Post #1: Words Women Use

The first step in starting my summer research project was writing my survey. Since the project deals with people, I first needed to write the survey to complete my protocol for the Student Institutional Review Board. Another part of the protocol was completing an online course in ethics by CITI.

To begin researching for the project, I went through Robin Lakoff’s book Language and Woman’s Place. Using the 2005 edition that included essays by later scholars, I was able to learn some about what questions have been asked about relationships between language and gender, and think of some questions I could not find data for. With these in mind, I brainstormed and thought of many survey questions, and had a long meeting with my advisor Dr. Cochrane to workshop the survey to its final form.

I had known that I wanted to focus on the three words “woman”, “girl”, and “lady”, but when formulating questions I quickly found I needed to include more. Others, like “chick” and “gal”, “honey” and “missy” were brought up. Whenever I mentioned my research in casual conversation, others would suggest more terms they use or have interacted with. So many words exist in the English language for people who identify as women. As the survey was meant only for women to take, I wanted to choose words that I’ve seen used between women in everyday, platonic/non-romantic situations, so that cut out some that came to mind.

There were so many words that I wished I could have looked at more. “Miss” and “ma’am” could have had many questions on their own, and honorifics like “Miss” and “Ms.” and “Mrs.” could have had even more. Therefore, one of the biggest challenges was keeping the survey short enough that participants would complete it. Having respondents get bored and drop out if a survey is too boring or too long is a hazard, according to my advisor. I wish I could have asked so many more questions, so maybe at some point I can continue the research and expand the number of words and situations in which they are said to further gauge the reactions of women. 

Next, I needed to post my survey. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to post it on Facebook. The social media platform has a wider intergenerational reach than many other popular platforms and I knew I’d be able to post the survey anonymously with a link that is easy to click on and follow. Furthermore, with previous promises from relatives and friends to post the survey to their own Facebook walls, I knew I could reach outside my circle of Facebook friends. As Dr. Cochrane reminded me, I needed to get results that did not only reflect me and people who have most things in common with me (besides gender, of course).

I posted the survey in a Facebook group called “Survey Sharing 2019”, where students would share surveys and take others’ in return. This group seemed like a great idea because it was quite active and had many posts and comments per day. However, I underestimated how many of the members had not spent significant time in the US. I had put that caveat in my request for participants because though I knew many of the members spoke English, theirs was not necessarily a US variety. Therefore, I got only one response, which was very disappointing.

However, family and friends helped a lot! I got over 200 responses in one week of the survey’s debut on Facebook which was very exciting. I have about 230 now, and as 200 was the minimum goal, I could be done collecting responses. However, now I must consider whether the scope of participants was too small. Should I continue to post the survey in more groups to try to reach a wider participant range?

I will be speaking to my advisor to get her thoughts and advice.