In Where the Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Wrestles with the Gender Structure
(Oxford University Press 2018), Barbara J. Risman
uses her gender structure theory to tackle the question about whether today’s young people, Millennials, are pushing forward the gender revolution or backing away from it. In the first part of the book, Risman revises her theoretical argument to differentiate more clearly between culture and material aspects of each level of gender as a social structure. She then uses previous research to explain that today’s young people spend years in a new life stage where they are emerging as adults. The new research presented here offers a typology of how today’s young people wrestle with gender during the years of emerging adulthood. How do they experience gender at the individual level? What are the expectations they face because of their sex? What are their ideological beliefs and organizational constraints based on their gender category? Risman suggests there is great variety within this generation. She identifies four strategies used by young people: true believers in gender difference, innovators who want to push boundaries in feminist directions, straddlers who are simply confused, and rebels who sometimes identify as genderqueer and reject gender categories altogether. The final chapter offers a utopian vision that would ease the struggles of all these groups, a fourth wave of feminism that rejects the gender structure itself. Risman envisions a world where the sex ascribed at birth has few consequences beyond reproduction.
In this interview, Dr. Risman and I discuss how gender is more than an identity, but a way of shaping and legitimating inequality. We also discuss her methods and data, the four categories of classifying participants’ gender beliefs and behaviours, and how to move forward with feminist change. This book makes a meaningful contribution to not only the literature on gender as a social structure but also the literature on emerging adulthood. I recommend this book for students, professors, and anyone else interested in gender, emerging adulthood, feminism, and inequality
Dr. Barbara J. Risman (@bjrisman
) is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Illinois-Chicago. She is editor-in-chief of the journal Gender and Society and former president of Sociologists for Women in Society. Her research interests include gender inequality and families; feminist activism, and public sociology. More information is available on her website www.barbararisman.com/
Krystina Millar is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Indiana University. Her research interests include gender, sociology of the body, and sexuality. You can find her on Twitter at @KrystinaMillar.