The Feminist Movement; Attitudes Behavior and Potential


Alice T. Beery (1972) ,"The Feminist Movement; Attitudes Behavior and Potential", in SV - Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research, eds. M. Venkatesan, Chicago, IL : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 446-455.

Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research, 1972      Pages 446-455


Alice T. Beery


The feminist movement has experienced rapid growth and increased visibility during the last few years. Existing groups such as the National Organization of Women (NOW) have grown and new groups such as the National Women's Political Causes have been formed. Organized women played an active role in both the Republican and Democratic conventions.

The feminist movement has had several obvious manifestations. Media exposure of the movement has not only increased but it has also changed in nature. Articles about the feminist movement frequently appear in a broad spectrum of newspapers and magazines. Initially such articles were covered as special or feature news, however, they are now covered as straight news. Even more significant is the establishment of a national feminist magazine, Ms. The effect of the feminists is also reflected by the fact that the Equal Rights Amendment has been ratified by 21 state legislatures, and is before many more.

While the media reflects the views of national spokeswomen such as Germaine Greer, Betty Freidan, and Gloria Steinem, attitudes and opinions of women in general toward the feminist movement are not easily assessed. The purpose of this study is twofold: 1) to investigate women's view of the feminist movements in general, and especially the equal rights issue, and 2) to examine strategies for influencing women to take a more active part in determining their role.

To achieve these objectives an attempt is mate to answer the following questions:

1. Do women perceive discrimination to be a problem?

2. What explanations can be offered for women's perceptions of discrimination?

3. What strategies of influence are suggested by the analysis?

Ninety-four women chosen at random from the Columbus, Ohio telephone directory participated in a twenty minute telephone survey. They were asked questions regarding their attitudes toward discrimination, feminist groups, the Equal Rights Amendment, sex roles, family behavior patterns, self-confidence and demographic characteristics. Forced choice, sentence completion, and Likert-type questions were included. As the small sample indicates, this investigation is a pilot study, and any conclusions are necessarily tentative.


Two types of sex discrimination were investigated in this study; 1) job related discrimination and 2) sex role discrimination. Job related discrimination is quite overt. It includes discriminatory hiring practices, unequal pay scales for women and men, and discrimination in opportunities for promotion. On the other hand, sex-role discrimination takes much subtler forms. It includes such things as the frequent assumption by men that women are only qualified to do menial tasks such as housework, or that women's role is that of cooking and cleaning for men.


Description - The average respondent perceived discrimination in job related areas (Table I, Questions 1-4). She felt that men should not receive higher pay than women for the same work merely because they have a family to support. While she was not convinced that employers discriminate in hiring practices (36.22 felt they did, 38.3% felt they did not), she die feel that once on the job women did not receive the same pay for the same work, and did not have the same opportunities for advancement.

Explanation - It can be hypothesized that a woman is likely to perceive job discrimination because of its overt nature. She is likely to have witnessed or experienced such discrimination.


Description - Sex role discrimination, however, is much more difficult to pinpoint. It is the feeling of inferiority that comes from being delegated menial tasks such as housework and it is the result of a lifetime of socialization. Women exhibited ambivalence about sex role discrimination. Although they indicated a desire to break out of traditional female sex roles they still believed they should perform many of the home related tasks.

Several questions indicated a desire to break away from the traditional female sex role. The women gave indications of a desire for independence for themselves and for their daughters. In response to the sentence completion question, "The thing I regret most . . .", 21.7% regretted getting married so young and 26.0% regretted not finishing college. In response to the question, "From a very young age girls should be taught to . . .", 43.0% stated girls should be taught self-reliance and independence.

Women also indicated a desire for a more equalitarian role. When asked to complete the question "If I could convince men of one thing it would be . . .", 45.1% responded with one of the following--equal rights for women, women are as intelligent as men, women have their own life to live, and men should make marriage more of a partnership.

The women surveyed also indicated strong support for issues which would free them from family responsibility--85.1% supported family planning, 88.8% accepted the pill as a method of birth control, 60.7% indicated support for women's right to abort, and 76.6% felt day care centers provided adequate care.

In spite of these indicators of the desire for sex role change, most respondents identified strongly with the traditional feminine role. The majority of women felt their most important role was that of either mother or housewife (Table I, Question 5). Only 4.3% stated self-fulfillment as their most important role. Consistent with the belief that the mother role was most important was the opinion that women with young children should not work (Table I, Question 6). Women's attitudes regarding family roles are consistent with their behavior. This is indicated by the significant association between various roles and actual behaviors. The relationship between who should perform traditional female roles such as washing dishes and caring for children, and who does, in fact, perform these roles was significant at the .01 level. Women also accepted the traditional value that women should be married by a given age. 50.0% answered the question, "Women should get married when . . .", with a specific age between 20 and 26 years.

Explanation - Why did the same women who recognized job discrimination fail to recognize sex role discrimination? Three factors may explain this phenomena. First, women's attitudes may have been strongly influenced by what they perceived their husbands' attitudes to be, (70.2% of the respondents were married). Second, the women may have been comfortable with the traditional female sex role. Third, women may lack exposure to change agents and change strategies which communicate the existence of sex role discrimination.

Husband Domination

Women perceive men (their husbands) as rejecting women's groups. In response to the question, "Men feel that women's groups are . . .", 83.3% stated that men feel women's group are "silly" or "a bunch of gossips." In addition, the average respondent felt that her husband or family would not encourage her to join a feminist group, although they might verbally support equal rights for women (Table I, Questions 7, 8). They also felt that their husband or family would not help out so that they could participate in feminist group activities (Table I, Question 9). Several women volunteered that the reason they would not join a feminist group was that their husband would not permit it.

