How much does society accept sexism? the numbers

I was recently concerned to see Tad Tietze – an Australian socialist writer whose stuff I often enjoy reading – write at Overland that:

there is no clear indication that huge numbers of voters think that sexism in society is acceptable. Essential Research, for example, found earlier this month that 52 percent of voters polled thought that sexism was a large or moderate problem

That a slight majority of voters is troubled by the sexism they are aware of does not mean that there is not yet more sexism which they do not recognise as sexism, and do not oppose. Additional poll questions to distinguish concern for women from the growing concern about sexism against men by women (the increasingly believed-in ‘misandry’) might also have been illuminating.

But let’s look at some other recent research to see what the deal is:

Eliana Suarez and Tahany M. Gadalla report on a 2010 meta-analysis they did of 37 studies of rape-myths acceptance, where:

Overall, the findings indicated that men displayed a significantly higher endorsement of RMA than women. RMA was also strongly associated with hostile attitudes and behaviors toward women, thus supporting feminist premise that sexism perpetuates RMA. RMA was also found to be correlated with other “isms,” such as racism, heterosexism, classism, and ageism. …. a renewed awareness of how RMA shapes societal perceptions of rape victims, including perceptions of service providers, could also reduce victims’ re-victimization and enhance their coping mechanisms.

A 2010 report found that

56% of those surveyed ‘think that there are some circumstances where a person should accept responsibility’ for being raped:

Of those people the circumstances are:

Performing another sexual act on them (73%)

Getting into bed with a person (66%)

Drinking to excess / blackout (64%)

Going back to theirs for a drink (29%)

Dressing provocatively (28%)

Dancing in a sexy way with a man at a night club or bar (22%)

Acting flirtatiously (21%)

Kissing them (14%)

Accepting a drink and engaging in a conversation at a bar (13%)

In this Daily Mail article, an ICM opinion poll, commissioned by Amnesty International, found that

the vast majority of the British population has no idea how many women are raped every year in the UK.
Almost all, 96 per cent, of respondents said they either did not know the true extent of rape or thought it was far lower than the true figure.
Only 4 per cent even thought the number of women raped exceeded 10,000. The number of recorded rapes in 2004/5 was more than 12,000 and the 2001 British Crime Survey estimated that just 15 per cent of rapes come to the attention of the police.

The Conversation reports that academic scientists are biased against recruiting women into their profession. The article author, Helen Maynard-Casely, writes

The authors suggest the male bias is “unintentional” and is “generated from widespread cultural stereotypes rather than a conscious intention to harm women”.

So, there is no apparent reason to think the bias is particular to the field of science, which is unsurprising since what scientists tell us helps form our beliefs about society.

[Her caveat is: ‘The study specifically focused on positions before a PhD and so it would be wrong to assume the findings can be transposed further up the academic ladder. The implication of the paper was that this slight, societal effect could be having an undue influence on the number of women in science before doctoral level.’]

A 2012 study of 600 Victorians found that:

a third of the people surveyed witnessed sexism in the past 12 months, but fewer than half acted.
Of those who did not act, the majority thought it was not their place to step in.
Thirteen per cent wanted to, but did not know how.
The most tolerated forms of sexism were jokes in social settings.
VicHealth’s Renee Imbesi says those most willing to act were other women and people aged between 35 and 54.

The majority believing it was not their place to step in even when witnessing sexist behaviour shows that the attitude of sexism being ‘a private matter’ between a man and a woman is still strong.

A 2010 Socialism Today article, reviewing Natasha Walter’s ‘Living Dolls: the return of sexism’, comments that:

In the 1990s, only a handful of lap-dancing clubs existed in the UK. By 2008, there were around 300, and many of these are situated not in ‘seedy’ backstreets but in the high streets of towns and cities. Pole-dancing courses are on the rise, and the Tesco supermarket chain even had a lap-dancing pole in its toy section (later removed after protests). A survey carried out in 2006 reported that one in four girls were considering plastic surgery by the age of 16. An analysis of popular music videos found that sexual imagery appeared in 84% of them, with women wearing provocative clothes or no clothes in 71% compared to 35% of men.

