After centuries of fairly rigid gender roles, millennials are rejecting traditional gender labels at record rates.
According to one survey, over 67 percent of millennials agree that gender roles are now outdated and don’t apply to contemporary society. This shift toward a more gender-neutral society, and especially its rapid pace, can be attributed largely to the advent of the internet. So, here are 4 ways the internet has helped young people to stop looking at gender as black and white–or male and female, as the case may be:
1. Anonymity Obscures Gender
Frequently, you’ll hear warnings about interacting with strangers on the internet: people may not be who they say they are! Though true, that’s not an entirely frightening prospect. It also opens people up to drop gender stereotypes and chat with people as just humans rather than male humans and female humans.
Northwestern University professor Richard Honack provides an example. “If I’m playing a game with somebody in Africa or Japan or Europe, I don’t know if they’re male or female or what they look like,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.”
Indeed, it’s that “doesn’t matter” attitude that encourages people to step out of their own box. “Personally, I like to mix it up,” said Brian Etheridge, a teenage gamer from New Jersey. “In one game I play, I’m a girl. In another game I play, I’m a male. It just pops in my mind when the character creation comes up.”
2. Facebook No Longer Boxes You In
For years, Facebook users had two choices when it came to identifying their gender: female or male. In February, however, the social media site opted to ditch the typical binary and instead give users a “customizable” option.
Now, members can type in as many as ten words to more accurately describe their identification. They can also choose which pronoun they prefer to be called in various places on the site. Moreover, privacy settings allow people to share certain terms with certain friends only, to accommodate their comfort levels with different people in their social networks.
If an internet site as ubiquitous as Facebook is ready to redefine — or even better, allow the public itself to redefine — how gender operates, that’s a sign of greater societal change.
3. Access to New Information
At this point, what can‘t you Google to learn more about? Gender can be a confusing topic, so of course people will turn to the internet to learn more about people who share similar thoughts and experiences. People, teens especially, often feel alone or isolated because of their identities, yet are able to find acceptance for their orientations in certain online communities.
Of course, this education doesn’t just apply to people who are questioning their own gender identities. Cis people are also taking advantage of the wealth of information available at their fingertips. Take transgender issues, for example. Many cis people do not know any transgender people in their everyday lives (or at least may not realize that they do), but can learn about trans lives and viewpoints all the same. While the media and mainstream news has been slow to portray trans topics positively (if at all), the internet has been at the forefront of raising awareness for transgender people and has played a large role in expanding the legal protections of people who identify outside of the gender binary.
4. Sharing Content Broadens Our Horizons
As the internet, and more specifically social media, evolves, you don’t even have to seek out information on gender to become more enlightened on the topic. Thoughts and ideas that may challenge your preconceived notions show up right on your social media newsfeed. Suddenly, those double standards that you inherently believed seem invalid under further scrutiny.
Youtube and Tumblr are full of a whole subset of “social justice teens” who — in addition to posting irreverent content with their peers — also tackle weighty topics like gender from a progressive mindset. A blogger who posts videos of his favorite pop stars can break form for a while to muse on society’s sexist attitudes toward those very same pop stars.
If social media posts are any indication, the growing consensus among the millennial generation is that gender is far less relevant than people consider to be the case. Likely, these attitudes will carry over when millennials later step out from behind the computer and inherit leadership of this world.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.