- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2010

Feminists may insist that life for women has gotten better since the days when raucous female activists marched in the streets for equality and questioned traditional social mores about men, marriage and career.

Pollsters say otherwise. Things are out of kilter. And pretty dismal, according to a Harris Poll released Monday.

Eight out of 10 Americans, in fact, say, “Women today are treated with less chivalry than in the past.” Seven out of 10 say women do not receive equal pay for equal work, a bulwark of the feminist war on the status quo. Two-thirds say women are “discriminated against” when it comes to supervisory or executive jobs, while an equal number agree that the U.S. has “a long way to go” to reach gender equality. Just 35 percent said women got equal pay for equal work.

There’s another toll, and a telling one: A majority of the respondents — 52 percent — say relations between men and women are not “fine” these days. Just 13 percent, in fact, strongly agreed that the sexes are in harmony.

The feminist fervor appears to have lost its cachet as well. About three-fourths of Americans across the board — men, women, Republicans, Democrats — say that the nation has “more important issues to fix” than gender equality.

The poll of 2,227 adults was conducted June 14-21 and released, more or less, to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which guarantees a woman’s right to vote.

“Some may argue things are better, but there is still the undercurrent that there are issues, especially when it comes to pay and employment, where things have not yet approached an equal footing with men,” said Regina Corso, director of the Harris Poll.

Something is missing, she noticed.

“Women are sitting in more boardrooms and at the helms of more companies today, but there is a sense they are not getting paid the same as men in those positions. There is also a sense that something else may have been lost. Four in five Americans — 81 percent — and four in five men and women — 81 percent for both — say women today are treated with less chivalry than in the past. Can women have equal pay and chivalry, she asks, or does it have to be one or the other?

“We should have a clear notion of what chivalry is — it was a form of preferential treatment that men once accorded to women generations ago, inspired by the sense that there was something special about women, that they deserve added respect, and that not doing so was uncouth, cowardly and essentially despicable,” said P.M. Forni, founder and director of the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, which studies the connections among civility, ethics and quality of life.

“Chivalry has been one of the victims of the fight for women’s equality,” Mr. Forni said. “It became the assumption in society that women did not want to be treated in a chivalrous way, because it meant they were singled out, thus enforcing the stereotype that women were weaker and in need of the strong presence of a man to protect them.”

The waning of chivalry is another setback in America, Mr. Forni said.

“The bottom line is that chivalry was a branch of civility, which is important — it’s not trivial. Civility does the everyday business of goodness within a society, and there is a degree of regret if it disappears. Simply put, civility is a form of kindness,” he added.

The Harris Poll, meanwhile, reported more bad news.

About 40 percent of respondents said women do not get a fair deal when it comes to credit, bank loans, mortgages and insurance. But employers, at least, are trying to ease the burden of working women: 52 percent agreed that most employers “are willing to make conditions of work flexible” to accommodate women who have to juggle work and families.