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Respect for U.S. Women Hit New Low Before Midterms

Respect for U.S. Women Hit New Low Before Midterms

Story Highlights

  • Record-low 48% of U.S. women say women treated with respect, dignity
  • Gap between men and women widens to 22 points
  • Majority of women see men treated better than women

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the wake of the #MeToo movement and amid what many have dubbed, "the Year of the Woman," U.S. women were feeling less treated with respect and dignity in 2018 than at any point since 2011. A few months before a record number of women were elected to Congress last year, a record-low 48% of U.S. women believed women in the country are treated with respect and dignity.

Line graph: Americans' views on whether U.S. women are treated with respect. 70% of men, 48% of women say yes.

While women have typically been less likely than men to have the same opinion on how women are treated since Gallup started asking this question, the divide between men and women stretched to 22 percentage points in 2018. Although a banner year in Congress, it was also a tough year for U.S. women on a number of fronts. This poll was conducted Aug. 13-Sept. 30, 2018 -- before and during the first public hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual misconduct.

Men's views of how women in the U.S. are treated, on the other hand, haven't changed much. The seven in 10 U.S. men who said in 2018 that women are treated with respect and dignity is slightly down from peaks in 2011 and 2012, but attitudes have been mostly stable for the past several years.

Women Who Disapprove of Leadership See Worse Situation

As perhaps a harbinger of the blue (Democratic) and pink (female) waves in the midterm election, the recent large decline in perceived respect among women was most evident among those who disapproved of their country's leadership. It fell 15 percentage points among women who disapproved of the country's leadership, from 49% in 2017 to 34% in 2018. The declines among women who approved were not significant.

Line graph. Views of respect for women in the U.S. have declined most among women who disapprove of the country’s leadership.

Aside from the declines, U.S. women who disapproved of the country's leadership in 2017 and 2018 were far less likely than those who approved to say women are treated with respect and dignity, with roughly 40 points separating them in both years.

Gender Divide Remains Post-Election

Since the midterm elections, U.S. women and men still see the way that the country treats men and women very differently. The majority of U.S. women (59%) surveyed last month said society generally treats men better than women, while 32% said both are treated equally. Just 8% of women said that women are treated better than men. These figures notably aren't too different from where they were nearly 20 years ago.

Do you think that in our country today, society generally treats -- women better than men, both equally (or) men better than women?
Women better Both equally Men better
% % %
Feb 12-28, 2019 8 32 59
Dec. 2-4, 2000 4 32 62
Feb 12-28, 2019 13 51 34
Dec. 2-4, 2000 14 43 41

The modest change in these attitudes is a function of shifts among men in the past two decades. In 2019, a slim majority of U.S. men (51%) said women and men are treated equally, while 34% said men are treated better. In 2000, four in 10 (41%) men said men were treated better and 43% said both were treated equally. The percentage who say women are treated better remains low and mostly unchanged.

Bottom Line

While the number of women elected to Congress in the 2018 midterms may be a positive sign for women in the future, U.S. women clearly believe they have a long way to go. At least five women in Congress so far have already declared their candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Given their rosier view of women's treatment in society -- and the growing gender gap -- men may be underestimating women's frustration. If they do so in 2020, they could see another pink wave -- or even a pink tsunami.

Read more stories about women around the world on our International Women's Day page.

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