November 9, 2023 - 7:00pm

Since the Hamas attack a month ago, videos of protestors tearing down posters of kidnapped Israeli children have been circulating all over social media platform X. Disturbingly, this has been happening across cities such as London, New York, and Melbourne. What’s particularly strange about it is something several commentators have picked up on: why do so many of these protestors seem to be female? 

One explanation is that this reflects a wider political shift among young women, who are more likely to be progressive than young men and potentially see this as an act of solidarity with Palestine. In the US, 44% of young women identified as liberal in 2021 compared to 25% of young men, a significant shift from a decade ago, when the corresponding figures were 30% and 27%. 

As young women lean further Left, they appear to be adopting the worldview of a new progressive orthodoxy that divides the world into strict oppressor-oppressed categories, and which often justifies illiberal tactics in the pursuit of social justice. In the UK, for example, young women are less tolerant of differing views than young men, and are more likely to support measures like restrictions on free speech. They might therefore see tearing down these posters as a form of resistance against oppression, especially as many protestors are declaring “This is for Palestine!”

Another explanation is the echo chambers of our educational institutions. Women now outnumber men at universities, and are more likely to study social sciences and humanities subjects, where professors are more likely to lean Left than those in other fields. This academic environment may subject young women to a singular perspective on the conflict, and in some cases extreme stances from activist professors. Academics at top universities across the UK and US have struggled to condemn Hamas, framing them as part of an oppressed group and defending their actions as a form of “decolonisation”. Some have even celebrated Hamas and torn down posters themselves.

Social media, particularly platforms like TikTok, may also play a part. Over 55% of all TikTok users are young women, and the platform has seen a recent surge in pro-Hamas content. Over the past two weeks, posts tagged #StandwithPalestine have received nearly four times more views than those using #StandwithIsrael. According to TikTok’s data 87% of those viewing #StandwithPalestine posts are under the age of 35. 

Personality differences may contribute too. The current social justice culture seems to align with traits more common among women than men. The urge towards censorship, for example, can be seen as a form of social exclusion and reputation destruction, strategies often associated with female antisocial behaviour. Tearing down posters in pursuit of social justice could be interpreted as a form of indirect aggression favoured by female activists. 

This shift towards illiberalism not only impacts our culture and institutions, but also young women themselves. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, in The Coddling of the American Mind, warn that this new progressive worldview contradicts the core principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy by promoting cognitive distortions and catastrophising. What’s more, Haidt’s research reveals that among all demographics, the group most likely to report poor mental health outcomes is white liberal females, with 56% having received a mental illness diagnosis. Liberal teenage girls are also the group most likely to say they spend five or more hours a day on social media, as Jean Twenge notes in her book Generations. 

Several factors seem to be converging, then. Young women are likely more receptive to a social justice movement which cloaks itself in the language of compassion and progressivism, but is often illiberal in its tactics. This is reinforced within liberal educational environments and amplified by their personalised social media algorithms, which prioritise divisive and extreme content to boost engagement. The Israeli children on those posters barely factor into the equation.

Freya India is a freelance writer.