Young women today face a different set of challenges in advancing equality compared to previous generations. Younger women feel more empowered to stand up for their rights and more young women are university educated than in previous generations. But pervasive gender norms and stereotypes, and persistent harassment and lad culture, are holding young women back from a fair chance to achieve their potential.

The Fawcett Society’s report, Sounds Familiar, brought together qualitative data from interviews and focus groups with young women, and included a new analysis of major national survey data of over 8,000 people carried out by Survation. These findings revealed disturbingly high levels of hostility towards women and help to explain why misogyny is so widespread, why violence against women and girls remains commonplace, and why the gender pay gap remains so hard to close.

Sounds Familiar set out what young women today told us about the challenges they face and provided new insights into the underlying attitudes which may explain why progress on gender equality is so painfully slow.

Young women told us that they are exposed to gender norms from an early age and from a wide range of sources; from the media, within their families and at school, influencing their subject choices and with negative impacts on their everyday lives and life chances.

Intersectional identities, including ethnic and religious identities, influence gender norms and stereotypes. The young women we spoke to want feminist organisations to talk about how sexism is experienced in different communities.

The majority of the young women we spoke to had experienced misogynist harassment and the impact of lad culture. Our new data analysis showed the persistence of victim blaming and a core of younger men who hold hostile or negative views toward equality underlie these negative, everyday experiences. When asked: “if a woman goes out late at night, wearing a short skirt, gets drunk and is then the victim of a sexual assault, is she totally or partly to blame?” we found:

  • 38% of all men and 34% of all women said that she is totally or partly to blame
  • 41% of men aged 18-24 and 30% of women the same age agree
  • 14% of men aged 18-34 say she is “totally to blame”
  • Women aged over 65 were more likely to blame her, with 55% saying she is totally (5%) or partly (50%) to blame compared to 48% of men the same age.

But our research also suggests that there is cause to be optimistic that young people themselves are eager to bring about the change that is so desperately needed.

Key recommendations:

Drawing from the insight in this report, we identified key priorities for change which would improve outcomes for girls and young women.

Statutory, good quality, age appropriate sex and relationships education in our schools. This also came through very clearly in the focus groups. But the young women we spoke to don’t want to blame or target young men, they just want their behaviour to change.  This would improve the quality of their relationships and help to tackle the prevalence of mental ill health and low wellbeing amongst young women.

Record misogyny as a hate crime. The Government should require all police authorities to record misogyny as a hate crime and ensure that training is provided to police officers to recognise incidents appropriately. For the first time this would give an indication of the scale of misogyny in our society.

Record and tackle gendered bullying and sexual harassment in schools alongside other incidents of bullying. Treat it as a safeguarding issue and develop policies and procedures for addressing gendered bullying and sexual harassment so that young women do not feel that they are left alone to deal with it and that all the responsibility is on them.

Require digital and social media platforms to develop technological solutions to address online harrassment and misogyny in the same way as they are doing to tackle terrorism.

Address and challenge gender norms and stereotypes from the early years into adulthood which are pervasive across education, retailing in the media and within the family.

Default young women into maths and science subject choices at school with an opt out, rather than relying on them to opt in, with a clear message that ‘girls like you do subjects like this’, increasing take up. The quality of careers information and advice must also be improved. Participants in our focus groups felt strongly that government and educational institutions should proactively tackle occupational segregation and that people should have the opportunity to pursue whatever pathways they wanted, regardless of their gender. Teachers themselves were seen as key agents for change.

Find out more

Read our Sounds Familiar report Sounds Familiar.

Animations capturing some of the key issues that young women said were important to them are available here. 

You can view the press release and find out more about the #SoundsFamiliar campaign here - Sounds Familiar Press Release

Data tables of the polling data from Survation of men and women.