Final Update: Finished, but not finished; the words women use to describe themselves and others

As I conclude my project, I’ve had a hard time actually concluding it. I continue to look through the data, realizing I missed a good question, or that I should have made a certain connection. I really enjoyed this research project and I hope to do more in the future. For now, however, I will reflect. 

When I first wrote the survey, and when I first posted it to Facebook, many people commented questions and situations they thought should be included. There is so much to think about when asking the question, “how do women talk about themselves and other women?”, and I barely scratched the surface. I recognized from the beginning that my survey didn’t cover everything, even though it’s long for a public opinion survey. As I got going, multiple people also suggested I should do a project looking into the words men use for women, possibly comparing answers or showing the men later what women thought. Maybe someday in the future that would make sense, but I think there is a lot more work to be done to examine women’s language use from the female perspective first. For me, at least. 

I would love to expand my research and hear from more women across age ranges, as I feel I could have stronger results with more participants in the older age groups. I’d also love to look at words that may be thought of as gender neutral, like “guy” or “guys”, especially in situations where “gal” does not feel like an accurate equivalent.

During this research project, I learned so much. To start, writing the survey was quite the experience; one has to balance length and clarity and subtlety and actually knowing what information you want before you have any. I learned so much about the Qualtrics program, and I highly recommend it. All my pretty bar graphs and pie charts were created in it. Creating the best visual representation of a data set is a skill I will continue to work on. 

I learned a lot about social media. As I marketed my survey in different Facebook groups and on my own profile, I had to find the best way to describe the survey while piquing interest in women scrolling through their feeds. For the post on my “wall”, I used a stock photo of a hand writing “survey” in big blue letters so my Facebook friends would easily see the post. Then a friend helped me create a meme to share in a student group. As so much advertising happens on social platforms today, learning how to grab attention there is an important skill.

I also learned a lot about biases in data. As I stated many times throughout my blogs, the majority of respondents were similar to me in age and/or race and/or origin. A total of 389 out of 600 respondents were between the ages of 18 and 22. About 86% of respondents self-identified, at least in part, as white or caucasian. 264 respondents identified Virginia as the state in which they have spent the most time. However, my results are true to the experiences of the women (or ladies or girls or gals, etc.) that participated, and I think what they have shown is a good start.

The language we use for ourselves and for each other, though perhaps careless in a moment, has bigger ramifications than we realize. We have (often unspoken) expectations for how we are addressed by others, and there is often a disconnect between how we see ourselves and how others see us. Perceived age, familiarity, and situational setting are important factors. Words like “girl” and “lady” still elicit strong reactions in some contexts, though not necessarily in the same ones as Robin Lakoff discussed in her book in the 1970s. Language has changed, but the need for careful thought about it has not.

 

Thank you so much to everyone who helped me with my project, especially Dr. Cochrane as my advisor. Thank you to all the wonderful gals who took my survey!

 

Comments

  1. lecochrane says:

    An insightful reflection on what you learned from your project, both from the results and from the research process. Great work!