It is reasonable to assume that married women are influenced by their husbands. This study indicates that the majority of women perceive their husbands as viewing the feminist movement negatively. Balance theory states that if a wife loves her husband (+) and the husband hates the feminist movement (-) then in order to maintain stability in the relationship the wife must also hate the movement (-). (Figure I). This was supported by the finding that divorced or separated women (women not influenced by husbands) were more likely to support the feminist movement. [The sample of divorced and separated women was too small to draw any firm conclusions.] While this admittedly oversimplifies the relationship it does indicate the importance of the husband.

Self Confidence

The women indicated a high degree of self confidence as measured by the questionnaire. (Table II). This confidence may reflect the fact that women feel competent in the traditional female sex role. The role may be boring, menial, and degrading, but they are able to perform it skillfully and therefore have a high degree of self-confidence. Changing their role threatens their self-confidence and consequently they resist change.

Lack of Exposure

Even those women who are potential supporters of the feminist movement may remain apathetic due to selective exposure. The selective exposure hypothesis states that individuals are most frequently exposed to information supportive of their initial position. Moreover, selective exposure does not result from active avoidance of conflicting information, but rather from the fact that the individual most frequently gravitates to an environment where he receives supportive information. To avoid selective exposure, information must appear in media to which the target audience is exposed. The study indicates that women are not exposed to information regarding the feminist movement. When asked to name any feminist groups they could think of, 83.0% of the respondents could not name any. Even aided recall of names of feminist groups was low (Table III). Although 61.7% of the women were active in some organization, none were active in a feminist organization. Many stated they would not join a feminist group because they were uninterested, they questioned the ideas, they lacked time, or they were happy with their current situation. However, the women did not express a strong negative attitude toward the movement. They agreed that the ideas of the feminist groups were good but they did not feel they belonged in the movement (Table I, Question 10). In general they lacked the conviction and commitment needed to join a feminist group.

The women also lacked knowledge about the Equal Rights Amendment, (ERA). Only 61.7% had heard of the ERA and of these 34.5% strongly supported it while the majority (58.6%) did not feel strongly one way or another. For those women exposed to information about the ERA, comprehension was low. (Table IV). The majority of respondents could not answer questions about the effects of the ERA. However supporters of the amendment did show higher comprehension than non-supporters.

It appears that the low level of exposure to information about feminist groups and issues may be a major factor in women's low perception of sex role discrimination. Information about the movement is frequently found in feminist publications (Ms, Now Newsletter, Spokeswoman), while the average respondent stated she reads traditional female magazines (Ladies Home Journal, McCalls, Family Circle).


Women perceive overt discrimination such as job discrimination, however are not likely to perceive the more subtle sex role discrimination. There are several explanations for this finding, Married women may be influenced by what they perceive as negative attitudes of their husbands toward feminist groups advocating an equalitarian status for women. Women may also be comfortable with the traditional sex role. They are confident of their ability to perform the traditional role and change threatens their confidence. Finally, women may lack information about feminist groups. It is likely that they are selectively exposed to information supporting the traditional female role and are not exposed to information about new roles for women. In spite of their adherence to traditional roles, women exhibit some latent desires for independence. Therefore, it is likely that these women could be persuaded to take a more active part in determining their role. Moreover, their daughters are even more likely to define a new role for themselves. They are exposed to a conflict between the role their mother teaches them (independence, self-reliance) and one she actually plays (traditional female role of submission). Tomorrow's generation will be forced to resolve the conflict and define a new female role.


Given this profile of women, several strategies for change can be suggested. Strategies for change may be dichotomized into media vehicle and message content strategies.

Media Vehicle Strategies

As was noted earlier, the typical woman has not had extensive exposure to information about the feminist movement and Issues. Mere exposure may increase acceptance, such as in the case of the Equal Rights Amendment. Therefore, to increase acceptance one must increase exposure. To increase exposure, articles dealing with feminist issues should appear in sources such as traditional feminine magazines (Ladies Homes Journal, Family Circle, McCalls) to which these women are known to be exposed.

Explanation of the feminist movement and issues involves complex arguments. When complex arguments are necessary a print media is recommended. Such media increases comprehension by enabling the reader to digest the material at his own speed.

Finally, the credibility of the source may also moderate persuasion. Magazines with which the woman is familiar and trusts should be used. Magazines such as Ladies Home Journal, McCalls and Family Circle are likely to be trusted by the change target. With repeated presentation it is expected that the positive affect of these media is increasingly transferred to the communication.

Message Content Strategies

The elements of the appeal such as its source and content also moderate acceptance. Advertisers frequently seek to induce persuasion through use of source enhancement strategies such as using an expert or trustworthy source. National spokeswomen for the feminist movement have keen individuals such as Betty Freidan and Gloria Steinen. The credibility of such sources with the relevant audience is questionable and should be tested. Sources which have high credibility should be used. Moreover, sources may increase credibility through co-orientation. Co-orientation may be achieved by first developing arguments on an issue supported by the audience (such as family planning). The trustworthiness so induced may then be effective in persuading women about issues on which they have negative or neutral viewpoints (such as the ERA).

The attitudes of the husband should be investigated. The wife's perception that the husband views the feminist movement negatively may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The woman's perception of the husband's negative attitude may foster such an attitude toward increased freedom and actually reduce her independence. If this is true, then, perhaps messages and programs directed at consciousness-raising for both husband and wife would be most appropriate. If the husband's negative attitude is real rather than merely perceived strategies to change his behavior are needed. Consistent with dissonance theory, attempts to change behavior may precede attitude change. Similarly strategies to change the wife's behavior and thus attitude may be employed.













Alice T. Beery


SV - Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research | 1972

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