Melissa Deckman, Ph.D., is the CEO of PRRI and a political scientist who studies the impact of gender, religion, and age on public opinion and political behavior.
More than two years after the January 6 attack, our nation continues to grapple with the challenges to democracy posed by the rising influence of right-wing nationalist forces. The U.S. government so far has charged more than 950 people in connection with the Capitol riot, including several members of the Proud Boys, whose leaders are currently on trial for seditious conspiracy.
While many of the insurrectionists charged have no formal ties to groups such as the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers, whose leaders a federal jury convicted of seditious conspiracy last month, prosecutors believe that these organizations played a disproportionate role in organizing the events of that day.
Most of the leaders of these far-right groups facing prosecution so far have all been men. Indeed, the Proud Boys, as their moniker suggests, do not allow women to become members. Court documents from the Proud Boys trial include scripts recited at the start of each Proud Boys meeting, exhorting members to venerate housewives, and encouraging them to “put a ring on it and knock her up.”
However, results from our recent PRRI/Brookings survey on Christian nationalism show that women are just as likely as men to buy into these nationalist views — including traditional gender hierarchies.
To be sure, most Americans are not Christian nationalists; we find that just 1 in 10 Americans may be characterized as strong adherents to Christian nationalist principles. Yet, for both men and women, the same percent (10%) qualify as adherents, and approximately two in ten qualify as Christian nationalism sympathizers (18% of men and 20% of women). Among Christian nationalism adherents, there is a strong correlation with the notion that women are the weaker sex. We find that nearly 7 in 10 adherents (69%) agree that “in a truly Christian family, the husband is the head of the household, and his wife submits to his leadership.” By contrast, two-thirds (64%) of Americans overall disagree with that sentiment.
Given that Christian nationalists endorse the Biblical view of male headship, it should perhaps not be surprising that more than 6 in 10 Christian nationalism adherents (66%) also believe that “society as a whole has become too soft and feminine,” and more than two-thirds believe that “society seems to punish men just for acting like men.”
A fierce commitment to traditional gender hierarchies exists within the world view of many proponents of nationalism — hierarchies that are also have deep religious roots. As historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez notes in her book, Jesus and John Wayne, a militant masculism has emerged within conservative evangelical circles since the late 1970s, partially in response to declines in marriage and birth rates, as well as larger societal gains by women and other marginalized groups.
America’s problems, according to this strain of thought, is that the ordering of our society, along with our nation, is out of whack — rudderless without strong, devout men at the helm who can once again restore America’s greatness. As Du Mez writes, “A father’s rule in the home is inextricably linked to heroic leadership on the national stage, and the fate of the nation hinges on both.” A commitment to this patriarchal world view, then, is a vital, but often neglected, component of understanding the roots of nationalism here in the United States.
Of course, some of the nation’s most outspoken Christian nationalists are women, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who has implored her party to adopt the Christian nationalist label. Despite the contradictions inherent in building her leadership brand within the GOP, Greene endorses a Biblical view of women’s submission, telling a group of Republican women last spring, “We came from Adam’s rib. God created us with his hands. We may be the weaker sex, we are the weaker sex, but we are our partner’s, our husband’s wife.”
Our finding that both women and men are equally likely to adhere to Christian nationalist thoughts, despite its grounding in a traditionalist, hierarchical worldview that sees women’s proper role as submissive to men, may seem out-of-date in a society in which women have made major gains economically, educationally, and vocationally over the past 50 years.
But that’s precisely the point. As Phyllis Schlafly recognized in spearheading the fight against the ERA in the 1970s, exalting the traditional family structure is politically salient for both women and men voters who subscribe to a cultural worldview that is structured around patriarchal authority. As Schlafly knew then, and as many conservative Christian leaders who are increasingly embracing Christian nationalism today understand, appeals to a traditional family structure in an era in which the very definition of family is changing can hold strong political appeal for both women and men who identify as traditional Christians.
Despite the chauvinistic underpinnings of Christian nationalism, our study is a good reminder that reactionary politics may hold appeal not just for men, but for women, too. These results also serve as an important reminder during this Women’s History Month, that American women are far from a monolith politically.
Melissa Deckman, Ph.D., is PRRI’s CEO and the author of “Tea Party Women: Mama Grizzlies, Grassroots Leaders, and the Changing Face of the American Right.” Follow her on Twitter @MelissaDeckman.