Four years ago, a young woman gave a victim impact statement against a man convicted of criminal sexual conduct. It was a high profile case, because the criminal conduct had been ongoing for decades and involved hundreds of adolescent girls. The woman, Kyle Stephens, confronted her victimizer and made a powerful statement which included these resounding words: “Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.” It was a landmark moment in the history of the #Me Too movement.
Stephens is a member of the Millennial generation, while the man she was confronting is from Generation X. Her statement was like a challenge to the men of older generations: you can’t get away with what you used to do. It was a sign of a new young adult era, with a new young generation on the rise – a generation with high expectations, and one that wouldn’t tolerate bad behavior. A social movement was underway, and the careers of many prominent Boomer and Xer men who were guilty of sexual harassment or assault, even if it had been in the past, crashed and burned.
The Millennial generation had been the beneficiary of protection, regulation, and zero-tolerance policies throughout their childhood, and it was to be expected that this trend would follow them into young adulthood. With all that structure while being raised came boosts to self-esteem, along with pressure to achieve. This is how Millennials came of age with high expectations, which has caused older generations to complain that they are “entitled.” But how could older generations think that Millennials could – or should – settle for less, or be taken advantage of?
Millennial girls, in particular, were raised to believe in their specialness and in their capabilities. They were the high-achievement Lisa Simpsons, in contrast to the slacker older brother Bart Simpsons of my generation (Generation X). In popular kids’ entertainment their role models were empowered: Power Rangers, Powerpuff Girls. The pop superstars of their adolescent years were GenX/Millennial cuspers like Brittney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Beyoncé – independent ladies singing about how they were in charge in their relationships with men, if they even wanted a man at all.
Small wonder that Millennial women have taken the adult world by storm, and asserted their rights within it. True to the spirit of Destiny’s Child and Independent Women, they may be the most financially successful generation of women in American history. They are faring better than their male counterparts in today’s job market, which is not surprising given that they also dominate college enrollments. In fact, one of their hurdles in life is finding a partner who is a good match, given these disparities.
That’s not to say that women don’t still face discrimination and harassment. Nor is it to justify anti-feminist backlash. But where such backlash exists because of the gap in outcomes between Millennial women and Millennial men, that is a problem. The solution is not to disempower women, but to find ways to empower men as well. Raising job prospects for those without a college degree would be a good start. Making life more affordable for the working class in general is also a good bet.
The #Me Too movement was actually started by a Gen Xer, a decade before it grew to prominence. It has come to the forefront of public consciousness at a time when Millennials are the rising young adult generation. In that sense it represents the demand of a new generation of women, raised in a sheltering social environment, that the adult social environment also be safe for them and respectful of them. Only then will they be empowered to achieve their destiny.