Word Clouds and Women

I just wanted to extend my previous piece a little, if I may, with some thoughts on women referencing their gender as their biggest feminist concern, and whether or not this is a symptom or a cause of the absence of men in the inequality debate.

The author, Catherine Redfern, has posted some word clouds on a great blog she edits, The F Word. Part of the research included in her book, Reclaiming The F Word, involved a survey with a thousand or so UK feminists, asking them questions about their attitudes to feminism which were designed to illicit free flow answers.

Not unsurprisingly, we are taken to assume that all the feminists included in the survey were women – which they were. Which is Problem One. 

Problem Two is this. In response to the question, ‘please list the three feminist issues that most interest or concern you’, here are the top 50 words which were used with the most regularity:

A terrifying word cloud

Catherine comments, “But isn’t it interesting?”. No, no it’s not, Catherine. It’s actually deeply terrifying. It reconfirms all my worst fears about how myopic, insulated, self-obsessed and deeply, deeply critical we can be when we navel-gaze for too long. 

It’s part No Shit Sherlock and cliché writ large. Of course we’re all worried about violence, pay, abortion, rape, media and our rights – that’s why we speak out the way we do – but of all the issues female feminists note are of most interest or concern, it’s themselves that comes out tops. Women. It’s the largest ruddy word of the lot. How worrying is that? 

Now, we can’t know, from these cringe-making word clouds, what context the reference to ‘women’ was in, so I’m prepared to accept that there may have been many circumstances where the feminists questioned were rightly raising specific issues which impact on women, and only women, like abortion, and…. Well, actually, I can’t think of anything else. You see, the problem I have with the way this information has been presented, is that everything on that list could apply to anyone, of any gender, background, orientation and persuasion. And yes, they impact disproportionately on women too. Yet feminism ardently claims them as concerns most expressly pegged to women’s inequality, at the expense of bringing anyone else into the debate. Like men, say. Which means we’ll never come up with a solution – we’ll just dig deeper and more angrily into our psyches and stop listening. 

I beg that we start having conversations in the round about the things that concern us most – not centred on what feminist issues are the most important, but the ones which are the most important to us as people. I guarantee, more often than not, they’ll be one in the same. More surprisingly, I bet a large number will be similar to the concerns men raise too. But if we consistently put our sex as the first agenda point in the debate on equality, then we haven’t got a hope in hell of keeping any one else’s attention long enough to reach the Q&As. 

So next time I suggest we interview a mix of people, men and women, feminists and not, because I would be wildly more interested in seeing what other people might have to say, than hearing – once again – how deeply fascinated we are about ourselves. 

And please let’s stop doing word clouds; every time I see one, I die a little inside.

This entry was posted in Feminism, Women. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Word Clouds and Women

  1. Peter McLeod says:

    Hi Katie,

    I’ve enjoyed spending a few minutes catching up on your blog and just wanted to make a note with regards to this post. Having been working on qual and quant research projects for the past few years I’ve come across a fair few word clouds and also the data underlying them. Looking at the one you’ve shown here, I would agree with your suspicion that “women” tended to appear in a number of different contexts. In fact I’d go further and suggest that the graphic is most likely quite misleading and that vey few of the respondents, if any, actually meant to say that women themselves are a major feminist issue. It just reflects the fact that the single most-used word in the responses was “women,” which is a very different thing.

    Am I mansplaining yet?


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