Women’s satisfaction with the treatment of their gender in the United States is at a record low, according to a Gallup poll. A majority of men, however, don’t see a problem.
The study, released last week, found that 53 percent of Americans are very or somewhat satisfied with the treatment of women in society — tying a record low that first hit when the #MeToo movement gained national attention in 2017. Since 2016, women’s satisfaction has dropped 17 points to 44 percent, while men’s fell by five points to 61 percent, according to Gallup’s findings.
The poll also found that 61 percent of men think men and women have equal job opportunities, while 33 percent of women agree. However, majorities of both genders, 72 percent of women and 61 percent of men — favored affirmative action programs for women.
Tinu Abayomi-Paul, a writer and virtual speaker based in Arlington, Tex., wasn’t surprised by the study’s findings. “It’s not only that women aren’t treated well. Sometimes we’re invisible,” she said.
Gallup’s findings underscore how men and women view gender equity issues differently in the United States, said Radhika Balakrishnan, a professor of women’s gender and sexuality studies at Rutgers University, adding that male privilege can often distort men’s perception of gender disparities.
For instance, men “have a very different perception of what it feels like to walk home than a woman walking home after sunset,” Balakrishnan said. “And I don’t think you can inhabit that body in the same way.”
It’s also crucial to factor in the different lived experiences of women, Balakrishnan said. These issues are “gendered, but also racialized. With the intersection of race and gender in terms of women of color, it’s even worse,” she added.
Indeed, the study found that almost half of White women (46 percent) said they were satisfied with women’s treatment in society while 38 percent of Black women and 43 percent of Hispanic women felt the same. Along party lines, the study found 72 percent of Republican women were satisfied with women’s treatment, compared to 32 percent of Democratic women.
While #MeToo has drawn greater awareness around misconduct and harassment, Balakrishnan believes the pandemic has also exposed the burdens placed on women in particular, contributing to the all-time low in their satisfaction with societal treatment of their gender.
“Covid has had such an impact in kind of revealing all the different things that women’s lives encapsulate,” said Balakrishnan.
She said Gallup’s findings, which come from its June 1 to July 5 Minority Rights and Relations survey, indicate how the pandemic has compounded issues for women. Child-care limitations and labor force demands have been the greatest source of dissatisfaction, she said, forcing many women to leave the workforce.
“The unemployment statistics are kind of shocking,” said Balakrishnan, who also serves as commissioner for the Commission for Gender Equity for New York City. “We’re back to labor force participation rates for women of the 1980s because so many have left.”
In September, men gained 220,000 jobs, while women lost 26,000 jobs. Another 309,000 women left the workforce, dropping labor force participation down to 51.7 percent, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Overall, women are short nearly 3 million jobs than before the pandemic hit.
Alongside the pandemic, heightened racial and social issues of the past year have also likely influenced women’s dissatisfaction with society’s treatment of their gender, Balakrishnan said. Among those issues include a reckoning on race in the wake of killings of unarmed Black people last year, deadly shootings in March targeting Asian American women and a wave of antiabortion and anti-trans legislation.
“We’re at a very interesting moment in U.S. history,” Balakrishnan said. “I think there’s definitely this momentum towards a more conservative view in terms of women. But at the same time, we’re also seeing a lot more conversation with the MeToo movement.”
Abayomi-Paul, meanwhile, isn’t too convinced that much is changing. “On the outside, we have this feminist approach on the surface layer of America,” she said, adding that the media often misleads people into believing that more progress is being made than it really is. “Then behind closed doors, it’s different.”
Balakrishnan said there are substantive steps that can help bring women back into the labor force, though. Earlier this year, the Biden administration established the White House Gender Policy Council to develop a federal strategy for advancing gender equity and equality for women and girls. And President Biden’s $3.4 trillion spending bill aims to make child care more affordable.
“We need to look at structural issues, in terms of wage discrimination and care work,” she said. “It kind of has to be a collective support structure, not an individuated one of. And how do we do that without real government policy?”