And misogynist attitudes and victim-blaming predominate:

At the same time, sexist images of women in popular culture are not just a bit of harmless fun, they influence and impact on men’s attitudes and behaviour towards women, and on women’s own view of themselves. Tender, an educational charity working with 13-18 year olds in schools in greater London, surveyed 288 young people and found that 29% of male and female students felt it was sometimes OK for a man to hit a woman if she slept with someone else. Eighty per cent thought that girls and women sometimes encourage violence and abuse by the way they dress, and 76% thought that a woman encourages violence by not treating men with respect. Walter cites examples of sexual bullying (harassment) in schools which, according to Kidscape, is on the increase: from one to two calls a year four or five years ago, to two or three a week now.

A 2012 article by Rebecca Dana described:

a multiyear survey of business-school graduates by the nonprofit research group Catalyst, finds that women are far more likely to help women advance than men are. Debunking the queen bee stereotype, in which female bosses are especially hard on their female subordinates, the study found that 73 percent of women who mentored colleagues helped other women, while only 30 percent of men did. “The biggest surprise for me was that men are doing so little for women, says Catalyst chief Ilene Lang. “I really thought that there were more men speaking up.”

Dana also mentioned a ‘second study, conducted by social scientists at Harvard, NYU, and the University of North Carolina’:

It found that those whose home lives are most traditional—married men with stay-at-home wives—were more likely to have retrograde attitudes toward women at the office. These men were more likely than their peers to deny women promotions, to be distrustful of female leaders, and to have negative views of workplaces with many female employees. One of the study’s authors calls this attitude “benevolent sexism,” where men see women as delicate creatures to be cared for and protected, not fierce professionals to be respected and obeyed.

A 2010 care2 article reports on a survey released by Esquire Magazine on the attitudes of American men born in 1960 and 1990:

more 20 year-olds self-identified as “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice.” Only 19% consider themselves “prochoice, without qualification” while 38% consider themselves against the right to legal abortion, but with exceptions for rape and incest. Their father’s generation is more likely on all counts to support a woman’s right to abortion, an indication the backslide in political reproductive rights on the state and national level during the past two decades has seeped into the minds of the younger cohort.

 

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3 thoughts on “How much does society accept sexism? the numbers

  1. Hi Ginny. Thanks for raising this because it’s an important point that I should clarify.

    I wasn’t trying to downplay the fact that sexist views were voiced towards the PM by people outside the political elite, nor to downplay how much sexism there is in society. The point I was trying to make was that those who claim that the sexism against Gillard is merely a reflection of wider sexism did so with no evidence. The part of the Essential poll you don’t quote is that public concern that sexism is a significant problem increased as the issue gained prominence (although I’m not saying it’s a causal link, it does contradict the idea that the misogyny towards Gillard in turn created a general increase in acceptance of sexism).

    My point is to underline the conscious way that the Right mobilised sexism against Gillard as part of a battle within the political elite, rather than the Right’s actions being a mere expression of a problem that all of society must take responsibility for. The way that the Gillard camp then responded to it — with a type of feminism that put defending Gillard and whitewashing her politics more generally, as well as reducing all of Labor’s problems to gender issues, above all else — actually pulled anger at her treatment in a right-wing, dead-end direction.

    I think this is especially a problem because it lets the Right and Left of the political class off the hook — they are simply infected with our sexism and only enlightened politicians can save us from ourselves. In reality, if we are to fight oppression politically rather than at the level of trying to correct oppressive behaviours by individuals, we will actually need to direct our struggle at the political class and the state, rather than expect them to save us.

  2. Thanks for clarifying Tad. Unfortunately, I think it can be true *both* that the public, misogynist invective against Gillard highlighted the public awareness of (and opposition to) sexism *and* that it has helped reinforce aspects of sexism.

    That wasn’t particularly the point *I* was making, of course – just reflecting on the complexities of this issue.

    I do agree with you that any position that the treatment of Gillard is merely a reflection of wider sexism would be wrong. (And that relying on these pro-bourgeois political figures to save us from sexism is basically capitulating to the status quo.)

    Just that it’s important to express this without giving any idea that sexism has only minority support in society.

  3. Beyond statistics, there is tons of anecdotal evidence that sexism is not only pervasive but becoming more extreme. Two examples from the UK:

    https://liberationislife.wordpress.com/2013/06/29/on-sexist-attitudes-the-numbers/

    http://www.collegemagazine.com/editorial/3075/Slut-Dropping-A-New-Low
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2214539/Teenage-girls-spend-500-preparing-university-Freshers-Balls.html

    Also, a British woman recently set up a tumblr to post stories of women harassed in public, on the tram, and so on but the name of it escapes me at the moment. It was a harrowing read.

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