Post #2: which words do women use to describe themselves?

It’s been a few weeks since my last post and I have now almost 600 responses– 597 to be exact. To add onto the results from my and my Facebook friends’ original posts, I decided to post in the school meme group. After examining the demographics of my survey respondents, I hoped to find more respondents that weren’t similar to me, white and from northern Virginia. As W&M is a state school, and the Facebook group is meant for students, the number of college-aged Virginian participants grew dramatically. However, the participants were more diverse than the original group, and I hope to be able to represent more with this data. I will continue to recognize the imbalances in my data, and here especially the age group differences.


The first set of data that I would like to examine comes from my first question after the demographic portion:

If someone asked you to call yourself one of the following, which one would you choose first?

With all respondents, “Woman” was chosen by slightly under half: 49.91%. “Girl” came in second, chosen by 41.91%. The high response rate for those two options was expected, and they garnered over 90% of responses. Those are the word I personally use and hear most for myself and others, so I was not surprised.

%first Q all parts

However, one of my main purposes was to look at the differences between age groups, so I want to share the responses of each individual group.

For women 18 to 22 years of age, “girl” was the most common answer; 53.1% of respondents would choose to be called a girl from these answer choices. Shortly behind was “woman” with 38.54% of the vote. The majority of respondents who chose “gal” and “young lady” are from this group as well, as 11 out of 14 total “gal” responses and 15 out of 18 total “young lady” responses were from women ages 18-22. This number was impressive upon first look, but I have to keep in mind the imbalances in response ages. Therefore, if I highlight this in my presentation, using percentages will be a more responsible way to organize the data. 2.53% and 3.25% of the women ages 18-22 chose “gal” and “young lady” respectively.

%first Q 18-22

Looking at the chart for women ages 23-29, we can immediately see that more respondents chose “woman” than “girl”, 51.67% and 35% respectively. Returning to the terms “gal” and “young lady”, the percentages of respondents aged 23-29 who would identify as those first were higher than those in the 18-22 age group. According to the survey, 5% and 3.33% of respondents would identify as “gal” and “young lady”, respectively. Of course, one must take into account that only 5 people in total chose those words. Also, one out of the two total respondents who chose chick was part of this age group.

 %first Q 23-29

Moving on to the next group, ages 30-39, one can see that no respondent chose “chick”, “gal”, or “young lady”. Two out of the 32 participants in this age group did choose “lady”, but the vast majority chose “woman”, 78.13%. The term “girl” was not a close second; only 15.63% said that they would identify as this first. 

%first Q 30-39

In the next age group, ages 40-49, 89.66% of  participants chose “woman”, continuing the trend formed through these first four age groups. A larger and larger portion of each group chose “woman” over “girl”.
%first Q 40-49

The 50-59 group, however, interrupts the trend. Still, 81.58% of respondents identify most with the term “woman”. The one other participant who chose “chick” is in this age group. The terms “girl” and “lady” both had 3 responses, 7.89% of the group each.

 %first Q 50-59 7:4:19

For the 60-69 age group, 84.62% of participants said they call themselves first a “woman”. This is the first group so far in which no participant identifies first with the term “girl”. Instead, two respondents chose “lady” and the rest chose “woman”.
%first Q 60-69

The next group is ages 70-79, in which I received seven responses. Of the participants, 85.71% (six) chose “woman” and 14.29% (one) chose “young lady”. In this group once again no respondent chose “girl”. The “young lady” response is of note as no participants between the ages of 30 and 69 chose this answer. However, I cannot comment much since it is the answer of only one participant in this age group.

%first Q 70-79

The final age group, ages 80 and older, had only four participants. Three out of four chose “woman”, and one chose “lady”.

