Millennials and Sexual Assault


In late October, The New Yorker broke a story about Hollywood power-player Harvey Weinstein, who for many years abused his influence to sexually assault young actresses and then covered up his crimes through intimidation, litigation, and marginalization of victims. The allegations are extremely serious.

In the wake of this scandal, many used social media to tell their stories through the #MeToo Campaign. Survivors of sexual assault let others know how they had been harmed, and by whom. While most who shared were women, a few men shared their stories as well, most notably actor Terry Crews.

Responses have varied. Men have pledged they will be better. In addition to telling their stories, leaders in Hollywood--particularly influential women--have demanded change.

The Boston Consulting Group has conducted a study which, in light of this scandal, has taken on new significance for our understanding of how men and women relate to one another in the workplace. Maria Lamagna of MarketWatch noted that the BCG study suggests a promising trend among millennials, writing, “young male workers have views on a range of workplace issues — including family leave and training to reduce biases — that have evolved from previous generations, suggesting that future workers may be able to dismantle the power disparities that have led to workplace harassment.”

Lamagna further reports:

BCG interviewed more than 17,500 people in 21 countries for the study, asking men and women to rank the importance of various obstacles for women at work. It found that the views of younger men — defined as those under age 40— closely aligned with those of women of all ages.

Younger men and women both placed a high importance on retaining employees, for example, calling it the second-most important factor for a diverse workplace; older men ranked it fifth. Employers sometimes struggle to retain employees who feel they are unwilling or unable to maintain the schedule required to work there, especially after having children.

And when asked to analyze 10 of the highest-priority gender diversity initiatives at companies, men under 40 — and all women — said work-life balance and flexible work were most important. In contrast, older men named leadership transparency and commitment.

These workplace assumptions--and how they shift based on generation--suggest a change in attitude among Millennials regarding gender, especially with regard to workplace equality. The MarketWatch report suggests one positive outcome of these changing attitudes may be the reduction in sexual assault in the workplace.

The church should join those who denounce sexual assault and work to help men and women relate to one another in a way that is dignifying, respectful, and holy.

But there is another lesson that can be drawn from these trends. As in the workplace, Millennials do not make the same distinctions as their forebearers with regard to gender and church leadership roles, ministry opportunities, and congregational decision making. Women expect to be given the opportunity to lead, and young men will more readily advocate for the women they perceive as having the gifts and graces to take a more active role in the leadership of the church, whether in teaching, preaching, or administration.

Millennial men and women have different expectations with regard to gender and how we treat one another. Theological traditions will differ in how to respond to these trends. But perhaps Millennials have lessons to teach those of older generations, and can model healthier ways for men and women to be in relationship. Perhaps they can lead the way forward, helping us to better see how all persons can find their place within the body of Christ.