What is feminism? First survey results

// 17 March 2010

How do feminists explain what feminism is? These images might give you a clue.

A 'cloud' of 50 words; the words are different sizes based on how frequently they were mentioned

[Image shows a ‘cloud’ of 50 words (e.g. women, equality, men, belief); the words are different sizes based on how frequently they were mentioned]

They are produced from the answers given to our survey of 1265 UK feminists, as part of the research for my book with Kristin Aune Reclaiming The F Word (more of the survey results will be published over the next few months).

So, one of our survey questions was “What do you understand the term feminism to mean?

These images represent the free text of the responses pasted into Wordle (above) and Tag Crowd (below).

I’m hoping to publish more detail about the actual responses to this question in due course. (One of my favourites was the person who wrote: “you’re pulling my leg? i haven’t the time to write this answer!”)

Important points to note: The images represent the most frequent 50 words from the 824 respondents who answered this question online (we had 1265 survey responses in total and about two-thirds completed the survey online). Unfortunately we don’t currently have the funding to type up all of the free text responses that were submitted on paper, but the paper responses were counted in our main (statistical) survey results which are in our book.

I removed the word ‘feminism’ from the responses before processing it, since that’s what they were asked to define.

created at TagCrowd.com

[Image shows a ‘cloud’ of 50 words (e.g. women, equality, gender, belief); the words are different sizes based on how frequently they were mentioned]

I’ve included both clouds as they look slightly different: the one above, for example, doesn’t have the word ‘men’ in it. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s interesting to see how it gives a slightly different impression.

Both of these make me very happy! More of this sort of thing to come, I hope!

(I’m concerned that these are probably not accessible to all readers, and I’m going to investigate if there is a way of fixing that. Advice very much welcome.)

Comments From You

Alison Clarke // Posted 18 March 2010 at 9:48 am

I didn’t actually contribute to this but just wondered if there was an age difference at all in terms of the words that respondents used to reflect their understanding of the term “feminism”. I would be interested to know if younger feminists used different words to us older women? Thanks.

Jessica // Posted 18 March 2010 at 9:59 am


I would be really interested to read more about this. I’m really looking forward to your book coming out.

I’m a MSc student at Birkbeck and I’ve decided to do my dissertation on feminism and political ideologies. I’m concentrating in the Conservative Party because the question “is it possible to be a Conservative Feminist?” absolutely fascinates me.

After your book has been published would it be ok for me to contact you and Kristen Aune for my dissertation research? I’ll need to include something about what feminism means to different people, and your research makes you the right people to ask!


nick // Posted 18 March 2010 at 3:52 pm

I would imagine women would describe feminism differently to how men would describe it ……….

Elmo // Posted 18 March 2010 at 6:19 pm

Im seeing the word “different” popping up-heres hoping people are describing men and women as “different but equal”

Catherine Redfern // Posted 18 March 2010 at 8:54 pm

@Alison Interesting question! It is a rather crude way of analysing the responses by using these tools as they only highlight key words and can be out of context, and probably much more detailed analysis could be done. But if I get time I will try it out and will post here if I do. How would you split the ages? We had a very large number of respondents in their twenties and under, so maybe that could be one batch. How would you define ‘older women’?

Catherine Redfern // Posted 18 March 2010 at 8:56 pm

@nick we did have some men responding, so I might try doing a comparison. Will let you know if I get time to do this.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 18 March 2010 at 8:56 pm

@Jessica thank you and yes please do – maybe contact us via our website http://www.reclaimingthefword.net

Alison Clarke // Posted 19 March 2010 at 7:27 pm

That’s also a good question – how would I define older women. Hmm, not sure. Over 50? I’m 55 and feel I’m an older woman.

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