%first Q 80+

After breaking down the survey and looking at individual graphs side by side, it is clear that the term “woman” is what most female-identifying people call themselves. The only age group that did not have a majority choose “woman” was the 18-22 age group, which affected the data when looking at the graph for all respondents since that group had the highest number of respondents. Furthermore, the 18-22 year olds, along with the 23-29 year olds, had the widest variety of answers. For the participants aged 30 and over, the graph looks very different. I have put it below:

%first Q 30 and over

My original plan was never to spend a whole post talking about one question of my survey, but after I started to look at the data, and compare the different age groups, I knew I really wanted to share it in detail. This question, about which word you would call yourself, is the only question in my survey that explicitly asks participants to reflect on their current selves, and which words they would choose for themselves. The rest of the survey, beside the question asking what you would have categorized yourself as at age 18, is more indirect, and includes other people. The other questions ask what participants wants others to call them, or what they would call other groups of female-identifying people. Those questions are obviously important, and I will address them later, but I wanted to let this data stand on its own for now.



  1. scbrown01 says:

    Hi Ellie!

    When scrolling through the Monroe posts, I was so excited to see your research project. I find your topic so relatable. Just recently, I had a group of female friends over, and my mom said something like, “How are you, girls?” She then paused and said, “You’re not really girls anymore. What should I call you? Ladies?” My friends and I brushed off the question and said “girls” was fine, but it still didn’t seem quite right to me. Reading about your thought-provoking research has caused the matter to resurface in my mind. Here are some of my initial thoughts:

    The wide variety of answers you received in your survey from the 18-22 year age group reflects quite interestingly the period of changing identity and self-formation that occurs in the college years. Language creates identity, and I wonder what the lack of an English word to describe these people says about our culture’s view of women, especially at the crucial age when the are entering society. Perhaps it is beyond the scope of your project at this point, but it would be interesting to conduct a similar survey with men and compare the results. A slightly unrelated, but relevant word that I’m sure you’ve considered is “guys.” I say “guys” all the time. I even use it when addressing a group of female friends, but I realize I would never call a single woman a “guy.” The female equivalent to “guys” would be “gals” or “girls.” Neither of those seems to have the same connotation, though. Has “guys” become a gender-neutral term, or when I call a group of women “guys,” do I unintentionally engage in a system that favors men? It’s interesting to think about the corresponding terms for men and women and to examine how equal the terms really are and if any assumptions or biases come into play. I think the generational aspect of your project is especially relevant here. (Can words evolve to become separate from their original meanings or do they always inherently reflect something of the social situations of their origin?)

    I also appreciate that you have focused deeply on the words female-identifying people use to describe themselves, in addition to what they want to be called or what they call other women. Language is a vital part of self-determination. I know many other adolescent women who say both “girl” and “woman” are unsatisfactory terms for them. If the majority of women this age feel this way, their identities may be dampened. I can imagine that this particular question in your survey prompted participants to reflect on their gender identity in an empowering way. As language evolves, I wonder if new words will emerge that describe people who feel they are somewhere in between being girls and women. This is such an important topic, and I’ll be interested to read about the results of the rest of your survey.

    Best of luck with your next steps in the research process!


  2. Why do you think that most females prefer to be referred to as women? Have you thought about continuing or expanding your research to address not only these preferences, but the reason behind these preferences? Do you also think the same results (the most preferred term being men) could be applied to males?

  3. lecochrane says:

    Congratulations on getting so many responses! It’s interesting to see that the 18-22 group was different than the rest, as you predicted.

  4. hmscheir says:

    It’s so nice to see that you achieved a range of ages, even though there are less at the older ages. Since seeing the original survey for this project, I’ve been interested to see what kind of veriance there would be from different people. Personally, I had never really though about the topics you’re looking into, but once hearing about it, it seemed like something I should be noticing more. The outliers that you talked about in this post are particularly interesting, like the woman in her 70s that answered “young lady”. It makes you think about what in her life has caused her to respond that way. Beyond that, there could be such an array of factors that cause any of the subjects to respond how they did. I’m glad you pointed out that the research looks at what words people would choose for themselves, to say that we can’t nevessarily choose what someone calls us as they’re saying it, especially if it is someone we don’t know. I’m excited to see where the rest of this research goes and I hope to see more breakdowns like this!