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It’s official: attitudes towards gender equality are finally improving

Posted by
Emily Reynolds
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A new study is here to provide us with hope.

It’s been a bleak year of news, hasn’t it? From Trump and Kavanuagh to sexist ads and online abuse, you’d be forgiven for thinking that things are never going to get better.

So news that attitudes to gender equality are actually improving is nothing short of music to our ears. 

Writing in Psychology Today, sociologist Barbara J. Risman explains that, despite the gender pay gap, lack of gender diversity in business, lack of representation in the labour force and more, attitudes towards gender equality are getting more sympathetic.

Analysing responses from the General Social Survey from 1977 to 2016 – over 27,000 respondents in all – the team set out to examine exactly how gender attitudes have changed, hoping to discover “whether each generation is more liberal or if younger people yearn for the less harried past”. 

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 21: Thousands of people gather on Whitehall outside Downing Street to take part in Time's Up rally organised by Women's March London which coincides with the first anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration. Demonstrators protested against sexual harassment and abuse, misogony, bigotry, gender inequality in opposition to Donald Trump's policies. January 21, 2018 in London, England. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
And the team found that “truly traditional people” – i.e. those who don’t believe in equal rights for women – have “nearly disappeared”. In 1977, less than a quarter of the US population believed men and women should be equal, instead advocating for more traditional roles for men and women. 

But by 2016, these views were “virtually non-existent”; only 7% of the population believed women were not equal to men, and the proportion of those who did had tripled to 69^. 

“Given that men have ruled the public sphere throughout human history, the pace of change has actually been quite startling. While there have been ebbs and flows, particularly at the turn of this century, egalitarian beliefs have increased over the years, and recent trends indicate that they will only continue to become more common,” Risman writes. 

Pretty unsurprisingly, millennials were the most egalitarian demographic, with more than 75% believing men and women should be equal in work and home. The biggest jump between generations was between baby boomers and the generation before them.

“Gender discrimination exists,” Risman concludes. “But what our research shows is that norms that justify it are changing. Now it’s time to make sure the laws, policies and regulations that shape our everyday experiences change too.”

“As norms change, as more women are elected to political office, and as fathers take a more active part in parenting, we need our political institutions and our workplaces to change. Mothers need to breastfeed on the Senate floor, fathers need paternity leave to do their share of infant care. Imagine the progress we’d see if there were family policies for egalitarian parents who want to live their values without having to contend with societal impediments that stand in the way of gender equality. Most Americans want public policy that supports employed parents and women’s rights.”

“For now, let’s be pleased at how far we have come changing American attitudes. Let’s honour the incredible successes of the 2nd wave of feminism. We can do that even as we acknowledge how much more work needs to be done to continue to push our society toward a future where men and women, mothers and fathers, actually have equal opportunities at work and at home.”

Images: Getty

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Emily Reynolds

Emily Reynolds is a journalist and author based in London. Her first book, A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind, came out in February 2017 with Hodder & Stoughton. She is currently working on her second.  

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