Gender Polarization is on the Horizon, and We Must Stop It

Kash Jain ’24

Opinion Editor

In 2022, Yoon Suk Yeol won the South Korean presidential election in the narrowest victory in the nation’s history. Yoon, a staunch conservative, defeated the liberal governing party’s nominee; his campaign found significant support among young Koreans, especially young men. While Yoon’s emphasis on economic deregulation, institutional change and housing costs helped him emerge victorious, there was one particularly noteworthy leg of his campaign: fierce antifeminist sentiment. 

Early in the election cycle, Yoon pledged to shut down the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which receives 0.2% of South Korea’s national budget and focuses on supporting families and children; this was shortly followed by a six-point jump in his polling. Yoon tapped into a persistent wave of antifeminist sentiment, including beliefs that men were being unfairly discriminated against and that the government was going too far in working toward gender equality. Exit polls indicated that Yoon won 58.7% of the vote of men aged 18-29, compared to only 33.8% of women — this was also seen, though to a lesser degree, with voters aged 30-39. It was clear that Yoon had succeeded largely because of strong support from young men, at the cost of losing the support of young women.

This phenomenon — the support for candidates and parties along gender lines — is gender polarization. While the 2022 election demonstrated its power, the phenomenon is not limited to South Korea; it is becoming a global issue. We are seeing the warning signs of a similar phenomenon in America; women are becoming more liberal while men are growing more conservative. This effect seems more pronounced among Gen Z men.

There are many drivers behind this widening gender gap. The economic discontent found in South Korea, which some political scientists have cited as part of Trump’s rise, is likely part of the story. Perhaps even more impactful is the rise of echo chambers and antifeminist influencers. 

The alt-right pipeline is a concept that has grown popular over the past decade. The idea is that people encounter social media content that is loosely conservative. Consuming this material leads to the recommendation of increasingly extreme, more explicitly right-wing material, and soon enough, the consumer is regularly encountering material espousing hatred and far-right stances. YouTube, in particular, has received significant criticism over its algorithm’s role in introducing impressionable young people to extremism. 

I can speak to this firsthand, having spent a few years in middle school and early high school watching videos from people like Ben Shapiro and agreeing with many of their stances. These spaces brainwash and corrupt. They hone in on the discontent that young people, especially young men, feel about our societal problems. Then, they offer an answer, a reason behind every problem: it’s because of social justice, wokeness, women, minorities — anything that challenges the status quo, including the pursuit of equal rights, is an attempt to hurt straight white men. They point the finger at marginalized communities and fuel hate through quasi-intellectualism and the “if I talk fast, I win” debate. 

These commentators are not serious thinkers, but they are good at selling their content and giving people someone to blame. It is easy to see the absurdity of their stances when one is exposed to the rest of the world, but when you are being fed that sort of content, it’s hard to take the blinders off. 

One of the biggest focuses of these content creators is antifeminism. They feed into the discontent of young men, manufacturing a vile misogyny that their viewers refuse to acknowledge that they possess. Now, these creators have branched into different areas. People like Andrew Tate and “masculinity” influencers have stepped away from explicitly political content. Instead, they discuss business, fashion, entertainment and personal improvement through the lens of toxic masculinity and antifeminism, pushing sexist views that a lot of young people nod along to.

The growth of the modern rightwing is impossible without identifying a source of problems. These influencers need to find a scapegoat, and women are often the ones they choose. Thus, the growth of this wing often entails, and may even require, pitting young men against young women. The more gender polarization grows, the worse this will become.

There is no one clean solution, but offering an alternative would be a good starting point. There is a clear demand for content creators that discuss the problems of today and a range of topics that appeal to young men; but, the likes of Tate and Shapiro dominate these spaces, and we do not offer sufficient alternatives who could pull people from the echo chamber. We need to build up more influencers: people who can talk to young men about business and personal fitness without fueling hateful views. There needs to be more content creators who can counteract gender polarization by pushing young men away from extremism and back towards the center. Fundamentally, we have to contest these spaces.

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