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Like most topics in politics, public polling can be a source of illumination on feminism. Looking at three polls undertaken in late 2015, we find an ideological proximity between those who self-identify as feminists and those who support gender equality, but reject the feminist label.
In September 2015, the polling company YouGov asked the simple, binary question :
Do you consider yourself to be a feminist?
31% of respondents said ‘Yes, I do’, with 54% saying ‘No, I do not’. Unsurprisingly, more women than men adopted the feminist label: 35% of women said they were feminists, compared to 27% of men. This response varied by age band too: those aged between 18 and 24 were the only age category to give a net positive feminist response (44% to 41%). When respondents were asked the broader question:
Do you think men and women should or should not have equal rights and status in society, and be treated equally in every way?
81% of those people YouGov surveyed said they should, with 13% responding that they should not. 53% still identified a need for feminism, which is substantially higher than the percentage who said they were feminists.
For the film Suffragette, the services of YouGov were called upon again in October 2015 . 46% of respondents said that feminism had improved working experiences for women, and 54% agreed that women were still at a disadvantage in the workplace, passed over for promotions and denied opportunities.
As a test of the film’s subject, respondents were asked to name the decade in which all women over the age of 21 were given the vote in Britain. Only 30% correctly responded that was the 1920s. Those who got the right decade were subsequently asked for the correct year: only 7% of all respondents verified that 1928 was the year of women’s suffrage in Britain.
On behalf of the Fawcett Society, Survation polled 8,165 people in their online panel, giving them a batch of 12 questions. These were typically of the form: Which of the following statements best describes your view? The possible responses for the question on their feminist views were:
I describe myself as a feminist.
I believe in equality for women and men but I don’t describe myself as a feminist.
I feel excluded by feminism.
I think feminism is irrelevant.
I am opposed to feminism.
I don’t know what feminism stands for.
None of the above.
Overwhelming, 61% of respondents said they favoured gender equality, but did not describe themselves as feminists . 7% of the people surveyed self-identified as a feminist: 4% of men and 9% of women. This provides a more nuanced view of feminism. It is worth remembering that public debates between a self-described feminist and anti-feminist will only represent about 11% of the adult population.
Due to the sample size, the responses to each answer on the 11th question were large, meaning they can be used as segments when breaking down the responses to other questions.
68% of feminists said they believed that gender can be a range of identities, against the binary choice that there are only two genders. In comparison, 46% of non-feminist gender equality proponents said that gender can be a range, and 30% of anti-feminists believed the same.
Other questions reveal an ideological proximity: 86% of feminists said a more equal society “would be better for the economy”, as did 83% of gender equality proponents. 84% of feminists say “more needs to be done for men and women to be equal”, compared to 70% of equality proponents and 28% of anti-feminists.
Respondents to a question on equality of opportunity were given different possible answers depending on their sex, with 92% of equality proponents and 90% of feminists supporting one of these two statements:
I want the women in my life to equality of opportunity with men.
I want equality of opportunity with men for myself and the other women in my life.
60% of those who say they are opposed to feminism agree with this statement on equality of opportunity. Men show a higher response for equal opportunity than women, though this may be due to the wording.
Polling reveals that the nation still feels a need for feminism, but often rejects the feminist label. The Fawcett Society concluded we are a nation of ‘hidden feminists’ . Feminist self-identification may come through the clustering and intersection of feminist beliefs, as found in Janice McCabe’s analysis of the 1996 General Social Survey . Survation’s segmentation only goes across a single question, so it would require access to their raw data to see these relationships. Other social attitude surveys could also be analysed for their questions on feminism and gender equality.
 YouGov, 2015. YouGov Survey Results 24/09/2015 Feminism. Available from: https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/4n9a4z73zz/InternalResults_150924_feminism_Website.pdf [Accessed: 9th April 2016]
 YouGov, 2015. YouGov Survey Results 05/10/2015 Suffragette. Available from: https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/90j7gkyviy/InternalResults_151005_Suffragettes_Website.pdf [Accessed: 9th April 2016]
 Survation, 2016. Attitudes to Gender in 2016 Britain – 8,000 sample study for Fawcett Study. Available from: http://survation.com/uk-attitudes-to-gender-in-2016-survation-for-fawcett-society/ [Accessed: 9th April 2016]
 Fawcett Society, 2016. We are a nation of ‘hidden feminists’ declares Fawcett Society. Available from: http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Fawcett-Press-Release-Hidden-Feminists-2016.pdf [Accessed: 9th April 2016]
 McCabe, J., 2005. What’s in a label? The Relationship between Feminist Self-Identification and “Feminist” Attitudes among U.S. Women and Men. Gender & Society, Vol. 19 No. 4, August 2005, 480-505. Available from: https://campus.fsu.edu/bbcswebdav/institution/academic/social_sciences/sociology/Reading%20Lists/Stratification%20%28Gender%2C%20Race%2C%20and%20Class%29%20Copies%20of%20Articles%20from%202009/McCabe-GenderSociety-2005.pdf [Accessed: 9th April 2016]