Survey: Feminist issues

// 14 August 2010

As part of the survey of UK feminists undertaken for my book with Kristin Aune Reclaiming The F Word, we asked the 1265 respondents ‘please list the three feminist issues that most interest or concern you.’ Survey respondents could write these in free text. We undertook an analysis of the responses, categorising and coding them, and the results are published in the Appendix of our book.

However, there is another interesting way to analyse the results which is to use word cloud tools to look at the language used (also, I think word clouds are cool!).

The word cloud below shows the 150 most frequently mentioned words given in answer to this question by the people who responded online – 988 respondents (for our book, we analysed both online and paper responses, of course).

created at TagCrowd.com

Of course, this is only representative of the 988 survey respondents and no-one else. And the words are out of context – we can’t see from this, for example, how the word ‘equal’ was used (was it mostly used in conjunction with ‘pay’?), or what approach the people who mentioned ‘prostitution’ or ‘pornography’ have towards those issues.

But isn’t it interesting? What do you think? Does anything surprise you, or do you think this is pretty reflective of the scope of feminism in the UK?

One thing that strikes me is the words ‘objectification’, ‘sexualisation’, even ‘pornification’ – possibly due to the success of Object in publicising this issue.

I also find it interesting how the word ‘media’ is relatively large, comparable to words like ‘equal’ and ‘pay’. I think this could demonstrate how cultural issues and representation are important in feminism alongside structural issues like politics, economic issues and violence.

If I amend it to show the top 50 words, it looks like this:

created at TagCrowd.com

I’ll try to post up some more word clouds – there’s a lot that can be done from the survey results.

Comments From You

Quiet Riot Girl // Posted 14 August 2010 at 5:51 pm

That does tell me what I already know about the priorities of contemporary feminism. But it is depressing reading all the same. In the first cloud ‘trans’ is so small I can hardly see it. And there is no mention of ‘sexuality’ or ‘gay’ ‘lesbian’ ‘queer’ or , that bete noir of contemporary feminism, MEN! (or masculinities).

Catherine Redfern // Posted 14 August 2010 at 6:42 pm

Yes, it is surprising to me that there aren’t more mentions of words like ‘lesbian’ or ‘LBGT’ etc. appearing in the cloud.

Having said that, when we asked whether they particularly identified with any ‘types’ of feminism, “queer” was the 7th most popular type.

On the topic of men, later on in the survey we asked whether feminists tended to agree or disagree with various statements. One statement was “Feminism should address men’s concerns (e.g. deconstructing masculinity) as well as women’s”. 66.5% agreed, 16.7% neither/unsure and 16.8 disagreed. Another statement was “men should embrace feminism” – 89.9% agreed!

Also, a surprisingly large number thought men could be feminists – I’ll maybe post about that another time.

So… maybe the survey respondents are keen that feminism should address masculinity, but they just didn’t consider it (or ‘men’) to be one of their top three most important feminist concerns. Or they meant to cover it if they mentioned the word ‘gender’, perhaps (e.g. gender stereotypes as they affect everyone). It’s difficult to draw assumptions.

Jessica Burton // Posted 14 August 2010 at 7:07 pm

I find the inclusion of the word ‘science’ very interesting.

A quick read of Living Dolls by Natasha Walter shows that media reporting of scientific studies, as well as some studies themselves, have huge bias toward stereotypical (and wrong!) ideas about gender.

On ‘trans’ – I’m glad it was in the cloud, would it have been there 30 years ago?

Quiet Riot Girl // Posted 14 August 2010 at 10:33 pm

True. Thanks for elaborating.

