Americans say society places a higher premium on masculinity than on femininity.
Twenty-five years after the release of the bestseller “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” the debate over how and why men and women are different and what that means for their roles in society is far from settled. A new Pew Research Center survey finds that majorities of Americans say men and women are basically different in the way they express their feelings, their physical abilities, their personal interests and their approach to parenting. But there is no public consensus on the origins of these differences. While women who perceive differences generally attribute them to societal expectations, men tend to point to biological differences.
The public also sees vastly different pressure points for men and women as they navigate their roles in society. Large majorities say men face a lot of pressure to support their family financially (76%) and to be successful in their job or career (68%); much smaller shares say women face similar pressure in these areas. At the same time, seven-in-ten or more say women face a lot of pressure to be an involved parent (77%) and be physically attractive (71%). Far fewer say men face these types of pressures, and this is particularly the case when it comes to feeling pressure to be physically attractive: Only 27% say men face a lot of pressure in this regard.
When asked in an open-ended question what traits society values most in men and women, the differences were also striking. The top responses about women related to physical attractiveness (35%) or nurturing and empathy (30%). For men, one-third pointed to honesty and morality, while about one-in-five mentioned professional or financial success (23%), ambition or leadership (19%), strength or toughness (19%) and a good work ethic (18%). Far fewer cite these as examples of what society values most in women.
The survey also finds a sense among the public that society places a higher premium on masculinity than it does on femininity. About half (53%) say most people in our society these days look up to men who are manly or masculine; far fewer (32%) say society looks up to feminine women. Yet, women are more likely to say it’s important to them to be seen by others as womanly or feminine than men are to say they want others to see them as manly or masculine.
Using the terms ‘manly or masculine’ and ‘womanly or feminine’
Qualitative testing revealed that respondents tended to associate “manly or masculine” with a common set of descriptions that relate to strength, confidence and certain physical traits. Some commonly used words included “strong,” “assertive,” “muscular,” “confident,” “deep voice” and “facial hair.” When it comes to traits and characteristics used to describe women who are “womanly or feminine,” some frequently used terms included “grace” or “graceful,” “beauty” or “beautiful,” “caring,” and “nurturing.” Many people also mentioned wearing makeup and dresses.
There are key demographic and political fault lines that cut across some of these views. Just as Republicans and Democrats are divided in their views on gender equality, they have divergent opinions about why men and women are different on various dimensions. Attitudes on gender issues also often differ by education, race and generation.
Women and men who see gender differences in some key areas tend to have divergent views of the roles biology and society play in shaping these differences. Most women who see gender differences in the way people express their feelings, excel at work and approach parenting say those differences are mostly based on societal expectations. Men who see differences in these areas tend to believe biology is the driver.
Similarly, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are far more likely than Republicans and those who lean to the GOP to say gender differences are mostly based on societal expectations rather than on biological differences between men and women. About Among their Republican counterparts, about four-in-ten or fewer share those views.two-thirds of Democrats who say men and women are basically different in how they express their feelings, their approach to parenting, and their hobbies and personal interests say these differences are rooted in societal expectations.
Americans offer different assessments of how boys and girls are being raised these days when it comes to specific traits and behaviors. The biggest gap can be seen in encouraging children to talk about their feelings when they are sad or upset: 59% of adults say there is too little emphasis on encouraging boys to talk about their feelings, while only 38% say the same about girls (51% say things are about right in this area when it comes to girls). And while 51% say there should be more emphasis on encouraging boys to do well in school, somewhat smaller shares (43%) say there should be more emphasis on this for girls.
When it comes to what’s lacking for girls these days, more Americans say there is too little emphasis on encouraging girls to be leaders and to stand up for themselves than say there is too little emphasis when it comes to encouraging boys in these areas. About half say more should be done to encourage girls to be leaders (53%) and to stand up for themselves (54%), compared with about four-in-ten who say the same about encouraging boys to do each of these.
Women are more likely than men to say there is too little emphasis on encouraging girls to be leaders: 57% of women say this, compared with 49% of men. But when it comes to encouraging leadership in boys, views are reversed, with larger shares of men (46%) than women (38%) saying there should be more emphasis on this.
There is a party split on this issue as well. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say there is too little emphasis on leadership for girls – 64% of Democrats say this compared with 39% of Republicans. For their part, a majority of Republicans (56%) say there is too little emphasis on this trait for boys; only 30% of Democrats agree.
The public sees similarities between men and women in the workplace
While majorities of Americans see gender differences across various realms, one area where they see more similarities is at work: 63% say men and women are basically similar when it comes to the things they are good at in the workplace, while 37% say they are mostly different. Men and women express similar views on this.
Among Democrats, there is a clear sense that men and women are similar when it comes to the things they are good at in the workplace: 69% say this is the case, while 30% say men and women are basically different in this regard. While Republicans are more divided, more see similarities (55%) than differences (44%) in the things men and women are good at in the workplace.
Millennial men are far more likely than those in older generations to say men face pressure to throw a punch if provoked, join in when others talk about women in a sexual way, and have many sexual partners
Most men say men in general face at least some pressure to be emotionally strong (86%) and to be interested in sports (71%); about six-in-ten (57%) say men face pressure to be willing to throw a punch if provoked, while smaller but sizable shares of men say men face pressure to join in when other men are talking about women in a sexual way (45%) and to have many sexual partners (40%).