Men are tough; women are in touch with their feelings. Men are providers; women are nurturers. Men should punch back when provoked; women should be physically attractive.
These stereotypical beliefs about gender differences remain strong, found a new survey from the Pew Research Center on Tuesday. Even in an era of transgender rights, a surge of women running for office and a rising number of stay-at-home fathers, most Americans believe men and women are fundamentally different and that masculinity is more valued than femininity.
The workplace is the one area in which a majority of men and women said the sexes were more alike than different in terms of what they were good at: 63 percent of respondents said men and women excelled at the same things at work, while 37 percent said they were good at different things.
The survey results also shed light on some root causes of sexual harassment and discrimination. Nearly half of men, and 57 percent of men ages 18 to 36, said they felt pressure to join in when other men talked about women in a sexual way.
Sexism was described as widespread and baked in from a young age. The belief that society placed a higher premium on masculinity than femininity was reflected in views of how to raise children: Respondents more often approved of teaching girls that it was acceptable to be like boys than the other way around.
Three-quarters of people said it was important for parents of girls to encourage them to participate in the same activities as boys and to develop skills considered masculine. But a smaller majority — just under two-thirds of respondents — thought parents of boys should encourage them to do girls’ activities or develop skills considered feminine.
A large majority of women thought parents should break gender norms when raising either girls or boys, but men’s opinions changed depending on the sex of the child. Seventy-two percent thought parents should break gender norms for girls, and 56 percent for boys. Two-thirds of Republicans thought parents of girls should break gender norms, but less than half thought parents of boys should.
In questions about life outside the workplace, most respondents said men and women were different in how they expressed their feelings and in their physical abilities, hobbies and parenting styles, according to the survey, which was nationally representative. Pew surveyed 4,573 adults in August and September using its American Trends Panel.
There was a partisan divide about whether these gender differences were the result of biology (and thus unlikely to change) or societal norms. More than half of Republicans said biology determined differences in how men and women parented, expressed feelings or spent their free time. About two-thirds of Democrats described society as the primary driver of these differences.
Women were also likelier than men to attribute gender differences to nurture, not nature.
For instance, 87 percent of survey respondents said men and women expressed feelings differently. But two-thirds of women said this was based on societal expectations, while more than half of men thought it was because of biological differences. This was the gender difference that the largest share of respondents of both sex — about a quarter — thought was a bad thing.
In terms of gender differences in parenting styles and approaches, 60 percent of women said they were societal, while a similar share of men said they were biological. This was the gender difference that the largest share of respondents — just over half — thought was a good thing.
Being a woman, according to respondents, meant pressure to be physically attractive and to be an involved parent.
Being a man meant facing pressure to support a family financially and to be professionally successful, emotionally strong and interested in sports. To a lesser extent, it also meant being willing to throw a punch if provoked. Nearly half of men, and more than half of millennial men, said it also meant facing pressure to have many sexual partners and to join in when other men talked about women in sexual ways.
Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say that society looks up to masculine men — but Democrats were also much more likely to say that society’s esteem for masculinity is a bad thing.
Despite the deep-seated beliefs about gender differences, there were some signs in the survey responses that attitudes about gender roles were becoming less rigid, particularly among women and Democrats, who were more likely to say that society should be more accepting of nontraditional gender roles.
When survey respondents thought about the next generation, there were certain qualities associated with one gender — like taking on leadership for boys and expressing emotions for girls — that most thought should be encouraged more equally.
More than half of respondents said there should be more emphasis for boys to talk about their emotions when they are upset and to do well in school. As for girls, more than half of respondents said there should be more emphasis on being leaders and on standing up for themselves. In playground games, at least, we might see more girls leading the teams and more boys explaining how winning or losing makes them feel.