Women making history: How do women regard the feminist label?

This post is one of a series of posts in observance of Women’s History Month.

Women have made great strides in virtually
every area of American life. In polls, most women give credit to the “women’s
movement,” but in the past, fewer found the feminist label appealing. Some new
polls suggest that may be changing.

Pollsters began exploring how many people identified with the term “feminist” in the 1980s. In four questions asked between 1989 and 1998, Time/CNN/Yankelovich pollsters found that between 26 and 33 percent of women considered themselves to be feminists. A clue to women’s reluctance to embrace the term comes from this series of polls. In the 1998 poll, 48 percent of women said that feminism was relevant to most women (42 percent said it was not). However, only 28 percent in a separate question felt it was relevant to them (65 percent did not). A Gallup release from 2002 reported that support for feminism in their data had declined in the past 30 years. Around three in 10 in their 2002 poll accepted the label.

Results differ in four recent surveys but suggest that attitudes may be becoming more positive, driven in part by the granddaughters of second-wave feminism. A 2019 Ipsos survey for National Geographic found that 29 percent of women considered themselves feminists. Another 2019 survey from PRRI found that 69 percent of women said the term described them very (20 percent) or fairly (49 percent) well. A 2019 Grinnell College poll found that 52 percent of women said the term “feminist” described them. And a 2020 Pew survey found that 61 percent of women said the label described them very (19 percent) or somewhat (42 percent) well.  Nationally, 82 percent said the term “a supporter of traditional values” described them well.  Seventy-two percent said “environmentalist” did, 58 percent “a supporter of gun rights,” and 51 percent “feminist.”