Subsequent to the preliminary analyses of the results of our last annual survey of the values of Canadian consumers and citizens (our Panorama program), our first reflex was to take a closer look at our "Me Too" question. We could have polled this issue earlier, but we wanted to measure this phenomenon in a context in which we knew the values of the respondents in order to clarify our analysis via the motivations and hot buttons informing people's attitudes.
The question we used contrasted the current widespread aversion for the inappropriate behaviour of certain men with their defence by Catherine Deneuve and a collective of more than 100 other women in the Journal Le Monde in January, who maintained that men's freedom to hit on women is indispensable to sexual freedom! Although Deneuve issued an apology afterwards, she nonetheless stirred up the waters and her collective has not totally disappeared.
At the time, I thought Deneuve's stand took a lot of courage and, at CROP, we wondered how many Canadians shared her point of view.
Here is the question we asked and the results we obtained ...
One in five Canadians - which is not negligible - is of the opinion that men should be allowed to hit on women. (We must however make a distinction between clumsy seduction/flirting and sexual misconduct.) Even at a regional level, the differences are slight. There are fewer fans of this view in Quebec than in the rest of the country, but the difference is only 4 points (18% in Quebec compared to 22% for the Rest of Canada). Only in Alberta does the freedom to hit on women garner a little more support, at 26%.
As we might suspect, there is a sharp difference between men and women on this issue. While 21% of Canadians defend men's right to hit on women, 25% of men do versus 15% of women, a 10-point variance, which is substantial! (Nevertheless, 15% of women still find it acceptable to be hit on!)
In addition, age groups also have a different take on this issue. Twenty-five percent (25%) of people 25 to 44 years of age support this freedom (testosterone: what do you expect!). Such support drops to 15% among people 65 and older, another 10-point difference. Note, too, that 27% of blue-collar workers support this freedom to hit on women.
Apart from these few variances, few socio-economic or sociodemographic groups or segments differ significantly on this question. Again, this tolerant attitude towards sexual harassment is fundamentally a social phenomenon. Despite all the modern sociocultural progress, the last vestiges of traditional society, legitimized by neo-conservative attitudes (which are also on the rise in our society), refuse to let go.
It goes without saying that support for this freedom to hit on women is motivated by very conservative values and hot buttons. But the cocktail of motivations is still impressive!
The primary characteristic of these "supporters" is their support for patriarchal authority. They are strongly over-represented by people who believe that the "father of a family must be master in his own house," that "men have a certain natural superiority over women, and nothing can change this," that "an extramarital affair from time to time is not that serious," etc. In short, an extremely traditional view of society and of the predefined roles for men and women in it.
Moreover, these "supporters" systematically refuse the sociocultural modernity of today's world. They see society as a ruthless jungle (a Darwinist view of society), in which no one can be trusted any longer, where elites are corrupt and only look after their own interests (a high level of cynicism).
What is striking, too, is their trouble managing in today's world. Again, as is the case for many of the phenomena that I have been analyzing in my blog, society is changing too fast for them; they feel left behind, disconnected from the people and society around them. For the most part, they have few or no goals in life, perceiving them as futile. Fatalistic, marginalized by society and life today, they feel they have little hope of regaining their former dignity.
This social disconnectedness leads them to be very nostalgic for an ideal world that is more directed and codified, with more clearly defined social roles, one in which they would feel comfortable. They idealize this vanished world while attempting to hold on to a few of its fading remnants.
Thus, a feeling of being rejected by society, retrenchment in a hyper-traditional view of gender roles and a view of the superiority of men over women all legitimize the right to hit on women. For these people, women have an inferior status, so it is "normal" for men to act this way.
The pace of change in today's world will inevitably generate this kind of neo-conservative backlash. We should be happy that the numbers aren't higher.
Finally, there is very little difference between the profile of the men and the women who support this type of freedom, although men are stronger on the values and hot buttons discussed above.
It is difficult to predict the medium-term evolution of such views. The social consensus around the sexual misconduct of certain men certainly suggests that there is something irreversible in this movement. But we are also clearly witnessing a surprising rise in neo-conservative values, particularly those that support this freedom to hit on women. Once again, a movement that is being expressed by the individuals for whom society is changing too fast.
What will the outcome of these positions be? In public, people will probably be circumspect but in private, in their "mindsets," surprising tangents could make headway. Only the future will tell!