According to a new study by Pew Research Center, a majority of men believe that the obstacles that stood in the way of women "getting ahead" in society are "largely gone." While 63 percent of women—you know, the segment of the population the study focuses on—believe sexism is still alive and well, only 41 percent of men thought so.
Researchers interviewed 4,602 adults on Pew Research Center's American Trends Panel. Fifty-three percent said there are "still significant obstacles that make it harder for women to get ahead than men," while 45 percent said "the obstacles that once made it harder for women than men to get ahead are now largely gone."
In addition to gender, the report also looked at political party affiliation. Seventy-five percent of men who identified as Republicans thought nothing stood in the way of women's progress today; 30 percent of Democratic men agreed. Only 48 percent of Republican women, on the other hand, thought sexism still existed.
One of the reasons why men fail to recognize the gender barriers that hold women back is that they're too busy trying to coddle them, says Theresa Vescio, a professor of psychology at Penn State who studies gender discrimination in the workplace. Men may feel "genuine warmth" for women, she explains, which can hinder their ability to see how unfair the playing field may be.
"My work shows that men often behave in subtly sexist ways, which can be understood as a form of sugarcoated sexism," Vescio tells Broadly. For example, men may shower women with excessive praise, but at the same time, refuse them the opportunities of advancement or better pay offered to similarly-performing men.
"From a man's standpoint," she says, "it is difficult to see such sugarcoated sexism, like patronizing behavior, as sexist or providing obstacles to women because the praise follows from sincere feelings of warmth." She says this thinking "makes it hard for men to see that women are making less money and getting less valued positions than similarly-performing men."
It's not that a majority of Americans don't believe women can't handle these positions of power in business and politics; in fact, a 2015 study found that they believe women are just as effective, and in some instances even more so than men. Rather, four in 10 Americans believe more women aren't in leadership roles because of "a double standard for women seeking to climb to the highest levels of either politics or business, where they have to do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves."
Unfortunately, it's not enough for women to voice concerns over sexist behavior. When they do, Vescio says, they're often seen as "complainers" or "whiners." But for women to gain the same social and economic opportunities as men, there needs to be greater visibility across genders to the obstacles they face.
"The ability to see the obstacles faced by women is a necessary precursor to being able to eradicate inequities," Vescio says. "When men start to identify the double standards and differential ways men and women have been treated … there is great potential for change."