Voters are Fed Up with Patriarchy—and Fighting Back at the Ballot Box

What is the relationship between male power and sexual assault? Does the fact that men hold 76 percent of seats in Congress and 71 percent of state legislative seats relate to the fact that the United States is in the top 10 most dangerous countries in the world for women to live? 

A new national survey found that the Kavanaugh hearings made voters re-think their perceptions of women as political leaders. (Hillel Steinberg / Creative Commons)

Eighty-four percent of respondents participating in a survey conducted by research firm Perry Undem last year declared that they saw a link between rampant sexual harassment and assault and a culture where men have more power than women. A majority also said that they believe men sexually assault and harass women to exert power and control over them.

A new national survey by the same firm reveals that the Kavanaugh hearings made half of voters think about the lack of female representation in politics and shifted their perceptions of women as political leaders. The survey also found that the hearings helped mobilize voters to elect Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections for the U.S. House. 

According to the findings, Republican women are now more likely to see women as equal to men in terms of political leadership, many Democrats perceive women to be better than male politicians in some ways and majorities of independent and Democratic voters agree that the country would be better off with more women in office.

Of those surveyed, 57 percent said they believe that Justice Kavanaugh likely lied under oath about his teenage years, and only one in three thought he would be impartial in Supreme Court cases involving sexual harassment or assault. One in three voters also reported that they felt less tolerant of sexism in their own lives as a result of the hearings, and they were more likely to view the #MeToo movement favorably (52 percent) than unfavorably (29 percent).

The hearings also had a big impact on respondents personally. One in four women who participated said they re-experienced trauma or difficult feelings from their past during the hearings, and one in 10 women said they related personally to experiences described as the sexual assault of a teenage girl. Almost half of respondents (47 percent) said they were worried for girls and women in their lives. After the hearings, one in three parents sat down and talked to their children about sexual assault.

Kavanaugh’s presence on the Supreme Court will no doubt lead to judicial erosion of women’s legal rights, but voters’ reactions to the Kavanaugh hearings has already led to increased representation of women in the legislative branches of government. What will be the consequences of the electorate’s growing perceptions of power disparities between men and women in society?

Progressive social movements have long relied on the judicial branch to protect the rights of marginalized groups that the legislative branch was not willing to recognize, like abortion rights or Constitutional equality. Voters clearly believe that it is the time for women to step up, take the reigns of government and vindicate their rights.

About

Carrie N. Baker is Professor and Director of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. Her 2007 book The Women's Movement Against Sexual Harassment won the National Women’s Studies Association Sara A. Whaley Book Prize. Her second book, Fighting the US Youth Sex Trade: Gender, Race and Politics, tells the story of activism against youth involvement in the sex trade in the United States between 1970 and 2015.