This is an opinion piece by Amy Thayer, Director of Research at Achieve.
As we step into a new year, it is impossible not to acknowledge what an important, albeit challenging, time in which we find ourselves. Over the past year we witnessed not only a change in administration and shift in government policy, but there has been a shift in the ways in which individuals engage in social issues and causes—many of which have been impacted by the new administration and associated policies.
These fluctuations have created a chasm between political ideologies, seemingly positioning good versus evil, inclusion versus exclusion, right versus wrong, and, men versus women, all of which are threatening to eviscerate the interwoven fabric of our country.
Recently, in fact, the United States has appeared to not be very united at all.
However, not all is lost. A great deal of good is emerging from this chaos, and it is fueling a new wave of activism—different from what we saw prior to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and even earlier last year. Women appear to be lifting their voice and becoming more engaged than previously reported.
A moment happened that caused women to re-engage, to speak up and out.
Specifically, Phase 1 of the 2017 Millennial Impact Report found that women, in the initial few weeks and months following Donald Trump’s victory, were more engaged in social issues and causes of interest than they reported prior to the election. Participation in activities like Women’s Marches, signing petitions and writing one’s representatives surged in Q1 of that year. These actions appeared to signal a change: Women were standing up and taking greater action for social issues and causes that were in jeopardy due to the newly established norm. Momentum appeared to be building.
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And then — nothing. Spring and summer came and went relatively quietly. Activism seemed to return to status quo — right where we were during the election season of 2016. Women again appeared to be less engaged in performing any actions on behalf of social issues or causes (similar to what was reported during the 2016 election), and they were definitely lagging behind their millennial men counterparts in taking any kind of action. In fact, last summer, when asked about the actions they had taken on behalf of social issues and causes of interest, the second highest response for women indicated they had taken no action.
The next step toward creating change is just as if not more important: policy. Will policy be created to support this movement?
How could they not stand up for what they believed? Why had their voices quieted? There was speculation that women had become unengaged, removed, even apathetic.
Then a moment happened that caused women to re-engage, to speak up and out.
Initially, one celebrity was accused of egregious sexual misconduct by a large number of women. Rapidly, this revelation unleashed a firestorm of similar allegations about a myriad men across industries including arts and entertainment, major network news organizations and politics—even our newly-elected president was not immune from allegations, though has yet to suffer the consequences of alleged actions, unlike his peers. Conversations about men’s abuse of power and status over women were rekindled and women’s voices returned louder and more unbridled than in the past.
The question was—would they be heard? Unequivocally, the answer seems to be yes.
Interestingly, based on our report, we’ve seen a decline in the use of social media in millennials’ support of causes, #MeToo has been a powerful platform for demonstrating just how widespread sexual assault has been, and how it has negatively impacted so many lives. And with the added launch of the Time’s Up initiative by women in Hollywood, the movement bears witness to the magnitude of voice and the range of its amplification. Many women (and even some men) have been able to stand up and take action against long-standing degradation.
What happens next remains to be seen. But whatever the disposition, women have spoken; they have not remained silent. They are taking a stand. The awareness is now there. Men and women across the country are adopting this movement as a serious cause. But the next step toward creating change is just as if not more important: policy. Will policy be created to support this movement? When? Who will lead the charge?
What can be learned from this painful example of activism? Perhaps women aren’t apathetic at all; instead, they are deliberate and purposive in their engagement with social causes. Conceivably, they purposefully disengaged during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election when they felt their voices would not be heard. Maybe they have deliberately chosen to withhold their voices until the cause or social issue of most importance warranted a strong and unified voice.
Now, we hear that voice.
During this year, 2018, women’s voices—millennial women’s voices—will inevitably get louder and stronger. They will not stand for this behavior and the effects thereof. I believe they will be a significant element to change that is about to take place. Because a meaningful cause has presented itself, they will no longer remain silent. They will continue to take action and in a variety of ways.
The United States has appeared to not be very united at all.
In fact, the recent special elections witnessed higher numbers of women (and minority women, in particular) both running for office and voting against the status quo. Women are stepping up, speaking out and thoughtfully acting to create the change they want to see. These actions will inevitably influence policy in the future.
Contrary to the trends that emerged earlier last year, millennial women—and women of other generations—are indeed not apathetic at all. They are proving that they understand just how powerful one’s voice can be and how much stronger yet those voices become when combined with the roars of others.