US Insights

Is Feminism (Still) Too Intimidating?

Rio Cook

Global Neuroscience Innovations Manager

Brands 03.08.2019 / 10:00


Younger men in the US are apt to believe gender equality has already been achieved.

The fight for female empowerment and equality around the world has embraced technology and social media to further the cause. This fourth wave of feminism has been a defining element of American culture over the last several years. In the leadup to International Women’s Day, Kantar wanted to explore what feminism means to people today and get a better understanding of some of the negative connotations feminism carries with it.

A study conducted by the Neuroscience team at Kantar reveals that younger men in the United States are more apt to believe that equality between men and women already exists, and they’re more likely to be intimated by feminism than their older counterparts. This research highlights the underlying emotional biases that exist when it comes to feminism and raises questions about how it’s portrayed in the media.

Kantar utilized our Intuitive Associations reaction-time tool to get a better understanding of what the term feminism really means to Americans. We asked 300 men and women to share their thoughts on the topic. The method gives people a limited amount of time to give a response, enabling us to access their ‘gut-level’ emotional reaction to concepts (also known as a System 1 response) and discover the ‘instant meaning’ behind a concept like feminism. This is particularly useful for accessing thoughts and feelings that people may struggle to articulate, or may not even be aware of themselves. It can also limit the influence of social norms on their responses, eliminating what people think they should say. The results illuminate the challenges facing gender equality progress and the potential pitfalls brands can encounter engaging on the issue.

Almost two-thirds or respondents regard feminism in a positive light, understanding that feminism is grounded in equality. Our research indicates feminism is most intuitively associated with emotional territories such as caring, strength and respect. When given more time to consider an answer, more complex associations such as empowerment came to the fore.

However, 20% of respondents held more negative views. Those negative views fell into three distinct themes or categories of misconception. Some felt feminism was about “sameness;” the idea that women simply want to be the same as men physically and mentally. Others felt the focus of feminism is male oppression. The leading negative association was that feminism has become more aggressive and radicalized in recent years, giving it a bad name. This holds implications for brands who are looking to engage with feminism in their advertising and suggests a need to avoid re-enforcing negative perceptions. Encouraging ideas around empowerment and equality are likely to help the cause and the brands honestly engaging with feminism.

Who feels negatively toward feminism?

Our survey found that at the ‘gut-level’ (i.e. very quick responses) a relatively small portion of males had a significantly stronger response to negative words like “aggressive,” “threatening,” or “radical” than women did.

Feminism Men Negative Implicit Response Graph

Interestingly, a little over a third of men believe women and men in the US already have gender equality.

Feminism Gender Equality Menv Women

Surprisingly, our research found that it’s younger males that believe men and women have achieved gender equality. More men between the ages of 55 and 64 said they support feminism, perhaps because they are more likely to have wives and daughters, changing their views on the importance of female rights.

Feminism Men Age Group Breakdown

Our results from fast, or ‘implicit,’ answers showed men who openly support feminism still have underlying emotional and implicit barriers which they may not be aware of or want to admit.

What’s revealing is that negative associations with the topic came through more strongly when respondents had more time to think about their answers. This suggests that most people haven’t had a negative experience with feminism, but what they see, hear and read about the topic is having some negative influence on their implicit views towards the movement.

Source: Kantar

Editor's Notes

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