And so you thought women had achieved equal opportunity, feminism was dead and you could drop your copy of The Female Eunuch in the Lifeline bin? You may need to think again.

An Essential Research poll has found that on some indicators, many people think women are worse off than they used to be. Almost half those polled — 49% — thought women faced more pressure over their behaviour and appearance than 20 years ago, compared with just 30% who thought this kind of pressure had reduced. A whopping 58% of women thought pressure was higher; more than a third of the women polled thought that pressure was “a lot” higher.

Men were less convinced women were facing more pressure over the way they looked, splitting evenly at 39% who thought there was more pressure compared to 37% who thought pressure had dropped.

One in five of the more than 1000 people polled had either been subject to s-xism at work (7%) over the past year, or had witnessed s-xism at work (13%).

And while the media is sometimes blamed for s-xism, it’s not the main culprit in the public’s mind. The advertising world was fingered as the most s-xist institution, with 31% of people thinking there was “a lot” of s-xism at work. Second came politics — a quarter of those polled thought there was “a lot” of s-xism. That’s hardly surprising in a week where Prime Minister Julia Gillard made world news while brokering a new uranium deal and bolstering bilateral relations in India — because she fell over in high heels. (The poll was taken late last week).

The third most s-xist institution was deemed to be sport (24% thought there was “a lot” of s-xism), while the media was in the middle of the pack on 19%. The institution deemed the least s-xist was the school system — but even there, more than three-quarters thought there was some degree of s-xism at play.

The poll found those who think s-xism is not a factor in women’s lives may be experiencing a utopian fantasy. Less than 15% of those polled thought there was no s-xism at work at all in each of our major institutions.

While women have reached the political and business elites in Australia and are closing the gap on income and superannuation, the Essential findings appear to indicate that women are feeling increasingly under the spotlight over their physical appearances, as demonstrated by the perception that advertising (with its parade of beautiful, slim wonder women) is highly s-xist.

Questions of gender aside, the poll asked which organisations people trusted. People had a high level of trust in the High Court (63% trusted it), the ABC (59%) and charities (53%). The RBA may be hated every time it fails to drop interest rates on demand, but it’s still fairly well-trusted (53%).

On the other side of the ledger, political parties are the least-trusted body (42% said they had “no trust” in them), edging out trade unions (36% had no trust) in the public’s bad books. Religious organisations and Parliaments also scored poorly. The public was a little kinder to media organisations and business groups, but their trust levels were still mediocre.

The poll showed federal voting intention was stuck on a two-party preferred of 53-47 to the Coalition, as it has been for three weeks by Essential’s reckoning.

Peter Fray

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