Trailblazing the gender revolution? Young people's understandings of gender diversity through generation and social change

Joe Hall, Kim Allen, Karen Cutherbert, Sally Hines, Sharon Elley

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Against a backdrop of increasing cultural visibility of people who identify across, between or beyond the categories of male and female, young people have been positioned within the wider social imaginary as radical trailblazers for a new, progressive gender order. This paper provides original insights that empirically ground and interrogate such claims. Drawing on findings from focus group interviews held with 136 young people (aged 16–24) in the UK, the paper demonstrates how young people's understandings and narrations of gender diversity both support and contest linear progress narratives. We show how young people position their acceptance of gender diversity in contradistinction to older generations. However, this narrative of generational progress was undermined and complicated by tensions and ambiguities within young people's talk. Our findings suggest that, alongside being accepting of gender diversity, young people also experience confusion and misunderstanding which may mean that they are more comfortable with stable and binary forms of gender diversity. Moreover, some young people express ideological resistance to gender diversity, informed by wider debates around ‘identity politics’. Overall, we stress the importance of situating young people's gender talk amidst multiple discursive constellations through which increasingly politicised struggles around the meanings of ‘gender’ are currently playing out.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Youth Studies
Early online date12 May 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 May 2021


  • Gender
  • discourse
  • diversity
  • generation
  • social change
  • youth


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