» Against the singer, Swift is an unstoppable cultural phenomenon who has a deep hold on the American psyche. She embodies what many young women want to be – powerful but joyful, financially independent, clearly not needing a man but having no difficulty finding one – while he represents all those threatened by this subversion of the patriarchal order.

How dare Swift not suffer the supposedly inevitable fate of 34-year-old women who haven’t settled down and had a baby yet, namely panicking about dying sad, alone and surrounded by cats? (Even though she definitely has cats, she looked anything but sad posing (with one of them on the cover of Time when he was named Person of the Year.) By now she should bitterly regret being so picky, not playing to packed stadiums under his adoring gaze . American footballer boyfriend.

Putting aside Trump’s obvious fear of his support for Joe Biden, what seems to trigger a small but furious minority is the female empowerment she personifies, which they interpret as male emasculation . What makes all this worth taking seriously is the surprisingly youthful youthfulness of some of these curmudgeonly reactionaries.

Something is happening to Gen Z that belies the lazy “woke” stereotypes. While young women are becoming considerably more liberal, young men are becoming more conservative, not only in the United States but also – according to a Financial Times report. analysis – from South Korea to Germany, from Poland to China. Although the gap is relatively modest in Britain, a poll this week found that one in five Britons aged 16 to 29 who have heard of him think warmly of Andrew Tate, the YouTube misogynist currently accused of Romania of rape and human trafficking (which he denies). So much for all those well-meaning school assemblies about toxic masculinity.

Taylor Swift performs in Cincinnati, Ohio on her Eras Tour on June 30, 2023. Photograph: Taylor Hill/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

The study of these graphs, in turn, explains something that has intrigued me since the release of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie. Which is why a movie that seemed fun but gleefully superficial to many middle-aged women was taken seriously by many of their daughters. The world of “She’s everything, he’s just Ken”, with all the suppressed male resentment that implies, is closer to their reality than to ours – although I know more than one liberal mother dismayed to hear his teenage sons repeat arguments from Tate videos.

For some young men, the anti-feminist backlash appears to have been a gateway to harder-line views on issues ranging from immigration to social justice. As shown in Oxford academic James Tilley’s Radio 4 series, The Kids Are Alt-Right recently highlighted, young people have fueled the rise of far-right and far-left parties in France, Spain, Italy and Germany. Across Europe and the United States, anti-immigration rhetoric is explicitly linked to declining fertility rates and the resulting demands on white women to give birth and have babies. On the fringes of British conservatism, all this is mixed up with an ugly (and economically illiterate) argument that competition from immigrants is what is really stopping young people from entering the job market. housing ladder or in best universities. In other words, blame anyone but the government for making life so hard for young people; blame inclusiveness if you feel left out. For boys who consider that their fathers may have had a much easier life, this is a potentially powerful message.

But if the political implications are alarming, they also have more intimate consequences. Why the hell is the Swiftie generation to want settle down with men who seem to hate them, declaiming on dates that feminism has gone too far and mocking the ideas they hold dear? The angriest Kens may be heading toward the kind of solitary life that, if anything, will only intensify their embittered search for easy scapegoats.

It’s still unclear exactly what’s driving all of this, with possible causes ranging from social media polarization to resistance against #MeToo to economic trends such that there are more women than men. go to the University (with consequences on lifetime income), or what is called time bomb for singles in South Korea and China, where young men outnumber women and therefore have difficulty finding partners. There are no simple answers to such a complex phenomenon. But unless young people of both sexes are happy to be alone with their cats, it’s probably in all of our best interests to reunite with them.

  • Gaby Hinsliff is a columnist at the Guardian

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