Be interested to hear more about the survey if you do get a chance to post up the findings!

polly // Posted 15 August 2010 at 12:23 pm

It’s an overwhelmingly “mainstream” list. There doesn’t seem to be much (anything?) there about sexuality, race, disability. I suppose ‘stereotypes’ could cover heteronormative stereotypes but still.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 15 August 2010 at 4:14 pm

well maybe if you took out the words feminist and feminism thered be something else in there! i mean, of course thats related to feminism! its not as if had you said ‘name 3 words important to feminism’ many people would go female, feminist, feminism… unless they were quite dense! lol

Catherine Redfern // Posted 15 August 2010 at 4:35 pm

Hi Laurel

I left the word feminism/feminist in because when people mentioned the word feminism, it meant that feminism itself was one the top three issues that most interested or concerned them – for example, they said things like “Making feminism more inclusive” or “Ensuring feminism isn’t a dirty word any more”, or “Bringing up children in a feminist way” or things like that. So for some people, feminism itself was one of their top three issues!

Helen G // Posted 16 August 2010 at 8:13 am

Disappointed (but not surprised) to see trans so diminished.

And noticeable by their absence are words like ‘age’, ‘disability’, ‘race’ and ‘sexism’.

Many people perceive feminists to be cis, white, TAB, educated, young, etc etc etc women and this sample certainly seems to reinforce that stereotype.

Having read this, I feel really disillusioned. I only hope that this isn’t a representative sample – for all our sakes.

sianushka // Posted 16 August 2010 at 11:40 am

i guess a lot of people answer these surveys in a ‘what effects me personally’ frame. it’s hard to find a top 3 – when there are so many issues! and a lot of the ‘big’ words are those that effect women and men as a whole, and are not confined to cis, white, able, straight women. perhaps that is why specific, intersectionality issues show up as smaller?

desrie // Posted 16 August 2010 at 12:43 pm

Is the converse to sexualisation asexualisation? Might have been a better choice.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 16 August 2010 at 11:27 pm

Hey,

Just to clarify a couple of things about the word cloud and how it works. On the word cloud, the word ‘trans’ (to pick up on that one cause a couple of people have mentioned it) reflects when people used the word ‘trans’ as a stand alone word. So if some people said ‘transgender’ for example, and other people said ‘transphobia’, and some people said ‘transsexual’ (etc), the word cloud doesn’t merge them together. So the number of people actually concerned about ‘trans issues’ or however you define it, will appear smaller than it actually is.

Another example is if some people wrote ‘women’ and others wrote ‘womyn’ (or whatever).

I corrected obvious spelling mistakes but didn’t merge words like that. It only reflects the language used, not necessarily the intent.

So the reality of people’s meaning is always going to be slightly different than what’s represented here. That’s why the analysis we did in the survey, where we read all the answers and categorised them, is also useful.

Anyhoo it’s in the book, but of the total survey respondents including paper responses, 1.9 percent mentioned queer/trans/intersex issues and 1.1 percent mentioned LGB issues. Intersectionality/intersecting oppressions were mentioned by 2.8 percent and 1.1 mentioned ethnicity/race issues specifically.

@sianushka – yes, we asked ‘what are the three feminist issues that most interest or concern you’. So it was asking for a personal view I guess.

Personally, I’m not sure we can assume that if someone answered ‘violence against women’ (for example), that they don’t think other oppressions (such as racism and class issues) are also important, or that violence affects different women in different ways. Maybe they do or maybe they don’t – I can’t say.

Also this may be relevant – it was a badly worded question in hindsight but we asked whether they agreed with the statement that ‘feminism is too white and middle class’ – 47.8% agreed, 29.2% don’t know/neither agree nor disagree, 23% disagreed.

sianushka // Posted 17 August 2010 at 9:13 am

catherine redfern:

Personally, I’m not sure we can assume that if someone answered ‘violence against women’ (for example), that they don’t think other oppressions (such as racism and class issues) are also important, or that violence affects different women in different ways. Maybe they do or maybe they don’t – I can’t say.

That’s what i was trying to say, and i agree. something like VAW, or harassment or discrimination in the workplace affect all women and although some of the effects are different depending on whether you’re cis, BME, queer, disabled etc, and some are the same, in a survey you may not go in to that level of detail. and in particular, a word cloud would not pick up that detail. So hopefully there isn’t need to be too downhearted, as the wider survey results certainly suggested intersectionality was important to feminists today.

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